SO YOU WANT TO BE A BILLY MAYS?

The author at the Alameda County Fair, with a lovely customer visiting from Taiwan

A PITCHMAN'S PRIMER

It seems like just yesterday when a friend "in the business" showed me the ropes that would eventually lead me into the most unique profession as a pitchman; and, for the past twenty years, this writer has traveled virtually the entire nation, selling in public venues and events from coast to coast. It has been a most unusual ride.

We'll give you a window into the world of the pitchmen and women who are true professionals in the world of the "PITCH." You may learn enough to steer far away, or, you may be intrigued to "step onto the box," and give it a try. In the process, I'll try to share tips and hints, and a very a few personal observations into what goes into the methodology of this unique and fully legitimate selling medium, which has entertained America for generations going back to the time of Vaudeville, that may have not been explained prior. There is much that the business world can learn from world of the pitchman.

How it all started for me...

I found myself laid off in Los Angeles, which means the entertainment industry, and with the holidays approaching, my dear old mentor and friend Bradley Leyman approached me with an opportunity. (Throughout the past two decades, Bradley has been as close as I would ever have to an "uncle" in the biz.) He'd had been in the "pitch business" for years; and, he had known that I'd been a union actor in previous years prior to moving behind the scenes in story development and talent management. So, knowing me, he asked one day if I thought I could sell a product in front of a crowd. I replied "Of course." After all, I had worked in the TV & film industry, with some pretty amazing individuals like Hilly Elkins and Peter Guber, and I learned "pitching" stories, talent, and myself. A pitch is just a pitch, right? (Sure it is, and "a kiss is just a kiss...") Brad did confide that it wasn't all that easy. He was right. But, in truth, with the right attitude, it wasn't all that difficult either.

And so, in November of 1991, I began "pitching'" - (my rotten luck (ha-ha) as many of the Valley ladies, mostly quite attractive, and it was my painful duty to encourage them to try this neat new product) the Suzanne Sommers' fitness product of the century: the "Thigh-Master." Our venue was a temporary space in a small mall near Topanga Canyon Blvd, in the Western San Fernando Valley, near Los Angeles. We had a U-shaped booth framed in sectioned mesh panels fastened together like a see through "box," with 10 chairs, each with a Thigh-Master on it. (There was a lot of product "flashed" openly, and this is where I learned the simple display principle: "THE MORE FLASH, THE MORE CASH." And note, this was not an expensive set-up). Women and some men alike tried and bought this product, appreciating the fact that the product was right there. Thigh Masters were hung all around the mesh framing, and they sold as fast as I could demo and pitch the product. We sold out. The product was a huge hit on TV commercials; and, for a time, it was the hottest fitness product ever presented on TV. Most demonstration products, especially those aimed for TV today, will have a limited window where timing is critical. Some products have weathered years of having been on TV, and in fairs, shows, and in sales events for years.

Hold on...what's a "pitch?" And what's a product or service that can be "pitched?"

In short, a pitch is an enthusiastic sales presentation. A pitch may be delivered to one person, or to a small or large audience. While there may be applicability for a high priced pitch, such as pitching a major motion picture to a studio, or a new innovative product to a venture capitalist, we'll be focusing on consumer products, and enthusiastically pitching those products in live events and venues, in order to generate sales.

The pitch always contains 3 parts, like a 3 act play... a beginning, middle, and end. In the beginning we'll present a problem..."What's the one thing you don't want to chop by hand?"..."Are your hands chapped and dry?"..."Has your 401K turned into a 201K?"... When you hear a fairy tale, would it work if we presented the ending first? -"and they lived happily ever after." Or, if we presented the middle first - "The Magic Salsa Master is just what you need!" No, unlikely. Why? We are logically conditioned to predictability in story-telling. Please keep this is mind, when "pitching." Mess around with a 3-act structure at your own peril. Also, there is a logical and necessary progression that builds and as the pitch builds, the audience should be going along very willingly.*

Ricky Zee pitching the knife at the California State Fair

EVERYTHING HINGES ON THE "STORY"

Remember, there is always a script. I have laughed when I have seen an inexperienced sales person changing a proven pitch, claiming that he feels the need to make the pitch his own. You will, of course, infuse your personality, but do so within the given script. Someone else made it work very well.

