Salesman of the Century

TV pitchman Ron Popeil, inventor of the Chop-O-Matic and the Showtime Rotisserie, dies at 86.

Good morning!

Here are today’s highlights:

  • Mask sales are headed back up again.

  • Company vaccine mandates are spreading fast.

  • And the latest shortages are of seafood and toys.


In 1964, Ron Popeil, who titled his autobiography The Salesman of the Century, started Ronco, taking advantage of television advertising to market products like the Smokeless Ashtray, Popeil’s Pocket Fisherman, and Popeil’s Pasta & Sausage Maker: “Mr. Popeil lived in Beverly Hills but dined at Denny’s and shopped at Costco. During one of his Costco visits, he saw crowds lined up to buy rotisserie-roasted chicken. Mr. Popeil got to work. He bought an aquarium, an electric motor, a heating element, a metal spit rod and a few other spare parts and began to tinker. ... Mr. Popeil wanted the front of the oven to be glass to enable people to see the food as it roasted. The spit had two prongs and had to rotate horizontally, not vertically, to cook evenly and not dry out. He tested the durability of the cooker by dropping it on concrete 10 times. Finally, the Showtime Rotisserie and BBQ countertop oven was ready.”

  • “Demonstrating how easy the cooker was to use, he uttered a phrase that studio audiences later chanted in unison with him: ‘Set it and forget it.’ Sales of the Showtime Rotisserie totaled more than $1 billion, making it by far the most successful Ronco product.”

  • “Mr. Popeil developed the oven without focus groups, a marketing campaign or research staff, except for the friends who ate his chicken and helped him tinker with the electronic innards of the machine.”

  • “‘My forte is mass marketing for big dollars,’ he told the Boston Globe. ‘The product has to fill a need and the market has to be very big.’” READ MORE


Once fading mask sales are headed back up: “A spot check of businesses and other data sources are showing that mask sales have been rising in recent weeks as Americans worry about the surging cases of the Delta variant of the coronavirus. Retail analysts expect mask sales will get another jolt after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention late Tuesday changed course on some masking guidelines, recommending that even vaccinated people return to wearing masks indoors in parts of the U.S. where the cases are surging.”

  • “Sales of masks rose 24 percent for the week ended Tuesday, compared to the prior week, reversing weekly declines since May, according to the Adobe Digital Economy Index.”

  • “San Francisco-based grocery delivery company Instacart said mask sales via its online platform have increased since the Fourth of July weekend, reversing a decline that had begun in April.” READ MORE


Company vaccine mandates are spreading fast: “Most companies are allowing for very rare religious and health exemptions, of course. But the ‘I read something scary on Facebook’ excuse doesn't apply anymore. Silicon Valley is leading the way. Facebook and Google announced all employees returning to the office must be vaccinated. Netflix is the first studio to mandate the vaccine. All actors who star in the streaming giant's programming and the employees who come in contact with them must have the shot. Wall Street offices are filling up fast. And vaccines are required. The financial sector says get vaxxed or find a new job. BlackRock and Morgan Stanley announced all employees must be vaccinated to return to the office.”

  • “It's good business. Johnny Taylor, Jr, of the Society of Human Resource Management, says most employees want vaccine mandates. They want to know their workplace is safe when people return.”

  • “His polling shows nearly 70 percent of employees want their colleagues to be vaccinated. And patience has worn thin with the vaccine-hesitant.” READ MORE

Danny Meyer will mandate vaccines at his restaurants: “This morning, Danny Meyer announced a vaccine mandate for all of his restaurants: All Union Square Hospitality Group employees and all indoor diners will have to show proof of vaccination. ‘We feel like we’ve got an amazing responsibility to keep our staff members and our guests safe,’ Meyer told CNBC’s Squawk Box. ‘And that’s what we’re going to do.’ The policy goes into effect on September 7 — so if you haven’t been jabbed but you do have a Gramercy Tavern reservation for the fall, you’ve got time! — at which point, the company’s website explains, staff will start asking to see ‘either your physical COVID-19 vaccine card, your New York State Excelsior Pass, your relevant state-provided vaccine pass, or a photo of your vaccination card.’”

