Pitchman Anthony “Sully” Sullivan made a name for himself on TV commercials as the OxiClean Man and starred in a Discovery Channel reality series PitchMen.
Today he runs Sullivan Productions, a 12-person marketing firm with 50-60 subcontractors, based in St. Petersburg, Fla. It produces commercials for brand such as OxiClean, Arm & Hammer, Nutrisystem and a host of smaller, direct response marketers.
About three years ago, he started MONTKUSH Wellness, a CBD business based on a farm in Plainfield, Vermont. It sells CBD oil, tinctures, gummies and other products.
Sullivan became interested in CBD when he learned his daughter, now 11, had a rare genetic disorder that causes seizures, and that the anti-seizure medicine caused terrible side effects. Her 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 take a chance on an industry that was new for him.
“There’s a lot of reasons not to do something,” he says. “You can listen to all the people who say no or say, ‘I’m going to try it.’”
I recently spoke with him about how he built his career as the one-man face of a brand. Here is an edited excerpt of our conversation.
Elaine Pofeldt: How did you get started as an entrepreneur?
Anthony Sullivan: My entrepreneurial roots go back. My father was a slot machine engineer. He would always take me to work with him. At a very young age he told me he no longer worked for his company and bought slot machines. He made my mom apply for a gaming license.
My garage was filled with these slot machines. We would polish them up and paint them. The whole time he was telling me “Son, if you want to get ahead, you have to work for yourself.”
He was a great salesman and would convince pubs to put these machines in. We’d meet the landlords of these pubs and go back a few weeks later and empty the machines. I couldn’t lift the cash box. I would take this big box of cash and pour it on the table. My dad and I would count the money. We divided it with the pubs. The casino always wins.
I think I always had this idea I would work for myself. I was very restless in school. Everything we did, I asked myself, “How can I monetize this? How can we turn this into a business? My mom wanted me to be a journalist. I tried to apply myself to my academics but I was a restless kid with ADHD. I had jobs as a bartender, and cleaned toilets, did a lot of manual labor. I felt like “I cannot fit in as an employee. I’m unemployable.” I had grandiose ideas: I’m going to start a company.
Elaine Pofeldt: How did you start pitching?
Anthony Sullivan: I couldn’t get a proper job. I ended up helping a friend at a flea market. That was the first time I felt at home in a business world. I saw this gentleman who was doing pitching. He was demonstrating this car wash called the “amazing Washmatic.”
I thought I would like to try demonstrating. I was always a very talkative person. I got hold of this car washing device. I learned how to sell it. I learned the pitch, word for word. I discovered I could hold a crowd and I 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 I learned how to sell to car washes. I was good at it. I ended up getting recruited in this flea market. I ended up almost living the life of a carny. I would go from flea market to flea market in the UK. All this was a foundation for the entrepreneurial life. I’d work at flea markets and boat shows. I would immerse myself in whatever product I was selling.
Then I found this mop. It was a long story how I found this mop, but I got a job cleaning a youth hostel in Hawaii. I got very passionate about making sure I did a great job. I ended up selling that all over England.
Elaine Pofeldt: How did you get into infomercials?
Anthony Sullivan: I turned on my TV one day and saw my first infomercial. That was when I had an “aha” moment. I’d spent 2 or 3 years selling different devices to people one on one. I picked up all of my worldly belongings at the ripe old age of 23 and moved from the U.K. to the U.S. with the dream of getting on TV. I told my mom I’m going to go to America and sell mops on television. My family thought I was absolutely insane, similar to when my dad bought the 40 slot machines.
Within 18 months of landing in America, I was on HSN. I realized if you want to play ball, you have to go to the ballpark. And HSN was the ballpark. I moved to Florida and stayed here because HSN was here.
I sold $100,000 worth of mops in 22 minutes. That was the first item. I went from being a scrappy street marketer to being on TV. That was when I felt legitimized. My mom didn’t like what I did: Sully is a mop salesman.
Elaine Pofeldt: How did you get onto 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 channel, and ended up on mainstream media. That was a milestone. We helped OxiClean. Then we ended up getting into retail. We could walk into Walmart and see OxiClean.
It was this crazy journey that started at a flea market. We ended up with a global volume-producing item at Walmart. You coudn’t go to a Walmart in the world without seeing OxiClean in the early 2000s. it was an incredible journey, and it still continues to evolve. It’s more digital now. We’ve always picked problems that solve a common problem and used TV to get them on the air.