Ollie Fretter’s promise of “five pounds of coffee if I can’t beat your best deal” was corny, kitschy and completely effective.
Decades after the last commercial for Fretter Appliance stores was broadcast, metro Detroiters can still recall Fretter’s low tech, high camp commercials from the ’70s and ’80s and their special “every expense has been spared” charm.
“He came up with the coffee idea in the early 1970s and it was a very effective gimmick,” said Ed Golick, co-producer with Tim Kiska on the recent Channel 56 documentary “Detroit Remember When: The History of Detroit Television.”
“Initially he handed out five pounds of Maxwell House coffee. Then he bought cases of coffee and put his own label — Fretter House — on the cans.
“The thing is the cans were three pounds, but he put a five pound label on it.”
Oliver L. (Ollie) Fretter died Sunday at his home in Bloomfield Hills at age 91.
Born in Cleveland, Ohio, he was a 1941 graduate from Royal Oak High School (later renamed George A. Dondero High School) where he was inducted into the schools Hall of Fame in 1996.
Mr. Fretter also attended the University of Michigan.
Early in his career he worked as an appliance repairman and later founded the Fretter Appliance Company with a single store in Redford Township.
By 1986 Fretter Appliance was going head to head with Highland Superstores and ABC Warehouse. By the early 1990s Mr. Fretter’s empire consisted of 250 stores in several states.
“He was a shrewd businessman,” Golick said.
“His commercials were as low rent as they could be and that was their charm. It was refreshing. You knew he owned Fretter Appliance; you couldn’t hire anyone to act like that.”
Mr. Fretter’s commercials ran side by side with another set of now retro commercials for the “we do good work” Mr. Belevedere Construction Company.
“He was very successful with those commercials,” said Maurice “Mr. Belevedere” Lezell, 92, and now retired to Sarasota, Florida.
“His ads followed mine. We got along business wise ... we even did a skit together once about our commercials. I’m sorry to hear of his passing.”
But hand-to-hand combat with bigger electronic chain stores such as Best Buy and Circuit City proved to be too much and Fretter went into bankruptcy in 1996.
Mr. Fretter is survived by his wife of 65 years, Elma M. Fretter; a son, Howard; a daughter, Laura Fretter; and three grandchildren.
Mr. Fretter enjoyed golfing, traveling, boating and was a member of the Old Club on Harsens Island as well as the Plum Hollow Golf Club.
Services will be Thursday at 11 a.m. at the A.J. Desmond & Sons Funeral Home, 32515 Woodward, Royal Oak. The family will receive friends on Wednesday from 3 p.m.-8 p.m.