By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
"People tell me, 'JJ, you live like a king,'" he says. "Yes. But I'm saying, 'I live like a king, but I work like a dog.'"
If it's lonely at the top, the 43-year-old beeper magnate is probably too busy to notice. "There is no Queen of Beepers," says the King. "I am not married. My company's my wife."
Too proud to ask his family for money after losing his shirt in Vegas casinos, he moved to Los Angeles, where he spent a year working menial jobs while living in a Greyhound bus station. Somewhere along the line, he landed a job as a stockboy in a discount electronics store, a career path that eventually led to his own flagship beeper shop in the heart of downtown Los Angeles.
And, as JJ will be the first to remind you, the rest is history.
His rise to success is a subject dear to his heart--and, apparently, one that's rivaled only by the jealousy his high visibility supposedly inspires among others in the beeper biz.
Flipping through a newspaper, he points to a competitor's ad. The headline reads "Don't Let the King Give You the Royal Shaft."
"A lot of the competition complain a lot," he says. "Every town I coming to, it's the same thing. 'Who is JJ? Where is he coming from? How come he sells so cheap?'"
According to JJ, the answer to that last head-scratcher is easy.
"Three or four years ago, the main market was doctors, lawyers and drug dealers," he explains. "At that time, most people could not afford beeper. I change all that when I come up with the idea to lower the cost of beeper." And beepers don't come much cheaper than "free"--which is the too-good-to-be-true offer at the heart of JJ's empire. Of course, "Activation [fee] required."
If JJ is quick to blow his own horn, that's probably because no one else will. If he is indeed responsible for launching the trend that's brought beepers to the masses, his revolutionary contribution has apparently been overlooked by every business writer and trade publication in the country, including those in Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
And if JJ's really a major player in the pager industry, it's news to several of the country's leading electronic communication resources, none of whom ever heard of JJ or his company, a name that rarely fails to elicit laughter. Nor does anyone but JJ seem to be keeping track of the sales records he claims to break on practically a weekly basis.
"I doubt that he's giving these things away for free," comments one pager-industry observer. Guessing that the cost of the pager is actually concealed in inflated activation or processing fees, the source dryly adds, "Pagers generally have not been free."
Of course, it's hard to argue with success. And by pitching his product to the booming--and less discriminating--youth market, the King has shrewdly tapped into what is currently the largest-growing segment of the pager industry. Although the pager market has grown so rapidly that customer-profile breakdowns don't exist, industry analysts estimate that there are currently about 35 million beepers in use. One measure of the technology's youth appeal? To counteract Coca-Cola's sponsorship of this summer's Olympic Games, Pepsi will soon begin distributing 500,000 beepers as part of a Mountain Dew promotion aimed at teens.
If you've never heard of JJ, it's not for lack of effort on his part.
"Listen, when you come to a town and spend a quarter-million dollars in advertising in 90 days, you can sell ice to the Eskimos," says JJ. "When we come to Phoenix, I bring two employees from L.A. The day I open, we have two employees from L.A. The day I open, we have 72 commercials on the radio. It was crazy."
He also had a few billboards, choice signage in which he shared advertising space with that buxom blonde and her throbbing pager.
"A billboard is a billboard," reasons JJ. "If we take right now the limo and drive two miles, you're don't going to pay attention to any advertising. But when you see my billboard, you got to remember it. Sex sells."
But some people aren't buying. While the controversial billboards have yet to pierce the local feminist consciousness ("Sounds just like the kind of thing I'd send to MS magazine for their 'No Comment' column," comments Karen Van Hooft, president of the Phoenix chapter of the National Organization for Women), similar billboards in L.A. have triggered several waves of letter-writing campaigns in the four years since JJ declared his ascension to the throne.
Although JJ claims he's glad to listen to anyone who's got a gripe, he readily admits that complaints about his beeper-mounting model have had no effect on his advertising strategy.
Well, almost no effect.
Digging an older version of the ad out of his desk, he explains, "See, she used to wear a bikini. But the women did not like that, so I dress her a little." It is one of the few times during the afternoon that a smile plays across the King's face.