Ollie Fretter: Iconic Michigan TV Pitchman
How can any TV hound of the 1970s not know who Ollie Fretter was?
Ollie was a 1941 graduate of Royal Oak High School who founded Fretter Appliance in the 1950s, with locations spread out in the Detroit area. His commercials became legendary, alongside another campy cult commercial favorite, "Mr. Belvedere" from Belvedere Construction.
Ollie’s commercials varied from straightforward sales pitches to humorous. Ollie would dress up as George Washington for the Washington’s Birthday sale, or Santa Claus, Abe Lincoln, etc.
One of his catch phrases was “I’ll give you five pounds of coffee if I can’t beat your best deal”. For the occasional customer who actually could beat Ollie’s best deal, he/she was given a bag (or can) of coffee. But five pounds? Nope. It was usually only one pound in weight, but on the bag/can there was a label that stated “Ollie’s net weight: five pounds”. This gimmick was so tongue-in-cheek, it didn’t seem to upset many customers who expected a full five pounds. People loved Ollie Fretter.
Ollie's other catchphrases include "The competition knows me...you should, too" and "if the lowest prices in town can't get your business, what will?"
Ollie’s marketing strategy worked thanks to his hiring of research companies to compare competitor prices. He would pass that info on to his sales people.
At one time, Fretter was bigger than Best Buy…but thanks to a few acquisitions and the eventual closing of selected outlets, Fretter’s company went bankrupt and filed Chapter 11.
All Fretter locations had closed by May 1996. Ollie Fretter remains a cult favorite of those who grew up watching Michigan TV, with programs that were interspersed with those campy, kitschy Ollie commercials.
Ollie Fretter passed away on June 29, 2014 at the age of 91.