Visit any home show or fair, and you will see a major cookware company, selling a classic stainless steel cookware line. The pitchmen and women who represent these several companies are expected to play it straight, word for word, in a very structured script, one that involves education (it is a cooking show, after all), action, excitement, a transfer of enthusiasm, humor, a problem, and a solution; and, it is a college class in itself. In fact, every beginning Pitchman should be required to learn a pitch with as detailed and as exacting in every way as one of these classic cookware pitches. The world famous motivational speaker Zig Ziegler actually was a pitchman, selling cookware exactly as folks are selling today. And, he still is a pitchman.

Words to the wise: Learn the melody before attempting to play jazz!

The script is the foundation, and again, everything hinges on the story.

The following is the the magic ingredient that we must have for the story to sell. Without it, we'll fall flat every time. With this secret ingredient, success is virtually assured, even if you don't get sale.

We have a good product, and we have a good presentation, a good demo with proofs of our claims. We have a beginning, middle, and the end to our 3 act play. How do we gain the audience's trust and confidence in us?

A PROGRESSIVE TRANSFERENCE OF POSITIVE ENTHUSIASM TAKES PLACE IN EVERY POSITIVE SALES PITCH! (Or it fails to do so, if the pitch falls flat)

This is why earlier we said that a pitch is an ENTHUSIASTIC sales presentation. Without enthusiasm, you're a dead fish. The audience can't be relied to bring enthusiasm. You, the pitchman, have to give them your enthusiasm, a little at a time, so that by the end of your pitch, you have the audience willingly going along for the ride. What's more, it's a fun ride! If you have helped the audience enjoy their time with you, their experience, you have entertained them. Only then, have you earned the right to ask for the sale. And remember, there will have been a been a build-up to accepting that this is an heirloom cookware set, worth the money whatever it costs.

It should not be a monologue. A pitch should be interactive. But how? The best answer is "QBS: Question Based Selling." By asking strategic structured questions to your audience, at key sections of the pitch, you involved them into the story. And, with each new positive connection with your audience, especially as the answers questions are designed so that they and their answers move along the story. Even a few well placed questions that invite involvement in the story. At every "invitation" to the audience, their acceptance to be involved will move us forward.

Let's consider the orange synthetic "shammy," originally made in Germany, sold under various names over 30 years that recent marketing has mass marketed with great success. The pitchman warms up the audience by a few funny lines as he is pouring a beverage onto the counter, as he wipes it completely clean with a single wipe of the shammy. It might go like this: (pour) "Do you have kids who spill things?" (wipe) "Do you have a dog? We have a dog named Rover, the "golden reliever." (wipe) "Do you have a relative who is always spilling their drink?" (pour) "I like to use my shammy to pick up the spill," (wipe + Now holding up a glass, squeeze the shammy over the glass, filling it up) "Since it's Uncle Ernie, I just fill his glass and he'll never know."

This is the warm up. What happening? We don't have to wait for the answer. With each question, we identify with the story, and there is a little humor. This involves props and movement on words, so critical which we'll cover next. Right now, we have shown three proofs, and the audience is enjoying themselves. (Now, you may be able to ask now for the purchase, as long as there are clearly shown "proofs," each one adding to the build-up, but have you yet made an advocate? Well see.) We then ask the folks in the audience does this look familiar? (showing a roll of paper towels) "Let's be honest. (pour) Do you grab a thousand sheets and try to pick up the spill? Most families spend hundreds of dollars on paper towels every year! (show how the paper does a lousy job). We'll then show the Super Shammy again, making quick work of the spill. "The Super Shammy will save you hundreds, not to mention trees!" And we move from one proof to another, quickly.

