Not Available In Stores!

Catching up here a bit, so forgive this being a few days late but reader John sent this WSJ story on the Orlimar infomercial scam success.

For starters, the storyline tends to be very simple and repetitive because viewers can't be expected to start watching from the beginning or sit through an entire spot. Mr. Bernhard focuses on thorough, frequent product demonstrations that solve some sort of problem.

At a minimum, he advises, there should be at least three "calls to action," industry lingo for getting customers up off the couch to order the product. Credit-card orders, rather than cash-on-delivery, are imperative to cash flow, Mr. Bernhard adds, noting that it is a selling bonus if customers hear they can't get the product anywhere else -- the classic "not available in any store" line. "That's maybe a cliché, but it's very important," he says. "You want to have a product that's specially-devised for television."

What is more, customer testimonials -- even ones by vaguely recognizable names -- paired with a charismatic host can add an extra punch.

For instance, Richard Karn, the next-door neighbor Al from the situation comedy "Home Improvement," is currently hosting a successful infomercial selling a collapsible ladder by Wing Enterprises, a small company based in Springville, Utah. Chuck Norris hawking the Total Gym exercise machine is another popular product.

For his part, Mr. Ortiz, 54, has been through building a brand -- and selling it in front of the camera -- before. As a teenager, he helped develop his father's company, Orlimar (a compilation of letters from his family's last name and two of their first partners). The business, based in northern California, didn't take off until the late 1990s when Mr. Ortiz developed the TriMetal Fairway Wood.

To advertise the club, now well-received by professionals and civilians, Orlimar executives designed the company's first infomercial.

They spent about $200,000 to create a 30-minute infomercial and around $150,000 in January 1998 for the first month of air time on the Golf Channel. Simultaneously, they conducted a limited print-advertising campaign. Up against industry giants Callaway and Titleist, the company couldn't interest retailers.

The return on the infomercial investment was visible from the start, Mr. Ortiz says. On a microlevel, he could see that the time sales orders were placed over the Internet or telephone coincided with the time the infomercial aired. The company reinvested their earnings of $300,000 from the first month to buy air time for another 30 days.

Before long, the company was spending upward of $1 million a month. Sales exploded as a result of the infomercial -- rising to $105 million in 1999 from $1 million in 1997. In all, Orlimar spent about $12 million on air time, and customers began seeking out the club at retail outlets, prompting chains to place large orders.