While it’s a sad day with the loss of Ron Popeil, I decided to share a story from years ago that should make you smile. It celebrates the incredible person he was. The day I met him, I went against his very structured presentation and lived to tell the tale.
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 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 kept learning and growing every day.
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 almost two 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 with me. I asked him if he ever read Uncle Remus. “I was born in this briar patch, Ron. We have a lot less time than you do in an infomercial.” He realized I was right since 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 Sunday dedicated cook show with the same product, usually the rotisserie. I’m not a chef nor do I pretend to be one. Neither does Ron. We both love to cook and eat and 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.
Along with being a close friend and confidant, I considered 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 every one we did. When I was with him, we would spend days creating effective and entertaining demos. Even into his 80’s, Ron regularly put in 16 hour days. He was 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 was 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. May he Rest in Peace.
Sad to hear about Ron’s passing. Thanks for sharing a moving tribute through your memories.