Pitchman Anthony “Sully” Sullivan made a name for himself in TV commercials as the OxiClean Man and starred in a Discovery Channel reality series Pitch Men.
Today, he runs Sullivan Productions, a 12-person marketing company with 50-60 contractors based in St. Petersburg, Florida. She produces ads for brands such as OxiClean, Arm & Hammer, Nutrisystem and a host of smaller direct response marketers.
About three years ago, he started MONTKUSH Wellness, a farm-based CBD business in Plainfield, Vermont. He sells CBD oil, tinctures, gummies, and other products.
Sullivan became interested in CBD when he learned that his daughter, now 11, had a rare genetic condition that causes seizures and the anti-epileptic drug was causing terrible side effects. His mother recommended trying CBD. “We experimented with it and had good results,” he says. After visiting a friend’s hemp farm in Vermont, he decided to try his luck in an industry that was new to him.
“There are lots of reasons not to do something,” he says. “You can listen to everyone who says no or says, ‘I’ll try’.”
I recently spoke to him about how he built his career as the face of a brand. Here is an edited excerpt from our conversation.
Elaine Pofeldt: How did you start as an entrepreneur?
Anthony Sullivan: My entrepreneurial roots go back a long way. My father was a slot machine engineer. He always took me to work with him. When he was very young, he told me that he no longer worked for his company and that he bought slot machines. He asked my mother to apply for a gambling license.
My garage was filled with these slot machines. We would polish them and paint them. the All the while he was telling me, “Son, if you want to get ahead, you have to work for yourself.”
He was a great salesman and he convinced the pubs to install these machines. We would meet the owners of these pubs and return a few weeks later to empty the machines. I couldn’t lift the crate. I would take this big crate of money and pour it on the table. My father and I were counting the money. We split it with the pubs. The casino always wins.
I think I always had this idea that I would work for myself. I was very restless at school. Everything we did, I thought to myself, “How can I monetize this? How do you turn this into a business? My mother wanted me to be a journalist. I tried to apply myself to my academics, but I was a restless kid with ADHD. I had bartending jobs, and I cleaned toilets, I did a lot of manual labor. I felt like “I can’t fit in as an employee. I am unemployable. I had grandiose ideas: I’m going to start a business.
Elaine Pofeldt: How did you start pitching?
Anthony Sullivan: I couldn’t find a suitable job. I ended up helping a friend at a flea market. It was the first time I felt at home in a business world. I saw this gentleman who was pitching. He was demonstrating this car wash called “the incredible Washmatic”.
I thought I would like to try to demonstrate. I’ve always been a very talkative person. I got my hands on this car wash device. I learned to sell it. I learned the pitch, word for word. I discovered that I could hold a crowd and could entertain. I would sell. I was not afraid of “No”. I was not afraid of failure. I was out of my comfort zone and learned how to sell at car washes. I was good at that. I ended up being recruited in this flea market. I ended up living almost the life of a showman. I would go from flea market to flea market in the UK. All this was a basis for entrepreneurial life. I worked at flea markets and boat shows. I immersed myself in whatever product I was selling.
Then I found this mop. It was a long story how I found this mop, but I found a cleaning job at a hostel in Hawaii. I became very passionate about making sure I was doing a great job. I ended up selling this all over England.
Elaine Pofeldt: How did you come to infomercials?
Anthony Sullivan: I turned on my TV one day and saw my first infomercial. That’s when I had an “aha” moment. I had spent 2 or 3 years selling different devices to people individually. I picked up all my material possessions at the ripe old age of 23 and moved from the UK to the US with a dream of being in TV. I told my mom I was going to go to America and sell mops on TV. My family thought I was completely crazy, like when my dad bought the 40 slot machines.
Within 18 months of arriving in America, I was on HSN. I realized that if you want to play ball, you have to go to the stadium. And HSN was the base stadium. I moved to Florida and stayed here because HSN was here.
I sold $100,000 worth of mops in 22 minutes. It was the first item. I went from rambling street vendor to TV. It was then that I felt empowered. My mother didn’t like what I was doing: Sully sells mops.
Elaine Pofeldt: How did you get into mainstream TV?
Anthony Sullivan: I wanted to go beyond HSN and met my old partner Billy Mays [who appears on PitchMen]. We went from HSN, a shopping chain, and ended up in mainstream media. It was an important step. We helped OxiClean. Then we ended up going into retail. We could walk into Walmart and see OxiClean.
It’s this crazy journey that started at a flea market. We ended up with an item producing global volume at Walmart. You couldn’t go to a Walmart in the world without seeing OxiClean in the early 2000s. It was an incredible journey, and it continues to evolve. It’s more digital now. We have always chosen problems that solve a common problem and used television to broadcast them.