“I do it for the money.”
This shouldn’t come as a shock. That’s what showmen do, right? P.T. Barnum, generally acknowledged to be the America’s greatest showman, said that his first and foremost objective was “to put money in his own coffers.” And Popeil—Mr. Set It and Forget It—can be considered Barnum’s direct descendent, albeit lighting up late night infomercials instead of variety show and the circus.
But wait, there’s more. (You knew that was coming.)
Popeil, 82, began pitching and inventing at an early age. His family was in the business of making and mostly selling kitchen gadgets. There’s a ton of history there, but the short version is that Ron Popeil was the king in a clan of kitchen kitsch salesmen. Remember the Veg-O-Matic? (“Slice a tomato so thin it only has one side.”)
Popeil sold Ronco for $55 million in 2005, but is still working on inventions—most notably a turkey fryer—and lives in a house in Beverly Hills with kids and his wife Robin, a former Frederick’s of Hollywood model.
Ronco is now looking to go public and raise some $30 million. (Popeil has no direct ties to the company.) Ronco, which is tiny and unprofitable— it posted a loss of $2.7 million last year on sales of $3.6 million—will go public through a Reg A+ IPO, which is part of President Obama’s 2012 Jobs Act that lets businesses raise up to $50 million. And if you invest certain dollar amounts you get some Ronco products like a Ronco Rotisserie. (Act now!)
I asked Popeil what would-be inventors should do to strike it rich.
“Before you try to invent a product understand the need for the product in the marketplace,” he told me. “To make a lot of money you need a enormous market to sell millions of pieces of products so you can make the kind of money that’s commensurate with the time and effort you put into the invention.”
Kind of reminds me of that great Tom Waits’ song “Step Right Up.”
Operators are standing by…