Anthony “Sully” Sullivan is likely the best-known personality in the industry today. Known for his clear voice, British accent, one-liners, enthusiastic, clever demonstrations, and evangelism of problem-solving products, his pitches have helped dozens of direct response products succeed, not the least of which is OxiClean brand. But Sullivan is increasingly leaving the on-camera Yell-and-Sell to his colleagues, keeping himself busy as chief writer, director, and producer at Sullivan Productions, a full-service, multimedia infomercial production house based in the industry’s Tampa, Fla., hub.
On the street, on camera, or behind the scenes, one thing is clear: With more than $1 billion in worldwide sales under his belt, Sullivan is the consummate pitchman. This month, Electronic Retailer looks at Sully’s beginnings in the industry, his fast rise to the top of the pitchmen ranks, what drives him to sell, what drives every sale, and how the industry looks from behind the camera—and how he’s going forward into the multiscreen future without his best friend and PitchMen cohost, Billy Mays.
Born to Pitch
Sullivan was born in a village in Devon, England in 1969 to a schoolteacher mother and an entrepreneur father, perhaps the perfect background for a kid destined to teach people the benefits of new products; indeed, brother Michael Sullivan is also a renowned pitchman. Sully was a loquacious child, to put it mildly—always running off at the mouth. Early on, elders accused him of talking too fast, to which he would reply, “You listen too slowly.” Before most kids figure out what they want to do with their lives, he was demonstrating the Amazing Wash Matik car-wash kit at the village market. “It was something I was good at right out of the gate,” he says. “On my first pitch ever, a gentleman came up and handed me a £10 note, and I was hooked.”
Sully opted not to go to university, and instead took to the streets to learn the trade of the London street vendor. “I really enjoyed the grittiness,” he says. “I would walk around and look at the older pitchmen, write it down, and practice. I did exactly what I was told. It’s a lost art. If you pitch correctly, it leads to sales and profits.” By 21, he was already an old hand at roadside demonstrations and sales, with a well-deserved reputation for an attention-grabbing pitch and an eye for innovative products.
Vagabonding to Hawaii to surf, Sully worked off his rent at a youth hostel owned by big-wave surfer Mark Foo and his sister, Sharlyn, by mopping the floors. The wet, sandy floors were not easy to clean—and he knew there must be some kind of tool that would ease the chore. “I was always looking for a better way to do something,” he says. Back in London, he saw an unusual mop with absorbent fabric strips and a built-in wringer that might have helped free up more of his time to surf, and soon found himself cleaning up at trade shows throughout the United States with the new SmartMop. “I sold everything and moved to the States,” he says. “I hooked up with the SmartMop and worked almost every single convention center in the Lower 48.”