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Gadget firm sliced, diced into Chapter 11

Ronco, known for the Veg-O-Matic, owes its famed founder millions.

June 16, 2007|David Colker | Times Staff Writer

Veg-O-Matic king Ron Popeil used to love to say, "But wait, there's more!"

But only barely, it turns out, at least in regard to the company he founded.

Ronco Corp., based in Simi Valley, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, declaring it has $32.7 million in debts and $13.9 million in assets.

Popeil, 72, an irrepressible pitchman who used infomercials to sell products such as the Pocket Fisherman, Showtime Rotisserie and GLH spray-on hair, is the largest creditor.

Two years ago, he sold Ronco, the company he founded in 1958. The price was about $55 million -- in what were supposed to be two easy payments.

Popeil is still owed $11.8 million, according to Thursday's filing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Woodland Hills. Other creditors include the Food Network, Court TV and the QVC home-shopping network.

A spokeswoman for Popeil, who lives in Beverly Hills, said he had no comment on the bankruptcy filing.

Part of the deal when Popeil sold the company was that it could continue to use his image, which is still on the company website.

Anyone calling Ronco's headquarters will hear Popeil's voice -- familiar from thousands of late-night pitches -- saying, "If you know the extension of the person you're calling...."

Ronco Chief Executive John Reiland said the company would continue its operations uninterrupted and that none of its 95 employees would be laid off. Chapter 11 allows a business to keep running while it works out a plan to pay its debts.

Ronco has sold $1.4 billion of and-if-you-act-now gadgets, court documents show.

The company had a previous tour through bankruptcy protection in the 1980s.

Reiland declined to discuss how the company fell into its current financial state. But court documents said that an initial $40-million payment to Popeil sliced and diced the company's finances, leaving it severely short of cash.

Ronco has reached a nonbinding agreement with a new buyer, but Reiland declined to say who that was.

It's not Popeil, the spokeswoman said. The man who is considered the father of the infomercial is too busy working on his latest invention -- a home turkey fryer.

david.colker@latimes.com

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