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Springville company beating the infomercial-success odds

Published: Sunday, March 28 2004 12:00 a.m. MST

Bob Noyce, Deseret Morning News

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He may not be Ron Popiel, made famous — or infamous — by hawking the Pocket Fisherman, spray-on hair and food dehydrators, but Hal Wing wants more people to know him as "the ladder man."

Wing, owner of Wing Enterprises, has been taking to the airwaves via infomercial to let people know more about his Springville company's Little Giant Ladder Systems. And while he won't go into detail about how much business the infomercial has brought in, he makes it clear that it's, well, climbing fast.

The evidence? The company had about 127 employees before running the infomercial in only a few markets. Last week Wing said his company had more than doubled that amount, hiring 200 people in a four-week period.

"We've had a fair share of new hires from it," Wing said. "We would be hiring anyway, but not at this scale. I can't tell you exactly what it's done (for business), but it's caught us almost flatfooted. We've been scrambling to keep up with demand."

It's a high-risk, high-reward approach, but other Utah companies have used or are turning to the infomercial, the combination of "information" and "commercial," as a way to make some bucks.

Provo-based Whole Living Inc., for one, said in February it would produce and air an infomercial in the top 30 U.S. metro markets and in Australia, Canada and New Zealand to show consumers its "Food First" products.

Utah also has companies involved in infomercial consulting and production, and Cincinnati-based Convergys Corp.'s Utah facilities handle tons of calls to 800 numbers tagged onto the half-hour programs. Stilson and Stilson, of Draper, has launched many infomercials, including those for HealthRider, Bowflex, NatureSleep bedding, Ab-Doer, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Pilates Performer, Ab Trainer, Nordic Track and the ProWedge Angel golf aid.

But bleary-eyed viewers — up late at night or taking a TV break from a weekend afternoon siesta — have apparently responded to seeing Wing's ladders. The Little Giant line of extendable ladders has cut through the television forest of weight-loss regimens, reclining beds, "hits from the '70s" CD collections, grease-draining grills, ab-builders, memory enhancers, juice machines and exercise devices.

"We just wanted to let people know, even if we didn't make a cent, that we make the best ladder in the industry, and it's made in America and it's everything we say it is," Wing said.

"That's all we were shooting for. Was it a financial investment? Yep. But any advertising you do, you sit down and weigh the cost. I guess had I known that 99 out of a 100 tank, my feet may have been a little colder than they were.

"As a businessman, I'm not afraid to take a chance, but before I go off the high dive, I really truly want to know if there's water in the pool and like to know how deep it is and, believe it or not, I like to know what the temperature is. I probably wouldn't have taken as much of a leap of faith if anyone had told me up front that 99 out of 100 don't make it."

So why is it working for Wing? Molly Alton knows, even if she's not referring directly to the ladder company.

"A product needs to be very demonstrable and almost 'wow' the audience," said Alton, director of communications for the Electronic Retailing Association, a trade group representing producers of direct-to-consumer content delivered on television, radio, Internet and wireless media.

"Time and time and time again, what we find is not just having a perfect product but having it perfect for the TV medium. It can be difficult to determine that from the onset, but certain products do very well."

Wing believes that's why the results for his infomercial have yielded results quicker than a ThighMaster.

"People don't understand the product when you say it's an articulated ladder product — not until they see what it can do," he said.

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