Popeil was just sixteen years old when he began selling his father’s products on Chicago’s infamous Maxwell Street. His workday would start at 5 a.m., when he used to arrive at the market and spend one hour cutting and preparing fifty pounds each of onions, cabbages, and carrots, and more than one hundred pounds of potatoes each day. After that, Popeil would demonstrate and try to sell his products from 6 a.m. until 4 p.m. On average during his 11-hour work days, Popeil would bring in $500 on a daily basis.
When Popeil entered his late teenage years, he began working at the State Fair, as well as the most heavily visited Woolworth’s department store in the entire country. Again, his mornings were early and his nights were late. However, his long work days proved worth it, as Popeil was earning more selling his products than even the manager of Woolworth’s. Before he had even hit twenty years old, Popeil was wearing a Rolex watch, dining at the exclusive Pump Room, and staying in $150/night hotel rooms.
Popeil’s persistence as a young boy was a trait he would carry with him into his adulthood. Indeed, it was Popeil’s willingness to go above and beyond the average salesman’s pitch that put him over the top.
“You hear about all these people making all this money on paper,” says Popeil. “And everybody wants to get rich quickly, but they don’t want to work for it. They want to sit back and leverage everything they’ve got to make the big score.” However, for Popeil, there is no substitute for hard work. “People say, ‘Ron, you’re so lucky,’” he says. “Yeah, the harder I work, the luckier I am.”
Popeil’s motto for his Showtime Rotisserie might have been “Set it and Leave it,” but that was not the way Popeil went about his business. His product could operate on auto-pilot, but Popeil knew that his company could not. Whether it was Woolworth’s or the State Fair, Popeil wanted to be there before the first customer came, and stay until the very last customer had left. He knew that not every customer would result in a sale, but he wanted to take every chance he could to promote himself and his products.
Popeil is a firm believer in the old adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” After spending so much time designing and manufacturing his products, Popeil knew that the only thing left that stood in the way of his success was persistence. Whether it meant years of persistence or trying his pitches in new, different ways, Popeil was willing to do whatever it took.
Whereas many of his friends and colleagues spent their time and energy investing in the stock market, Popeil wanted instead to rely on his own hard work. “All the people who made a lot of money in the stock market the past seven or eight years look at me and say, ‘You ain't sharing this, Ron,’” says Popeil. “But now with all the downs coming into play, [they say] ‘Oh boy, you were so smart, Ron.’”