As we pour diet cola over a rug that saturates the rug, and likely the "floor" underneath. We'll explain how this synthetic shammy will pick up many times it's weight, and we show the shammy pulls out the liquid directly from the the rug, allowing stunned audience members to feel how dry the surface is. More proof. The audience is sold. They have bought every proof! If we have done our job, we have created "Advocates" who will gladly advertise your product or service, as explained by Peter Guber, entertainment mogul and master of the art of the pitch, author of the best seller "Tell to Win." I was very lucky to have worked for Guber years ago, and this was always part of his success, the ability to sell a story. It doesn't matter if you're selling a movie, or a set of knives. As a pitchman, if close I do my job correctly, passionately, I will turn each customer into a walking billboard. They will brag about my knives, just as a producer sells a movie to a studio head. It's a transference of enthusiasm. That is what sales is all about.

Now, we button up be rewarding the audience's attention by giving a great deal.

JAM - It doesn't just go with peanut butter. The Jam is the cap-stone of deal, with an extra touch that can make the deal irresistible.

"Now we know this knife set is worth over two hundred dollars, (This is classic Ron Popeil style close) and you don't have to pay $200, $150, or $100. You don't even have to pay $50! If you take these knives right now, you only need to pay just three easy payments of 13.99!" Now that's a great deal, but how would you each like something extra? (yes!) well we are going to include our complete set of 6 gourmet steak knives, completely free, and that's an additional $60 value, if you buy now." The "jam," in this case which, was the set of steak knives, and we can add more, depending the pitch. Nothing wrong with this selling. Why? Because, we expect it. I cannot count the number times, when a customer has shouted out near the of the pitch, "But wait, there's more!" And he was right.

"We can talk about the cost on TV with shipping and tax, but HERE we'll give to you 2 jumbo shammy sheets, and we'll add a set of kitchen shammies for free, and for 19.99 right now, we will double your order right now!" (that the jam)

One car wax pitchman gives away an all-weather wiper blade set and a super shammy in his jam.

The package may contain any items that make this a tremendous perceived or increased actual value. And, if we have done our job, as pitchmen, we have established value beyond question. If you use a jam, it may just make the deal sweeter.

Some products do not use a jam, but know what it is, and the jam depends on the products and your boss! If you're your own boss, study how others are selling similar items.

ACTIONS WITH WORDS. (ACTING PRINCIPLE, AND WORKS IN PITCHING ALSO!) The actions of the pitch must be timed out with the words. That is important when such as handling a razor sharp knife that can leave a finger on the cutting board! That's obvious with the "Miracle Blade," "Showtime Knife," "Sportsmen's Dream," "Ginsu," and other variations on the knife pitch theme. A physical goof with the knife teaches lessons fast. And even if you do not leave body parts on the cutting board, or go through a box of band-aids, there is a compelling reasoning behind the concept of "words on action." Every word, every movement, every reference to the physical product, that go into the pitch, in essence, every aspect of the pitch must be designed to move the story forward! If you stop progressive physical movement, and simply talk, then you're simply talking to the audience. What else are you doing? If you stop moving the story forward in your actions, then you will have to double back. We cannot progress going back.

Here is an example from the staging of a play. If we can give the players a task to do, as we deliver our lines, especially lines that sell the action, the overall effect will be more powerful.

PROPS. Now in pitches, the product becomes a prop. Props help us tell a story. We may use one or multiple props. This applies to a consumer product, and even a high-ticket concept. Props can make or break a sale, as long as they help push the story forward.

