Tips from Ronco's Founder on Marketing, Manufacturing and Money

Published by Cheryl V. Jackson, Special to Blue Sky Wait! There’s more from Ron Popeil?

Sure, there is. The pioneering inventor is in Chicago with his newest kitchen invention. And folks are eager to hear from him, crowding the Inventors Revue area of the International Home and Housewares Show at McCormick Place on Saturday for his “Inventing & Marketing — Don’t ‘Set It and Forget It’” keynote.

“I know something about creating a better mousetrap,” he said.

Popeil in 1964 founded Ronco, the iconic company featuring handy-dandy appliances marketed on TV. He sold more than $2 billion in products and made household names out of items such as Pocket Fisherman, Showtime Rotisserie and Mr. Microphone.

He sold the business in 2005 for about $55 million. Two years later, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. CD3 Holdings, based in Austin, Texas, bought the company in 2011.

Popeil, 78, is at the show to find a buyer for his home turkey fryer, called Ron Popeil’s Olive Oil Fryer, complete with an infomercial testimonial from rapper Flavor Flav, which he shares on his Web site.

He offered these tips to the audience:

Evaluating the marketplace

“Making big things for the kitchen is not my thing. People have small kitchens. I don’t want them to put it under the counter. I don’t want them to put it in the garage, because if they do that, they’re not going to use it a lot.”

Solving a problem

“I’m always trying to create the best mousetrap I can, but first, you have to look at the size of the audience. Look at what’s in the industry.”

“I travel the world, and when I do, I go to the housewares sections and see what they have in the way of fryers. The audience is there.”

Making money

“I can focus my invention thoughts on something that sells for $20, or I can do it for $200. Those that focus on $15 or $10 or $20, do you know how many you have to sell to make any serious money? It’s not for me. If you have some abilities in the inventive area, try to focus on products that allow you a profit margin that you can, if you’re successful, make a lot of money.”

The prototype

“Create a product that’s user-friendly to the customer.”

“We fried 30,000 pounds of turkey to make sure we delivered the promise of being user-friendly and that the cost is right. And if the prices is $500, no one’s going to buy it.”

The Web site for his new Olive Oil Fryer (oliveoilfryer.com) advertises a price of four $39.95 payments.

Finding manufacturers

“You attempt to find manufacturers that produce in the same category as what you’re doing.

“Never do one manufacturer. You have to have two. It’s very important in my world. Both manufacturers should not know the name of the other guy. Both should know that there’s someone else making it at the same time that they’re making it.

“When they first start to make the product, if they don’t make any money, they will stop making the product. If one falls out, you can go to the other one.”

Safety checks

“Underwriting Laboratories may cause you to change the design of your product to meet their regulations. Safety agencies around the world use Underwriter Laboratory regulations. If you don’t have a safety agency behind your electrical product, the retailer is not going to take on the liability of carrying it. It’s effectively dead.”

TV vs. retail

“If you’re in the infomercial or direct-TV business, don’t go to retail. Stay out of retail as long as you can. Keep building up the advertising and the demand. You’re making money while you’re doing it.”

 

NewsCourtney Healy