But wait! There's more! - Ron Popeil and the Veg-o-matic story
“He dreamed up something new in his kitchen and went out and pitched it himself.” - from the article The Pitchman by Malcolm Gladwell in The New Yorker, October 30, 2000
During a visit to a friend's house recently I noticed a box on the kitchen counter which looked unfamiliar and interesting. I asked my friend about it.
“My mother bought this thing in the early 1960s and we have used it ever since,” he told me. “It is very handy for a lot of tasks in the kitchen.”
My friend is quite a cook and spends a lot of time in the kitchen. The “thing” turned out to be a Veg-o-Matic food-processing appliance, one which epitomises the inventiveness and entrepreneurial spirit of one of the US's great inventors and showmen, Ron Popeil.
I knew nothing about Ron Popeil or the marketing methods he developed from the great tradition of carny pitchmen, but I had heard the sort of thing on our local TV where ads using the line which became Popeil's signature were common: “But wait! There's more ...”
So I did some research into both the Veg-o-Matic and Popeil himself and uncovered an interesting story.
The product is the star
The Veg-o-Matic was actually invented by Ron's father Samuel J Popeil, known to all simply as “SJ”. It was introduced to the world at the at the International Housewares Show in Chicago, Illinois in 1963.
“The object that sold best was the one that sold itself”
SJ founded the firm Popeil Brothers which produced a number of household product such as the Chop-o-Matic, the Dial-o-Matic and, of course, the Veg-o-Matic.
While SJ was successful as an inventor, it was his second son, Ron, who brought a whole new dimension to the business, and took it to great heights of success.
According to Gladwell, “He was a pioneer in taking the secrets of the boardwalk pitchmen to the television screen .”
In so doing Ron Popeil invented a whole new marketing technique suited to the television age, a technique that used some of the pitchman's ways compressed into just a few minutes. But most importantly, what Popeil took from the pitchman's spiel was to make the product the star.
In Gladwell's words, using TV meant “you could train the camera on the machine and compel viewers to pay total attention to the product you were selling.” In other words, he continued, TV allowed you to do even more effectively what the best pitchmen strove to do in live demonstrations—make the product the star.”
"It slices! It dices!"
And what a star the Veg-o-Matic became – with its patented blades made from a special grade of aluminium called 364 Alcoa and the simplicity of operation, its smooth, good-looking moulded plastic housing the Veg-o-Matic was a “natural” on TV.
In fact is was the efficiency of the Veg-o-Matic which made TV advertising essential for marketing the appliance. It could process vegetables so quickly that having a person demonstrate it to a small number of potential buyers was impractical and not cost-effective.
Popeil and his company Ronco estimated that the Veg-o-Matic could, in one minute, produce around 120 egg wedges, or about 300 slices of cucumber, or about 1150 potato shoestrings. According to Gladwell, “It could go through what used to be a day’s worth of vegetables in a matter of minutes.”
All this without any buttons to press, or any complicated programming to do – just put the vegetable into the appliance and push the handle down and hey presto! There are your slices or your dices! Hence Popeil's other line: “It slices! It dices!”
The Veg-o-Matic was also one of the first products to show the red “As Seen on TV” logo on the box, although the one that I have seen does not have it, perhaps because there was no TV in these parts at the time.
Other Popeil products
Ron Popeil is the inventor of many products and holds a long list of patents. One of his latest products is the "Showtime Rotisserie" - a counter-top oven for cooking almost anything.
As Popeil says: "a delicious six-pound chicken"; or "a succulent whole duckling"; or a “mouthwatering pork-loin roast"! Just "set it and forget it" as Popeil says!
Among the other products he invented are the "Pocket Fisherman", the Ronco Electric Food Dehydrator and the Popeil Automatic Pasta and Sausage Maker.
Popeil still lives in Beverly Hills where he continues to tinker - always looking out for a better way to do things!
K-tel's Veg-o-Matic commercial
"Set it and forget it!"
The text and all images on this page, unless otherwise indicated, are by Tony McGregor who hereby asserts his copyright on the material. Should you wish to use any of the text or images feel free to do so with proper attribution and, if possible, a link back to this page. Thank you.
© Tony McGregor 2012