WALNUT RIDGE, Ark. (AP) — A brand known by several generations because of clever television marketing is one of the best kept secrets in Northeast Arkansas.
Younger readers may think of OxyClean's Billy Mays when they hear the phrase, "But wait, there's more!" But, they wouldn't know these iconic words if not for the Ginsu knives infomercials that first started airing in 1975, the Jonesboro Sun (http://bit.ly/1TuJocp ) reported.
Most attribute the structure of the modern infomercial to the Ginsu ads that included such phrases as "How much would you pay? Don't answer!," ''Call now! Operators are standing by," and the most famous, "But wait, there's more!" The infomercial took elements of 1960-era commercials by Ron Popeil, famous for spray-on-hair and rotisserie infomercials, and created the combination viewers have become accustomed to seeing.
In June 2012 Syracuse University media scholar Robert Thompson called it "the pitch of all pitches."
However, with worldwide fame and a lasting impact on the very concept of infomercials, few might realize that the Ginsu knives, along with American Angler and ReadiVac brands, are made in Walnut Ridge.
Douglas Quikut is the parent company of the famous brands, formed in 1964 by the merger of Douglas, an automotive product company, and Quikut, a knife manufacturer. In 1972, the Walnut Ridge plant was built. President and general manager Jeffrey Griffin said a group was scouting locations and happened to become fond of Northeast Arkansas.
"It ended up with one guy liking the area and deciding this was the place to put the business," Griffin said.
While the plant employs about 40, it once boasted close to 120 employees with another 120 working in a separate blade plant. When the famous infomercials began their run in 1975, Griffin said between 6-8 million units sold in an eight-year period. All of those knives were made in one spot — Walnut Ridge.
The products coming out of Lawrence County came with a famous guarantee, too. A 50-year warranty accompanied each knife set, and Griffin said the same plant still supports that promise.
"We still get knives, like I said, some of them are from the 1980s and early 1990s," Griffin said. "Obviously, some of our employees weren't even born yet, and so when you think about that, we're still taking care of and replacing knives that old, it's quite something. I can't tell you how many people who have found out I'm the president of this company and say, 'Hey, I've still got my Ginsu.'"
In 2006, most of the blade manufacturing moved overseas to allow the company to remain competitive, Griffin said, but they retained a significant presence in Walnut Ridge. In their facility, not only are the three brands of Ginsu, American Angler and ReadiVac packaged and shipped around the world, but the company makes products for other organizations, too. Pampered Chef paring knives are manufactured entirely at the Walnut Ridge facility. Two accessories for Kirby vacuum cleaners are manufactured there, and the Oreck Ironman is made there, too.
As the story goes, another famous moment in infomercial history originated at the Douglas Quikut factory, showing David Oreck demonstrating the power of his vacuum cleaner by holding up a bowling ball with the vacuum cleaner's suction.
"We have had a stream of engineers through this facility, really kind of shocking if you go to the amount of products and concepts that were formulated," Griffin said. "Supposedly, the Oreck bowling ball test came from our engineers here who said, 'Look, this is how strong of suction this thing has,' and of course, Mr. Oreck used it as a tool to wow in the commercial."
While the company has operated in Lawrence County since the early 1970s, its most difficult years came from the financial recession of the late 2000s. Griffin said 2016 has been their year to plateau, and now they're laying groundwork to reinvigorate the company.
The company's sales are almost 100 percent online, with some sales coming from American Angler's presence in Walmart. Hopes in the company are that the Ginsu brand, second only to Farberware in name recognition, gets picked up by Walmart, too.
Griffin said that would create more jobs in Walnut Ridge overnight. He said for every $300,000 in sales, a new full-time position is needed.
Another new change for the company is a return to its roots. In the third and fourth quarter of 2016, a series of television advertisements are planned with a familiar touch, said National Sales Manager Sarah Thielemier.
"Were featuring our As Seen on TV commercial with our stainless steel set," Thielemier said. "They'll cut back and forth between the original video and the new, updated millennial version."
And as expected, the new commercial will include a bonus offer that is announced with the famous "But wait, there's more!' line.
"We're still here, but we've modernized, and we've got a nicer look," Griffin said.
Information from: The Jonesboro Sun, http://www.jonesborosun.com