I was speaking with Ron Popeil the other day. I told him about wanting to go back on-air on a TV Shopping Network. He agreed it would be great but difficult given my age in today’s youth-oriented world.
He made a great suggestion. I told him I had reached out to almost everyone I knew in the industry and had gotten zero response. It seems some of the former vendors forgot the millions I helped them to make. I always went the “extra mile” with our vendors, trying to sell as much of their products as I could.
Ron suggested that I offer to work for free for a few weeks to show that I could outsell almost anyone. I balked at first, believing that working for free is a form of slavery. But I realized that he is right. At the moment, I am an unproven commodity. A little bread on the water could help to show that I can still get the job done.
I will communicate this to my contacts and see what happens. While I am concerned that none of them got back to me initially, this offer could move them to action. Or it could sound like the desperate attempt of an old fart trying to be relevant again. We’ll see.
For giggles, here’s the story about how I met Ron Popeil:
Ron Popeil is one of my closest friends. We first met at QVC almost 30 years ago. Ron invented selling products directly on TV. I’ll bet anyone reading this book owns at least one of his inventions. I bought my mother a Veg-O-Matic back in the 1960’s. I had and used a Popeil Pocket Fisherman many, many times. I even bought one for my brother and we caught a bunch of New Jersey flounder with them. Even had a Mr. Microphone. Except when I said, “Hey good lookin’, I’ll be back to pick you up later,” I seem to recall the young lady giving me the finger.
Ron cut his teeth in the greatest learning laboratories there are for direct response selling; live in-store demos and county fairs. I liken his experience to the Beatles in Hamburg, Germany. When they arrived there in the early 60’s, they were raw and not very good. Playing 10-12 hours a day, 7 days a week honed their musical chops and performing skills. Same with Ron. After seemingly endless days demonstrating the same products over and over again, he got to be the best there is. And he keeps learning and growing even today.
During one of Ron’s first appearances on QVC, he was selling the food dehydrator he invented. I had one and knew that it worked very well, which made me excited to present it. He was doing a presentation that was almost identical to his infomercial, using well over a dozen dehydrators, each one loaded to show a different use. When I told him that in our medium, sometimes less was more, he balked, even though the product had not been doing well that day. When I suggested he should do the presentation with fewer dehydrators, he actually freaked out. Not the kind of guy you want mad at you. He tore me a new one. Hey, he was Ron Popeil and I was just a shopping host.
By now, you know the way to get me to do something is to tell me not to do it, especially if I know I’m right. I had no doubt he was wrong. The dynamics of an 8-10 minute presentation on QVC are really different than a half hour infomercial. On a shopping channel, you tell ‘em what it is, what it can do for them and how much it is and keep repeating the process until you’re out of time. In a 30 minute infomercial (actually 28:30), you have time to finesse the product and plenty of time for multiple demos. On QVC, hit the high points and move on was the order of the day.
When he left, I removed all but 3 dehydrators from the display, hiding the others backstage. When I introduced Ron at the beginning of the presentation, he looked shocked. If looks could kill, he’d have dropped me right there. He did, however, go along with the streamlined presentation, which concentrated on making jerky, dried fruits and fruit roll ups (the primary uses for the dehydrator).
The unit sold out in a few minutes, well before the presentation was over. After we were off the air, he told me he was furious at me at first but then realized I was right when the unit sold out so quickly. We have been fast friends ever since.
Ron and I went on to host dozens of successful programs on QVC through the years. It made me smile when we would outsell the big deal QVC chef (yeah, that one) with the same product, usually the rotisserie. I’m not a chef nor do I pretend to be one. Neither does Ron. We both just showed how easy and useful the product was.
I have also hosted three infomercials with Ron. Two of them are among the most successful infomercials in history.
I consider Ron a mentor in the industry. He taught me that you can never prepare too much for a presentation. We worked together for years before shooting all the infomercials. I made several trips to California for the latest one we did. When I’m with him, we spend days creating effective and entertaining demos. Well into his 80’s, Ron regularly puts in 16-18 hour days. He is amazing!
Ron taught me so much about the world of direct response selling. He says I’ve taught him a great deal about the subject as well. That’s the thing with a mentoring relationship. If it’s done properly, both parties get as much, if not more, than they put into it.
Ron is also a great family man. It’s a real hoot to see him with his wife and daughters. From his own example, he showed me the importance of taking time to appreciate family and friends. I am a far better person from knowing him.