In the pitch for the "Salsa Master" we'd often use a cheap store bought salsa to compare to our fresh hand made salsa. We'd also have several machines ready to go. Also, the veggies were props. Everything was important to the presentation, or it wasn't needed. In the presentation for the "StoveTop Grill," we'd often have a cheaper and lesser quality copy that we could show as a comparison ours. Every product pitch involves props, EVEN IF IT'S THE SUBJECT PRODUCT. A classic prop with the knife, is, a dull, battered knife "so dull, you couldn't cut butter with it." ("And, let's face it, almost every home has one!" And so the "tip" (audience) identifies, and they laugh.) With the grill, we'd have all sorts of wines, beer, apple juice, liquid smoke, all props. Even the delicious grilled chicken and veggies are all props. Their use should be planned and rehearsed, so there no surprises in your pitch. Props are used to convey humor, dramatic effect, and of course to move the story forward! The cookware pitch utilizes their own cookware, and old beaten up cheap cookware (and most of their customers have this beaten up mix and match cookware). Props must have a purpose and drive the story forward. Classic pitches require adherence to the classic pitch, and that means the props to be used. (Folks will watch the pitch again and again, almost knowing each line, and the props they use, and that may be why they stopped to watch!) Newer products may more freedom, but once you have something that works, leave it alone.

YOUR TIME IS MONEY! Most highly effective product pitch presentations can only take a few minutes, 3 to 5 minutes, and it can be as long as 10 minutes, 20 minutes, up to a 45 minute "cooking show" depending on the requirements of the pitch. If you take too long on a pitch that requires only half the time, the time you're wasting amounts to lost earnings. Why does one pitch require only 2 minutes, but another pitch requires 45 minutes. One of the keys seems to be that the bigger the price, the longer the pitch, as there are often a number of "proofs," designed to build credibility, and value. A perfect example is the classic cookware demonstration. That pitch starts on the exact minute where the next show will start at the sign posted. With cookware sets that can run from $1,000 to over $2,000, the customer is entitled to a great show. Again, the cookware is a perfect college level class in the art of professional demonstration, and the art of the sales pitch. Even though the cookware will stretch out to 45 minutes, every second and minute will be filled with planned out steps that lead to a sale. But remember, there is an attention limit. Be aware.

The cookware pitch has to be as long it is. But the "SoveTop Grill?" That's about a 5 minute pitch and you can take it longer, but rarely less. Remember that we need layers of proof, and we sell both the sizzle as well as the steak. If we just show the StoveTop Grill, explain how it works, and then give out the price, what happens? Nothing. We offered no proof. We need to allow for a minimum of three proving points, as we build to a close.

What else can force you into a pitch that takes longer? Well, if your crowd is slow building in one at a time, so you may need to chit-chat a bit, a "banter," maybe a little extra in the warm-up. As soon as we draw even a small crowd, or, if the show brings us a single customer, or a large crowd, we have to know how to pace our pitch. With a new product that you are pitching a presentation that you have developed, time your pitch and ask yourself, is this long enough, on the money, too long? Better still, ask for the advice of trusted and honest mentors, if you are so lucky, and at least good friends. A wise man seeks counsel. The pitch needs to be only as long as it is necessary to sufficiently transfer enthusiasm to your audience so that are ready to buy. Generally, the longer the pitch is usually needed for high priced products. The beauty of a product that can be pitched in a short period, is that the Pitchman will be rolling from one pitch to another. Over a few decades back, on one cold day at the Milwaukee Home Show, it was red hot inside as knife pitchman Bill Heichert became a legend, selling so many knife sets in a single day, his totals still stand unofficially as a world record. Bill was an expert at keeping the script lean, and exacting every time.

If you learn a classic pitch, there is no need to re-invent the wheel. Just learn it and copy the masters. Copy Success.

If you are walking about the markets, fairs, or trade shows, and you see a great product that you really, honestly enjoy, why not see if you can learn that pitch. If there isn't a pitch as one pitchman discovered with the StoveTop Grill, which was an Asian stove top grill that was quite common among Asian cultures. But that pitchman created a winning PITCH for that product, tried and honed it, and that was a pitch that I learned and utilized with great success. We can develop subtle personal differences; however, don't change a successful model. Why change it if it doesn't need to be improved? RULE: NEVER Change a classic pitch. You may be able to add improvements, if necessary (Ron Popeil's Showtime Knives are a great example).

