Remember Crazy Eddie? His Prices Were Insane!

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When I was growing up in Connecticut in the 1970s, there was an ad that I heard on television over and over again; it was about a New York-based consumer electronics store company called “Crazy Eddies” whose prices, the commercial said, “were crazy.” If you’ve never seen the ad, it features a former DJ named Jerry Carroll, often mistaken for Eddie, talking fast and gesticulating wildly in a variety of outfits or just a gray turtleneck with a dark blazer. He would give a sales pitch that ended with the safety tag: “Their prices are crazy!” Incredibly, over 7,500 announcements were made.

A lot of people hated those ads and parodied them. Dan Aykroyd did a parody of “Crazy Eddie” on “Saturday Night Live.” I’m not sure I ever visited their store, but the commercial still sticks with me to this day. From a business standpoint, I always wondered who Crazy Eddie was and what was going on with his company.

On The Small Business Radio Show this week, I talk with Gary Weiss, who is the author of a new book called “Retail Gangster: The Insane Real Life story of Crazy Eddie.” The source of the information in the book was a member of Antar’s own family! He has been uncovering Wall Street crime for nearly two decades.

We mentioned that Eddie Antar came from a Syrian family that had always been traders before coming to the United States in the 1920s. He turned “Crazy Eddie’s” into a $300 million publicly traded company with many franchise locations. The famous ads were produced in-house and were not the creation of an outside advertising agency. Gary believes that they are based on the old idea of ​​the “crazy trader who is so crazy that he sells below wholesale”.

Gary describes Eddie’s effort to build his company and achieve the American Dream with tactics that were “aggressive to criminals; he defrauded everyone in sight”. To undercut competitors like Circuit City and The Wiz, “he was ordering employees to clean display models or returned products and repackage them as new. Eddie routinely did not pay sales tax to the government even though was collecting it from customers. Warranty claims were fabricated.” Gary describes that when the auditors showed up, “the female employees were instructed to attend to them.”

According to Gary, this led to “Antar’s advantage that was built on large-scale stock fraud, cash manipulation, corporate earnings, tax or insurance fraud. The crimes were discovered when “Crazy Eddies” was purchased after they became public.A family member, Sam Antar eventually became the company’s whistleblower.

When he was finally accused of the crimes, Eddie fled to Israel by invoking that country’s Law of Return and forging his family’s passports. Once extradited, Antar served nearly seven years in US federal prison, and yet many of his crimes were never prosecuted.

As a marketing genius, Gary wonders if he could have succeeded without being a criminal.

Listen to the whole crazy show on The Small Business Radio Show. It’s crazy!

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Image: gary-weiss

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