  • “Meyer is not the only restaurant owner to make the call. Frenchette, Estela and Altro Paradiso, Dame, Llama Inn, and Joseph Leonard, among others, are all now requiring vaxx proof to eat inside ...”

  • “It remains to be seen whether this becomes the industry default — you go to a restaurant, you show proof of vaxx — but norms do seem to be shifting.”

  • “And Meyer, between his enormously visible restaurants and his new gig as chair of the New York Economic Development Corporation, probably has as much industry sway as anyone, even if — it’s worth noting — the policy does not (yet) apply to Shake Shack.” READ MORE


The latest shortage is seafood: “At the Clam, there are no scallops. Prices went ‘crazy,’ says Mike Price, who co-owns the Greenwich Village restaurant, and so he yanked them off the menu. Over in Napa Valley, Phil Tessier, the executive chef at a popular spot called PRESS, did the same. And in Atlanta, at the tapas joint the Iberian Pig, chef Josue Pena didn’t stop at scallops. The Alaskan halibut and blue crab are gone, too. That last one was a killer, Pena says. Crab croquettes had become a signature dish. ‘People were like, What’s up? But, he says, with wholesale costs soaring like they are, ‘the price we had to charge to be profitable was almost insulting.’”

  • “Just like in dozens of other overwhelmed industries in the booming economy, there are any number of factors causing the shortages and price spikes: The ports are congested; there aren’t enough fishermen; there aren’t enough truck drivers; and demand for seafood at restaurants is soaring.”

  • “‘A lot of people went into construction,’ he said. ‘We see less and less people coming back every year because they are getting old and fishing is getting more expensive.’” READ MORE

And there could be a shortage of toys for the holidays: “Toy industry veterans say this year’s disruption is worse than last year when the Covid-19 outbreak temporarily shut many ports, factories and stores. “In 2020, we thought it couldn’t get any worse, and 2021 said, ‘Hold my beer,’ said Joshua Loerzel, vice president of sales and marketing for Hog Wild LLC, a small toy company based in Oregon. Ocean freight bottlenecks have led to long delays for shipping from China, where a majority of toys sold in the U.S. are made, and rates that are far higher than usual.”

  • “The daily spot rate including premium surcharges for a 40-foot container from China to the U.S. West Coast as of Wednesday was $18,346, compared with about $2,680 last July and $1,550 in July 2019, according to the Freightos Baltic Index.”

  • “Retailers and toy companies typically agree on prices six months to a year in advance. Toy companies are now scrambling to renegotiate prices with retailers, said Mr. Loerzel of Hog Wild, which employs about 30 people. The size of a toy company will impact its negotiating success, he said.”

  • “He said the company’s new Handy Grabs item, which was priced at $14.99 when it launched earlier this year, is now selling for $17.99 at some retailers to help offset higher shipping costs.” READ MORE


In yesterday’s newsletter, we highlighted a 21 Hats article about the temptation of private equity. In it, we referred to private equity firms having amassed $3 billion to invest in businesses; the correct number, of course, is $3 trillion. The article noted that PE firms tend to focus more on short-term profits than a company’s long-term health. READ MORE


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Episode 70: Oh, No! They Accepted Our Offer: This week, Laura Zander, Diana Lee, and Dana White all share big news. Laura tells us that she and her husband/co-founder Doug put in a bid to buy a building for their business in Reno—and she’s not sure how she feels about the fact that their offer was accepted. Diana explains why she’s decided to pay a fortune to take over space vacated by glitzy magazine company Conde Nast in Manhattan’s Freedom Tower, a move that required her to put down a $2 million security deposit. And Dana tells us that she’s had preliminary conversations about opening Paralee Boyd salons on U.S. military bases around the world.

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