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Armor All
Alan Rypinski, the man who brought Armor All to market, holds one of the product's original bottles after addressing the MSU College of Business on Thursday.

Before Alan Rypinski patented, re-bottled and renamed it, Armor All was called "Trid-on" -- "no dirt" spelled backwards.

Rypinski, 71, stumbled upon the polish in the late 1960s while trying to restore the interior of his vintage Jaguar.

"When I saw it do what it does, I could not believe it," Rypinski, who moved to Bozeman last year, told Montana State University students during a lecture at the Procrastinator Theater on campus Thursday.

Rypinski had found the polish - created by a California chemist for car collectors - at the Briggs-Cunningham Automotive Museum in Costa Mesa, Calif. But the museum was one of only a few places that sold it.

"I was thinking it could be sold anywhere," Rypinski said. "I couldn't believe my eyes and my mind. I couldn't sleep for awhile."

Rypinski jumped on the opportunity, bought the world marketing rights to the polish from chemist and inventor Joe Palcher. and in 10 years, it paid off, big.

In 1979, Rypinski, then 40 years old, sold the rights to Armor All to McKesson Corp. for $49.6 million.

"It truly is an American dream story," he said.

Finding inspiration

Rypinski and his wife moved to Bozeman from southern Calif., where he's lived most of his life.

As a kid, Rypinski would wash and wax his neighbors' cars for the chance to drive them.

In high school, he worked as an actor, appearing on the television show The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. He sold doughnuts outside the local supermarket. And he dreamed of opening his own men's clothing store.

"I wanted to open the ‘Brick Shirthouse' in the worst way," Rypinski said.

Rypinski served in the U.S. Army in Germany and studied at a junior college for two years. He worked sales jobs for a department store and real estate company.

His success eventually led to job marketing cars for Malcolm Bricklin, an automotive entrepreneur known for introducing the sale of foreign cars, such as the Subaru, in bulk to the U.S. Bricklin, a multi-millionaire, had his share of setbacks, including the introduction of the Yugo.

But he said Bricklin was his inspiration. Working for him made him realize that he didn't need all the accounting and legal advice his father said would help him make it in business. He just needed a good idea and the courage and creativity to make it happen.

And it wasn't long before he ran across that obscure, miracle polish for his Jaguar.

Pitching the product

With an initial investment of $5,000, Rypinski bought rights to the polish, put it in a new bottle and came up with a new name with the help of his wife.

"We did 18 pages before we came up with Armor All -- meaning to protect everything," Rypinski said.

He marked up the price, because "if something is really expensive, it's got to be fabulous."

And he launched a series of creative sales strategies.

He hyped Armor All as a sort of wonder product.

He signed up dealers to demonstrate and sell it in places like laundry mats where there were captive audiences. Sales managers worked out of motor homes, traveling to county fairs, shopping malls and trade shows.

And in the first year, Armor All's sales hit $200,000.

"I can't emphasize how important it is for a company to have style," Rypinski said.

As Armor All's popularity grew, 279 "cheater products" cropped up.

Rypinski fended them off by creating more buzz for the real thing.

At one trade show, he hired a magician to demonstrate how one of the cheaper, but less effective imitations compared to Armor All. When the magician was finished, he passed out candy suckers that said, ‘Don't get suckered into a cheap imitation of Armor All.'"

"We had more fun," Rypinski said. "Everybody couldn't wait to see what Armor All was doing at trade shows."

Rypinski helped get Armor All out to the masses by handing out millions of samples.

"The last count was we had sampled the population of the United States six times," he said. "That's how many samples we distributed."

By the late 1970s, when Armor All was generating millions of dollars in sales, Rypinski decided to go on the offensive and go out and find a buyer for the brand rather than wait for one to come to him.

And after making the deal with McKesson, he was rich enough to retire.

But he wasn't done. And years 30 years later, he still isn't.

The brains behind Pogs

In addition to Armor All, Rypinski has launched several products, including the kids' "World Pog Federation," a fad game with collectible paper discs that was popular in the 1990s.

"We did $18 million worth of business in just a little over a year," Rypinski said. "We even had a Pogs Barbie."

He has founded numerous businesses -- Wrinkle Free, Lasting Endearments, the Internet Tool Box -- and he's currently working to unveil a new sewage treatment product line.

"My wife wound up making a collage of my business cards once and we lost it in one of our moves," Rypinski said. "But, believe me, I've been around and tried a lot of things."

Advertising Age and Business Week magazine have inducted Rypinski into the Marketing Hall of Fame.

His presentation at MSU was part of the College of Business' David Orser Executive Speaker's Forum. The forum is named for a 1966 MSU graduate who started funding the program in 1988 in order to inspire MSU business students to pursue careers as innovative, responsible and ethical business leaders.

Amanda Ricker can be reached at aricker@dailychronicle.com or 582-2628.

 

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