Published June 28, 2009
Biography of Television Personality Billy Mays
Television pitchman Billy Mays has appeared on numerous commercials and infomercials promoting household products and gadgets. With his distinctive grin and booming voice, he has appeared on American television since the early 2000s, selling such products as cleaners (Kaboom! and Oxi-Clean), the Grip Wrench, Turbo Tiger vacuum cleaner, a hands-free cell phone device, and the Big City Slider Station. Because Mays and his ads were omnipresent, he had both fans and detractors who were quite sure of their opinions.
Launched Selling Career
Mays was born on July 20, 1958 and grew up in Pittsburgh, where his father had a hazardous waste trucking company. He attended West Virginia University before dropping out and working for his father's company for a time. In 1983 Mays moved to Atlantic City, New Jersey, with a high school friend who was going to become a salesman there. He also took part in the selling game on the Boardwalk, hawking WashMatik (a bucket with a washer inside), the Ultimate Chopper, knives, mops, and other "As seen on TV" products. Mays told GG Rigsby of the Business Journal, "I was taught to pitch by a lot of old pitchmen. That's the kind of style I have."
Mays spent the next 12 years selling products at fairs, home shows, and auto shows all over the United States. Over the course of his travels, he met the founder of Orange Glo International, Max Appel. While the two were initially competitors for audiences at various events, Mays gave him a spare microphone after Appel's broke. This act of kindness launched their friendship, and Appel eventually hired Mays to be his company's national spokesman.
In the late 1990s Mays moved to Dunedin, Florida, where he based his own company, Mays Promotions Inc., which produced the ads in which he appeared. This one-man operation focused on Mays as the on-air talent selling the products, while he used other production companies in the Tampa Bay area to handle the rest of the projects. He pitched products made by a number of manufacturers on these self-produced spots, as well as on the Home Shopping Network.
Began Appearing in Commercials
Mays's first commercials began appearing in 1999 and were for products produced by Orange Glo. The family-owned Colorado-based company made Oxi-Clean, Orange Clean, Orange-Glo, and Kaboom!, and Mays contributed his own ideas about promoting the products. Mays eventually moved into promoting hardware products—-such as wrenches, vacuum cleaners, hands-free cell phone devices, car dent fixers, healthcare plans, and mini-burger makers—-that were developed by other companies. Because Mays was recognized as an effective pitchman, he was able to pick and choose which products he promoted. As his ads led to massive sales for the products he promoted, his deals often included receiving a percentage of the products' gross revenue. He eventually became a wealthy man.
As Mays continued to appear in ads throughout the early 2000s, he became well-known to his fans, who wanted his autograph, as well as to viewers who vowed never to buy his products because of what they deemed his annoying style. Several Web sites were set up decrying Mays and his selling style. Though Mays appeared on several talk shows and had his own reality show in the works, he was somewhat mortified by the attention directed at him. He told Mitch Stacy of the Associated Press State & Local Wire, "I'm a sensitive guy. I don't want to be brought down, so I just leave it at that. As long as there's good and bad, it evens itself out." Appel commented in the same piece, "He's grateful for where he is, and he's a true performer. He has a real sense of modesty. He's really a joy to work with. It's very rare for guys like that."
Source: "Billy Mays." Biography Resource Center Online. Gale, 2009.