Another way of looking at it, as long time veteran product promoter Paul Patterson puts it "The more you ask for money, the more you'll make." Paul a great way for simple explanations that carry lots of wisdom. Let's think of Product A. We sell the pitch and we have planned progressions to bring the close in 5 minutes. Did we prove in those 5 minutes that we earned the money from the audience? Better hope so, or no sale. Does time make it different? Well if that same pitch can be massaged out to 10 minutes, it only makes a difference if the added banter also involves added proofs, that help further sell the enthusiasm. Here's the magic: if you have transferred a "buying/gotta have it" enthusiasm, ask for the money. To see where you stand on the "No way - Gotta Have It" meter, go ahead and ask for money, provided you have given the audience your enthusiasm and proofs. If people walk away, without buying... you didn't entertain, compel, prove, enough. Did you create an "apostle?"

Ask for the money, true, there must be a system. One can't only repeat the price over and over again. There must be a progression. If the customers are literally throwing money at you, fine tell em all the price, and do it often, but how realistic is that? More importantly, don't waste time talking when you could be closing more sales. It makes sense, the more pitches you present, with all proper ingredients, the more sales you will realize.

NEVER PITCH TO THE CUSTOMER'S BACKS. The best time to start inviting your audience is NOT RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOUR BOOTH. WHY? If you are not successful on your initial invitation, the folks are likely continuing to walk by ...and to attempt to have them come back means pitching to their backs. I've seen everything from tossing out an insult, like that's going to win friends and influence people, to continuing to pitch them as if they were actually attentive. Silly. Once they have walked passed, they're gone. To avoid this, always pay attention to the flow of your potential audience up and down the aisle. SEE 'EM COMING! If we see the prospect as they approach your booth, making eye-contact early in a genuine friendly manner. Once eye contact is established, you can invite the prospect into your selling space by using engaging small talk, and if humor can be used, many defensive walls may be broken down going in. The practiced small talk that draws your prospects, involving them early on, is called the "bally" and the "banter." The best pitchmen are astute at spotting and drawing customers to the booth and building a crowd of prospects, known as "building the tip." The "tip" is the crowd in front of you.

Bradley Leyman, a master pitchman

Still going strong in his youthful 70's.  Bradley has been at the Ventura County  Fair for over 20 years.  (Remember "the more flash, the more cash"?  Look at the product pyramid in the background)
Still going strong in his youthful 70's. Bradley has been at the Ventura County Fair for over 20 years. (Remember "the more flash, the more cash"? Look at the product pyramid in the background)

A PITCH IS ENTERTAINING

There is an entertainment quotient in the pitch; and, as the story moves along, the pitchman must satisfy the audience's expectation to be entertained. Regarding "entertainment," I won't dwell on this subject except to mention that there must be a "pay-off" for the willing spectator, the audience. That is the entertainment factor. If you're going to be successful, your pitch must be entertaining. (Note that I am not referring to hourly employee product demonstrators who simply recite their script, counting the hours till their shift is over. That is not a professional pitchman). Think that the great Pitchmen proving grounds were along the boardwalks from Wildwood, NJ to Coney Island, NY. They could not make a dime if they could not stop, entertain and close their audiences. It's still that way.

Some presentations are specifically scripted with humor. The professional pitchman sometimes injects his own brand of humor. Sometimes pitchmen will restate tried and true jokes that, well delivered, still go over well. In fact, some seasoned products have become legendary. A classic example would be the the famous Ginsu Knife, which has been seen as numerous names since it first appeared on TV approximately 4 decades ago, and before TV, beginning with the original "Sharp Cut" knife. The "Knife" pitch stills draws a crowd. It is one of the tried and true products and the humor that has been infused into the pitch always has audiences entertained, even if delivered in a dead pan manner. One of the best pitchmen in the business is Ricky Zee. He is fun to watch build and hold a crowd. His delivery is a classic dead-pan, funny so you want to listen and watch for the next throw away line, a deftly delivered presentation.

