Ellie Kives in memory of Philip Kives

My Story...

Philip Kives, owner and founder of K-Tel International, was a marketing genius and business innovator who redefined the advertising and music industries and created a pop culture legacy.

"He went on to write and produce hundreds of low-budget commercials that shouted their way into global consciousness, making K-Tel one of the most successful marketing companies of all time."

(Matt Schudel, Washington Post, 04/28/2016).

However, to those who knew and loved him, he was the best husband, father and friend anyone could ever dream of. Philip was a dynamic and charismatic man who, above all, put his family first. He accomplished impossible things in life but, at the same time, could relate to people from all walks of life with a genuine interest and zest to learn from them. He was empathetic and generous, helping countless people in need, expecting nothing in return.

The following is a brief account of his earlier years, captured in Philip's own words:

"I was born on a small country farm near the town of Oungre, Saskatchewan. My parents originally came from Eastern Europe, but because of the hardships suffered by the Jewish people, the Jewish Colonization relocated them, first to Turkey and then, in 1926, to Saskatchewan. Here, I was born in 1929, the third of four children. We struggled on our small farm, living on welfare for many years. It was the dirty thirties', where drought, grasshoppers and crop failure made farming almost impossible. We had no power or running water. We would haul drinking water over four miles, as there was always a shortage. I recall milking cows daily from the age of five, and whatever we grew in the garden, plus the butter and cheese we made and the chicken and eggs that we raised... was what we lived on.

I started my first entrepreneurial venture at the age of eight when I set up my first trap line. Not only did I sell my own furs, but I also bought furs from other kids in school and re-sold them at fur auctions. I made just enough money to buy my few clothes. Around that time, there was a population explosion of gophers, and the municipality was offering a few cents for every gopher tail. I figured out a way to double my money by cutting the gopher tails in half. It was survival of the fittest.

We had very poor land. I looked around at how people were living, and I thought I would have a tough time living on a farm for the rest of my life.

In 1957, I left the farm for the lights of the big city of Winnipeg. I had various jobs: from taxi driver to short-order cook. Then I tried my luck selling door-to-door, such items as cookware, sewing machines and vacuum cleaners. I had difficulties making sales at first. But, in six months, I became a top salesman and ran a crew of salespeople of my own. In 1959, I made $29,000. This was like a million dollars to me, as only a few years earlier, I was barely making $1000 a year on the farm.

By 1961, I made my way to the Boardwalk in Atlantic City. I was demonstrating in the Woolworth Store facing the Boardwalk. I learned quickly that only the strong survive. If you did not produce, you were out of the Woolworth Store in a flash, as other people were waiting to take your place.

In the spring of 1962, I returned to Winnipeg and realized that instead of demonstrating to a few people at one time, I could try television, where I would demonstrate to the masses all at once. I made a live 5-minute TV commercial on a Teflon non-stick fry pan. To my surprise, sales took off at a remarkable pace. I quickly spread the TV advertising throughout Canada, and this 5-minute commercial became the world's first infomercial.

Unfortunately, Teflon was a new product, and the Teflon peeled off the frying pan, leaving many Teflon-coated eggs. However, although this product had problems, I learned a valuable lesson... the power of TV advertising.

In August 1965, I left for Australia, and within ten days, I was on TV with the Feather-Touch Knife. I was a one-man show and operated from a hotel room with no staff or office. The girls at the hotel's front desk were nice to me and kind enough to answer my business calls and take all my phone orders. By Christmas, I had sold one million knives.

After the difficulties of farming, I couldn't believe how easy this was. In 1966, I released my first compilation TV record, '25 Country Hits', for the low price of $3.49. I looked at it as a one-time product. But after 25 Polka Greats', which sold around a million and a half copies in the U.S. alone, I thought... hmm... maybe I was on to something.

In the late 1960s, I incorporated my company and gave it the name K-Tel and the rest is history. My biggest selling product was the Miracle Brush, selling 28 million. My biggest music seller was Hooked on Classics', selling over 10 million. In 1979, K-Tel was operating in 34 countries. By the early 1980s, K-Tel sold over half a billion albums worldwide.

One of my special moments was being inducted into the (CPSA) Canadian Professional Sales Hall of Fame in 2002. I was honoured for creating the first infomercial and changing the face of advertising worldwide.

Today, we continue to license our music catalogue to other users. We have set up a digital distribution network with companies like iTunes, where our music is sold all over the world."

Philip was charismatic, generous and very approachable. People wanted to talk to him, and likewise, true to his personality, he was very interested in what they had to say. He knew many people over the years… from all his various businesses, interests and hobbies. Never a day went by without him bumping into someone who knew him from somewhere or had previously worked for him and with whom he would inevitably have a lengthy conversation. So very many people knew Phil that he would sometimes turn to me, after a 15-minute in-depth conversation with someone I assumed he knew very well, and say to me, "remind me Ellie, who was that now?" Racing fans would recognize Philip from Assiniboia Downs and ask about his race horses, hoping for tips on which horse was a good bet. Often, people with a new invention or idea would approach Phil to run it by him. Phil loved that and would help them with his time and expertise. People would ask Phil what new products were in the pipeline, and Phil would tell them to come by the office, and he'd give them one to try out. They would inevitably leave the office with an armful of other products that Phil thought were a "Must Have" (for example, the Patty Stacker, the Miracle Brush, the Veg-O-Magic.) He loved anything related to sales, marketing and racehorses.

