If the name Barry Becher doesn’t immediately slice and dice its way into the forefront of your consciousness, perhaps the inscription that his stepdaughter says the family is considering for his gravestone will help: “But wait, there’s more.”
Becher, 71, was one of two guys from Rhode Island responsible for our use of the word “iconic” in front of “infomercials” such as the oft-parodied –- most famously by John Belushi's Samurai character on “Saturday Night Live” -- Ginsu knife spots. He was buried Monday after succumbing to kidney cancer last Friday in West Palm Beach.
Becher was “the financial genius of the operation," Becher’s long-time business partner Ed Valentitells the Wall Street Journal’s Stephen Miller, which touted such amazing breakthrough products as the Miracle Painter, the Miracle Slicer, Lusterware Silverware, Royal DuraSteel mixing bowls and Armourcote Cookware.
Becher also personally appeared as the pitchman in some of the company’s infomercials, including the spots for the Ginsu knife, where Miller says his hands can be seen sawing through a can “before daintily slicing a tomato.” Most of the obituaries that have run online since Wednesday night are accompanied by a company handout from 1978 showing a hirsute Becher smiling at the camera as his right hand ominously holds a hammer over the handle of a knife.
In the spots, the knife does other wondrous things such as cutting through frozen foods and chopping wood. “Try that with your Farberware!” they subtly hint. If you bought a knife for $9.95 upon viewing the original commercial -- which features an Asian chef, not Becher -- your warranty still has 16 years remaining. Oh, did we mention shipping and handling?
“When the infomercial is about to end, and the price has been established, comes the closer. ‘But wait, buy it today and we’ll cut the price in half! But, there’s more. We’ll double the offer, just pay separate shipping and handling!’”James Turnage recalls in The Guardian Express. Then he does the math and, based on the S&H charges, determines that he’ll be paying as much as $27.90. “Hmm, seems like the old shell game to me, but I love the hype,” Turnage writes. Who didn’t?
“They’re taking these things that were done at state fairs and carnivals where it could be demonstrated to a group of maybe 10, now you could demonstrate the same thing to a million people or more at the same time,” NYU marketing professor Sam Craig tells the Associated Press’ Matt Sedensky. “And it takes something that’s relatively mundane and makes it appear dramatic.”
The story would not be complete, of course, without mention that “Madison Ave.” roundly rejected the two entrepreneurs when they first came a-calling. That’s when they formed their own company, Dial Media, in Becher’s garage. It fell apart in the ’80s; the partners then founded a media-buying firm, PriMedia, in 1990.
Becher, who was born in Brooklyn, ran a couple of AAMCO franchises near Warwick, R.I., when he teamed up with Valenti, an account executive for a local TV station who sold him ad time.
Becher and Valenti wroteThe Wisdom of Ginsu: Carve Yourself a Piece of the American Dream, which was published in 2005. It is apparently filled with a heap of business advice served up with a dollop of wit.
“The ‘back and forth’ bantering narrative style mimics the partnership itself, giving the book a ‘you are there’ feel that makes it a real page turner that's impossible to put down once you get started” writes one commenter on Amazon.com. Another puts the Ginsu guys in the same league as such storied business “pioneers” as Bill Gates, Walt Disney and Donald Trump.
Yet another was particularly taken by the attitude the partners suggest you take toward people who don’t return your phone calls: "You can gas up the dinghy and go fishing with Fredo, because you are dead to me!" they advise.
Indeed, the bookseller’s product description for The Wisdom of Ginsu begins: “This not a book about marketing, but a roadmap to realizing your dreams.”
There’s a difference?