Bill Heichert was one of the best "knife workers" in America. I was lucky to have been introduced to Bill, who offered to teach me how to present the world famous knife, as we then called it the "Miracle Blade." Bill taught that the script was everything, indeed it was "the story." Everything hinges on the story. True. I cannot the hours I drilled by pitching to a wall and a camera, in Bill's warehouse. After I would deliver the pitch, only to hear Bill's critique, usually something like "Nope, do it again!" I took a deep breath, and started again. I learned the pitch, as well as the coinciding actions of the knife presentation from Bill. Bill's style was low-keyed, understated, and exacting in every detail. He never wavered in his pitch, never changed a word, because there was never a need to. Also, and by altering a classic pitch, the expectations of the audience would likely fall short. By the time he clapped his hands, and said "Friends, now's the time to buy" the audience members were willing participants, and most bought. The knife pitch is entertaining. Learning the knife pitch was a watershed event, for me, as it taught discipline and specificity, of both words and action. If I had to recall what single moment, if any, it was the learning of the knife pitch.

Bill Heichert introduced me to a young pitchman that was already known around the country, Billy Mays, who had been working for Heichert. Billy taught me how to pitch the "Chopper" or as we called it "The Culinare," "The Quick Chopper," and the "Salsa Master." What a great product! And people buy it today, as they did 20 years ago. And, it's fun to pitch!

Billy Mays was the exact opposite of the low-keyed style that Heichert exhibited, Billy was a naturally larger than life personality. He made his personality work for him; and, he was a very likable fellow. When he made the successful transition from live events to television it was a natural evolution. He had proven himself in car shows, home shows, fairs and swap meets from the East Coast to the West Cost. He had worked extremely hard to perfect his own technique, and when he appeared first on TV nearly several decades ago, he was more than ready. TV audience embraced. I'd say that many people who'd seen Billy Mays on TV had realized, having seen him at event across the country, "Hey, I know that guy." Billy had learned by working with, and learning from, many of the best in the business. One of the main principles when you are pitching to the public, the pitchman must be likable. Billy was always likable, and he was entertaining and he was enthusiastic, and he expertly was able transfer that enthusiasm.

Bradley Leyman confided to me as an upstart JCL ("Johnny-come-lately" as pitchmen slang for a newcomer), "You have to sell yourself first." Anyone wishing to be successful in the pitch business must always sell themselves before the product.

I met Arnie Morris, years ago at a home show in Washington DC, over 15 years ago. He is Ron Popeil's older cousin and a legendary pitchman in his own right. It was a pleasure to see him pitch the knife. Not long after, Ron Popeil introduced his new Showtime gourmet knives and in addition to Ron Popeil pitching as the emcee in the infomercial, he also hired Arnie to perform the classic pitch demonstration. It was a very successful infomercial, likely one of the best TV campaigns ever for a pitched line of cutlery. Two pros, at the top of their games, and that was with Arnie Morris 70ish then, and Ron Popeil 10 years younger. That was close to 10 years ago. They are both going strong.

In 2000, New Yorker Magazine ran an article that focused on the East Coast roots of the classic pitchmen of the past half century, and, even generations before, especially the intertwined Popeil and Morris family connections and their important contributions to this slice of American folk heroes, the Pitchmen. Arnie Morris noted "You can take a pitchman and make him a great actor; but, you can't always take an actor and make him a great pitchman." The writer for the New Yorker called it being more than an entertainer, but also being an astute business man. Not only can a professional pitchman make you laugh, and entertain the tip, he can close a sale when it's time to close the deal, which has been identified as "the turn." (1)

Ron Popiel stated in that New Yorker feature that his Morris cousins were was so good, "They could sell you an empty box."

There are few of the old pros left. If you're lucky to watch any of the old pros work, and luckier still to be able to learn by working with them, doing so will be the best education you'll ever get.