Phil was a 'people person' who would talk to everybody. It didn't matter who you were or where you came from. Whether you were a 6th-grade student or the prime minister, Phil was interested in what everyone had to say. In return, he would learn a lot about human nature and what people wanted, needed and what made them happy, and that ultimately influenced him with his inherent talent in sales and marketing.

The following incident exemplifies that trait:

A grade 6 student was watching the documentary "As Seen on TV: The K-Tel Story" about K-Tel and its founder, Philip. After viewing it, the young Winnipeg student chose Philip to be the subject of his school Heritage Fair Project of a 'famous Canadian.' The boy called Philip at the office and invited him to come to the school to see his project. Without hesitation, Phil immediately agreed and sent him a Veg-O-Matic and some stickers. He dropped by the school and demonstrated the Veg-O-Matic for the students and teachers. Phil loved inspiring the students by telling them stories of his humble beginnings and how, through hard work, he sold millions of products through TV advertising. Phil told the young man his project was terrific and he would become a successful businessman someday. The teachers were thrilled! For the first time, a 'Famous Canadian' showed up in person to enhance a project at their annual Famous Canadian Heritage Fair. This caused a lot of excitement in the school, and the next day, there was a picture of Philip and the student in the Winnipeg Free Press newspaper.

Philip also enjoyed invitations from universities and business organizations to speak on his unique style of K-tel marketing. The questions and answer sessions always went overtime as the audiences were fascinated with the K-tel story. He would often end his presentation by saying, "With hard work, willpower and imagination, you can achieve impossible things in life."

Although Philip was very busy with K-Tel, he had many other interests. He was a passionate owner and breeder of racehorses for over 40 years. His 'K-5 Stables' made headlines in both the breeding and racing categories and significantly contributed to the Manitoba Racing industry. His family shared in the fun and excitement of visiting the horses, talking to the trainers and observing the newborn colts and fillies. Philip's 'K-5 Stables' was renowned at Assiniboia Downs, thrilling racing fans by regularly winning prestigious races and awards like the Manitoba Derby and Breeder of the Year. His dynamic personality was known for doing the unexpected! For example, racing fans at Assiniboia Downs had to do a double take when they saw the Master of the "Twist" Chubby Checkers in the Winners Circle with Philip. The real reason Chubby was in town was to do a television commercial with Phil, and because he had a horse running that night, Phil took Chubby along. Of course, this caused a sensation at the track, and the fans swarmed for autographs and handshakes with this popular celebrity. The value of Phil's contribution to the racing industry cannot be measured, and his presence there is greatly missed. A special race was named after Phil to honour his memory called the 'The Phil Kives Stakes.' Furthermore, a year after his passing, Phil was honoured as the 2018 Canadian Breeder of the Year by the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association (TOBA).

Philip truly loved Winnipeg and never wanted to live anywhere else. He was often asked why he didn't move to a larger city with more head offices and buzz, and Phil would answer he had everything he needed right here. Winnipeg was perfect for him - not too big and not too small. Everything at his fingertips. His K-tel office and the Viscount Gort Hotel were both a 10-minute drive from home, Assiniboia Downs was a few minutes from the office, Assiniboine Park was a five-minute bike ride away from home and beautiful Riding Mountain National Park, right here in Manitoba, perfect for his summer retreat.

Despite all his business accomplishments, nothing mattered more to him than his family. We were married for 45 years and raised three children, Samantha, Kelly, and Daniel, who now look after the family businesses. Phil and I shared a wonderful life, with seldom a dull moment. We both had a passion for tennis, which lasted our entire married life. Skiing was another favourite sport. In fact, we connected on our first date at the Pony Corral Restaurant, talking about skiing and what an exciting sport it was. Bicycling was high on our activity list, and we took various bike tours all over North America. We often cycled through Assiniboine Park in the summer months. Honolulu was our favourite holiday spot, and we loved staying at the same hotel because it was right next to the Cheesecake Factory, Phil's favourite restaurant. We would walk to Diamond Head Tennis Courts and watch the kids play tennis and grab a mixed doubles match for ourselves. Every summer, Philip and I enjoyed our cottage at Clear Lake with the family, some of our most precious times. There, too, we would play lots of tennis and go on bicycle rides on the hilly terrain. Phil loved to watch his kids play tennis. He would make up an excuse and leave significant business meetings just to watch and cheer them on. Phil was so proud of his family, and he didn't want to miss a thing! He always said his family was his dream team and his greatest accomplishment.