Ron Popeil, who has probably sold more gadgets than any salesman alive, said he is negotiating to sell all or part of his Beverly Hills company to a housewares concern or an investment banking company.
Popeil is the creator of the Veg-O-Matic, the inside-the-shell egg scrambler and, more recently, fake hair in a can.
"I would expect a sale to be completed in three to four months," the infomercial king said.
Popeil and trusts he has set up own a collection of companies, each marketing a specific product. These operations together have about 40 employees and sales of just more than $50 million a year. Net income is $10 million to $15 million annually, Popeil said.
Along with the rights to his future inventions and previous products, a major asset in a sale of the companies would be Popeil himself, the 60-year-old master pitchman and offbeat inventor. Among his popular devices is the Popeil Pocket Fisherman, which he plans to bring back later this year.
Popeil did not identify the potential buyers or disclose details of the negotiations.
If a sale goes through, it is very possible that Popeil will end up involved in a public company once again. He lost that status in 1984 when his Ronco Teleproducts Inc. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The housewares company is publicly owned, whereas the investment banking firms would probably take his business public within a year, he predicted. In either case, he wants a major role in the company as an inventor and marketer.
For Popeil, this would represent a turnaround from 1992, when he predicted that he would "never, never, never, never" go public with his new company. But a need for cash has apparently changed his mind. "We have been missing the boat because we're small," he said.
Popeil said he has been a victim of his own success in infomercials, the program-length television commercials he has used to hawk his products in recent years.
"The media reported Ron Popeil made tens of millions in infomercials, and it's come back to haunt me," he complains. "As a result, television time in most markets has gone up 200% to 300% in the last three years, and it no longer pays to sell strictly on television. The serious money is in retail."
By joining a company with retail outlets, Popeil hopes to expand into department stores while keeping his grip on the infomercial market, a technique known as "piggybacking."
"I'll market a product on television for six months and then go to retail," he said. "That way it will already be pre-sold."
Popeil said he also has his eyes on overseas distribution in Europe, South America and Japan, where infomercials are in their infancy. "People are people everywhere," he said.
A third part of Popeil's expansion plans would be in telemarketing, using the database of phone numbers he has accumulated through infomercials to sell additional products.
"The first product, such as a food dehydrator, opens the door," he said. That can be followed with sales of beef jerky mix, food storage bags and a host of other items, he said.
Popeil has been known for his low-budget, high-intensity commercials since 1964, when he introduced the Veg-O-Matic: "It slices, it dices, it chops!" The commercial became so famous that it was spoofed on "Saturday Night Live."