Mike Ketchel pitching coast to coast - dressing well can't hurt

Hundreds of events , shows, and fairs in 46 states, in front of millions
Hundreds of events , shows, and fairs in 46 states, in front of millions

FIRST IMPRESSIONS MAKE OR BREAK

APPEARANCE. You have one chance to make a good impression, so why not look as good as you can. Being yourself is perfectly okay, as I've worked in jeans and a t-shirt, dress attire, casual, and a professional chef's uniform. It all depends on what you are selling.

And, remember, you are also always selling yourself.

Ron Popeil is the world's most renowned pitchman and consumer products inventor whose sales have topped over 2 billion dollars in a career that has spanned four decades, and he's still going strong. Last year, at the Ventura County Fair, Ron came to visit with a few good friends including his good pal Bradley. He was already planning his next new product... and no, I'm not saying a word. Leave it to Ron Popeil to have a breakthrough product, and this will be no different!

Ron Popiel is always seen on TV in a dress shirt and tie, and lately a cook's apron. Immediately, he creates a powerful image of a believable, trustworthy, inventor, CEO, and pitchman. He carries that persona when you see him, as I did at Ventura. He is the reigning statesman of the pitch business. And as an internationally acclaimed TV celebrity, he always plays to his most positive image.

I began wearing a dress shirt and tie early. As I studied Ron Popeil's style in every way, I saw there was an inherent honesty in his style, and always a respect for his audience. Appearance was a key factor that complimented Ron's personality. Everything matches. Nothing detracts.

In the course of a 20+ year career, my main "uniforms" have been a shirt & tie, and a chef uniform, a dress shirt with a chef's apron, and sometimes slacks and polo shirts. I want to match the product or service I'm pitching. Nothing detracts from my assignment, which is to close sales, as many as possible.

If instant impressions are everything, why would any pitchman dress in such a way so as to turn off the audience? Example: The presenter arrives to the booth wearing a dirty t-shirt, a jeans that look they've been dragged down the street, even though that's they way Einstein bought them, and oh yeah, he is wearing his pants pulled down showing half his butt. That may be what junior wishes to wear, but it is unacceptable for business.

Play it safe. When in doubt, dress up instead of down. This is my opinion only, but wouldn't that husband and wife feel more comfortable buying a product from a pitchman who looks like he actually has a car, and a place to live, maybe looks like he may be a top sales professional, versus looking like a guy who looks like he may have stolen your hub-caps?

Common sense applies. Match your audience, and don't be afraid to look good. For instance, if you are demonstrating with your hands, such as a gadget where the tip will see your hands, wouldn't it be a good idea to have a manicure? If you are pitching a product that favors jeans and a work-shirt, let the clothing be neat and clean. Same with grooming.

Put your best foot forward, as you only get one chance to make a positive first impression.

The author at the Fiery Food Show, Albuquerque NM, & the Anaheim Home & Garden Show

Any venue that has an audience assembled,  including small local events, flea markets, and swap meets, holiday bazaars, farmers markets, car shows,  and more, may be great affordable events without breaking the bank.
Any venue that has an audience assembled, including small local events, flea markets, and swap meets, holiday bazaars, farmers markets, car shows, and more, may be great affordable events without breaking the bank.

TYPES OF PRODUCTS, AND WHERE TO GET STARTED

Different types of products require different types of selling/exhibit booths.

Earlier, I referred to "getting up on the box" and this refers to a typical elevated booth, such as a Salsa Master, Knife, V-Slicer, Vita-Mix, StoveTop Grill, Shammy, Titan Peelers, Sushi Master, etc.

These booth almost always use a sound system, and lighting, and do not require any movement from the Pitchman's primary selling spot. Some cleaners are pitched this way, and the home d├ęcor product as curtain forms can be pitched from an elevated booth.

There is usually an elevated box that the pitchman stands on, allowing a height advantage that allows easy viewing with a large crowd as can often happen in a "red show." ('red' means a hot show). A singular product that has universal appeal, and does not require the pitchman to move about could work on a "high booth."

Other pitch items include products that require movement such as magic mop, floor steamer, car wax, massagers, sweepers, cookware, pressure cookers, Garlic Grater, etc. and these are amplified as they require no less energy that the gadget booths.

