Anyone who's a fan of television infomercials has undoubtedly spotted inventor Ron Popeil peddling his wares on air sometime during the last couple of decades. Popeil, whose inventions have earned him more than a billion dollars in retail sales, has created a range of consumer products ranging from cooking tools to hairspray.
Popeil had a difficult childhood. Born in 1935, his parents divorced when he was three and he was moved from their home to boarding school to his grandparents' home and finally to his father's home in Chicago. Then 16, Popeil began working with his father, who invented and sold gadgets to major retails stores such as Sears. The elder Popeil would have his son demonstrate products to customers in the stores, and he taught him all the showmanship and marketing tricks he knew. Eventually, the younger Popeil became an effective pitchman.
Popeil quickly became restless for more, having seen plenty of salesmen making money by pushing products on the Chicago streets. He decided to try street sales, too, and he found that he was a natural. Later he struck deals with stores to which he was demonstrating and selling his father's and other manufacturers' products that made him more money than he'd ever had in his life. He was making $1000 a week at a time when the average salary was $500 a week.
Meanwhile, Popeil was also creating his own products, and he established Ronco, Inc. to manufacture them. One such product was the Ronco Spray Gun, which was the first product that Popeil took to television. The spray gun was basically a nozzle that would fit any garden hose. It had a handle chamber where one could place soap, wax, weed killer or fertilizer tablets and the substance would be distributed easily and evenly through the water and nozzle. Master-marketer Popeil, of course, also supplied the tablets.
In the 1950s, television was becoming a popular medium for advertising, and Popeil was one of the first to understand its potential. He bought local time for a commercial for the Ronco Spray Gun and it was a great success. Next, he produced commercials for his father's Chop-O-Matic cutting device, and in no time he was hooked. By the early 1960s he was selling products exclusively over television.
Ronco produced a stream of successful products through the 1960s and '70s, including the Dial-O-Matic, Veg-O-Matic and Mince-O-Matic. By 1968, the company's revenues were $9 million. Popeil also established Popeil Inventions, and he created gadgets such as the grip spatula, the Popeil Pasta Maker, and the Pocket Fisherman. Consumers have spent more than $2 billion on his products, which made Popeil a multimillionaire.
Now retired, Popeil has said he has always considered himself an inventor first, a marketing man second. But when it comes to financial success, he has shown that the two can successfully go hand in hand.