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TV's 'Billion-Dollar Man' started by opening up a can of sales success

A Home Shopping Network pioneer, Bob Circosta got his start selling can openers on the radio. Photo courtesy of Bob Circosta.
A Home Shopping Network pioneer, Bob Circosta got his start selling can openers on the radio. Photo courtesy of Bob Circosta.
Published Nov. 21, 2018

More than four decades ago, Tampa-Bay based Home Shopping Network (HSN) went on the air featuring Bob Circosta as its first presenter.

HSN went on to become a commercial juggernaut with billions of dollars in annual sales. Circosta, 69, established himself as one of the driving forces behind the network's success, the ultimate on-air pitchman.

"If selling was an art, then Bob Circosta would be the modern-day Da Vinci," said, Marissa Shipman, founder & CEO of The Balm cosmetics company.

Tampa Bay entrepreneur Chad Allen, who is a co-host with Circosta on a Canadian TV shopping show called "What A Great Idea," calls his friend a legend in the industry and a mentor to him.

"Everyone in the TV shopping industry owes Bob Circosta a big fat thank-you and their job, as he's the one who invented our business," Allen said.

But like many success stories, the HSN and Circosta genesis can be traced to an odd but serendipitous event: a disagreement over an advertising debt.

Circosta, who continues to live in the area, spoke with Tampa Bay Times correspondent Mike Merino about his inauspicious debut, why he helps other budding entrepreneurs and who he considers his hero.

What year did Home Shopping Network get its start and what produced it?

The year was 1977, and I was working at one of my first jobs in radio, a talk show host at a small Clearwater AM station. One day, station owner Bud Paxton went to collect an advertising bill from an appliance company the station had been promoting for 13 weeks. The store owner didn't want to pay, however, saying the commercials had done little if anything to boost his business.

Instead of money, he gave Paxton a case of 112 avocado-green can openers, take it or leave it. He reluctantly accepted the deal and brought them back to the station.

What was your first reaction when the station owner told you to sell can openers live on the air?

I thought he was crazy. When Bud walked into the station, he handed me one of those ugly green can-openers and said see if you can sell them. I knew I had little choice but to accept the assignment or join the ranks of the unemployed. I was married at the time and constantly worried about the show's ratings. Fortunately, Mr. Paxton had noticed my energetic radio presence and liked my spirit and get-up-and-go.

I went on the air that morning and sold them all in one day.

After you sold them all, what was done next to grow this unique concept?

Recognizing a winning sales strategy, Paxton and partner Roy Speer offered other merchandise in the same manner with the same success. They formed the International Suncoast Bargainers Club which grew into the nationwide cable TV phenomenon, Home Shopping Network (HSN).

What HSN basically did was combine two favorite American activities: shopping and watching television. It's a winning recipe.

With the success you have attained over the years, would you be considered a super salesman?

Believe it or not, I don't consider myself a salesman at all. I believe the key to success in selling is the P word (presentation), also known as the right pitch. You can be in front of the right people but have the wrong pitch, or have the right pitch but be in front of the wrong people and you won't get the desired results. You must have both to be successful, it's all about honest communication.

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Throughout your career on TV, how much time and selling have you done?

Over the past 41 years, I've logged over 25,000 hours of selling on TV, and made more than 75,000 product presentations and sold $6 billion in merchandise, humbly earning me the title, "TV's Billion Dollar Man."

With your many years of TV marketing knowledge, what have you done to help other budding entrepreneurs?

I know how tough it is to get started once an inventor comes up with what they think is a million-dollar idea. So, I teamed up with HSN to scour the country for eye-catching new products and inventions to debut on the network.

Aspiring inventors are welcome to submit their ideas and products on the HSN website and TV station. The program has been an incredible success and has yielded quite a few millionaires.

In the high-speed world of sales and positive motivation, who is your hero?

That's an easy one: Zig Ziglar. My favorite quote of his was; "You can have everything in life you want if you will just help other people get what they want." I believe that to this day.

What is your work life like today?

Along with starting Bob Circosta Communications, I still make regular appearances on HSN. In fact, I`m the author of a new book, "Life is a Pitch."

What is the greatest product you ever sold?

The next product I sell.

The Weekly Conversation is edited for brevity and clarity. Contact Mike Merino at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

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