A "flat booth" would be used for ring cleaner, eyeglass cleaner, massagers, "Pillow Pets" prior to their hitting TV, currently sheets, no snore pillows, Magic Pens, Mr. Slushi, Pet Comb/brush, Mr. Shticky... these would seem retail items, but with a pitch, they compete with and against all other pitch items in majors events.

What do you want to pitch? Does it matter?

The easiest an best way to work with someone who is already in the business. Learn it from the inside. Or you can find a company that is willing to train its sales people where they sell at live events and venues that may even include stores like Sam's Club and Costco. Like any business, it takes time. It took Billy Mays 20 years of hard work in order to become an overnight success. Billy Mays, frankly, worked his ass off to be where he was. I have never met a lazy pitchman. If you test the water by dipping your toe in, that's okay. See how you like the idea of selling to the public. If you do decide you are going to climb up to the top of the high board and launch yourself into a free dive into the deep end of that pool, know that you had better be able to swim.

When I started 20 years ago, I was living in Los Angeles and began working in swap meets 5 days per week! After almost a year, I landed an RV show, and then little by little, I moved into larger shows, and ultimately began to work throughout the nation. Sales, fairs, home & garden shows, sportsmen's shows, computer shows, small community shows, festivals, restaurant shows, food & gourmet shows, holiday & gift shows, boat shows, there is almost no end to the events where you may be able to carve out a niche.

Note that when the pitchman becomes his own promoter, the full overhead is much like owning a small business. To exhibit at a home show, you may have a 10 x 10 booth space that may be close to $1,000 for a 3 day show, and additional charges for electricity, possible food permits, in addition to the travel, lodging, meals, and certainly your stock, and its freight costs. It all adds up quickly. When you work for a promoter, you will usually be paid a commission, and your travel on the road, if needed, are your own.

If you are looking to avoid breaking the bank, you may wish to consider flea markets and swap meets in your own area. In addition, seek out local events that may not even charge for you to exhibit and sell, or if any very little. Seek out opportunities right in you own backyard. Even events like holiday bazaars put on by schools or clubs. Local fairs, car shows, fishing events, rodeos, remember, local festivals, wherever there are audiences. And, you work from there.

STILL THINK YOU WANT TO BE LIKE A BILLY MAYS? It's unlikely you'll be able to be like Billy. He was a one of a kind. Like Billy, and Bradley, Ron, Ricky, Arnie, Henry, Vern, Fritz, Mark, et al., you are one of a kind, unique, and you come to the table with your strengths and special abilities.

If you approach it wisely, with a positive attitude, a certain amount of God-given talent, and the ability to acquire the rest, you may never know were you may end up. You may, one day, join that odd and very special fraternity referred to Pitchmen.

Other common sense concepts: show up early, do more than expected. Regard your fellow man as Will Rogers did, "I never met a man I didn't like." You have my very best wishes for all due success.

Remember, friend, your attitude will dictate your altitude!

My last advice is to seek and discover your source of inner strength, inner strength that can sustain you during tough times and times of plenty. For me, I have found it to be Jesus Christ, as in the words of St. Paul, who said "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." (Philippians 4:13)

May you be blessed in all your endeavors.


(1) New Yorker, Annals of Enterprise "The Pitchman - Ron Popeil and the conquest of the American kitchen." by Malcolm Gladwell

(2) Telling To Win, by Peter Guber

In memory of Mark Hyman. At his best, he was one of the best ever. Friends are sometimes too quickly gone. Shalom, friend.

Copyright 2012, all rights reserved.

Mike Ketchel has been a pitchman for the past 20 years, small business owner, athlete and coach, and is a public speaker, writer, stroke survivor, and Dialysis patient. He lives in Northern California; and, may be contacted by e-mail at mikeketchel@gmail.com

Comments 1 comment

Paul12001 10 months ago

Great article , I am looking at starting pitching and this is a great help!

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