October 30, 2014

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Icon: Tony Little

Fitness entrepreneur, born 1956, Tampa

Art Levy | 11/1/2009

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[Video: Brook Pifer | Interview: Art Levy]

» Some people say I don’t have a filter. I say it like it is. You’re not going to make everyone happy, but if you’re saying the truth and what you believe, why is it wrong?

» I’ve built myself into a brand. There are three business books out there now, maybe four, and they each have three or four pages on me.

» During a bad economy, you have to be able to change quickly. You have to diversify. If you know that a category is going to be going down because it’s a luxury item, you better friggin’ change.

» In the early ’80s, I won Mr. Florida and won Junior Mr. America and was chosen kind of as one of the big prospects for Mr. America, and then I was hit by a Pinellas County school bus. I got back damage and shoulder damage. I entered Mr. America four weeks later, even though I couldn’t train, which was not a good thing, but I still placed fifth. Then, everything fell apart. I was out of work for probably about two years, went ‘Why me? Why me?’ and got addicted to painkillers. I saw Jane Fonda on television, saw her doing her new high-impact aerobic dance type stuff, and I immediately saw an opportunity to come back in a new profession as a personal trainer.

» I like cars. I gotta get out of driving these sports cars, though. I’ve been lucky — ’97 was my last big crash.

» Billy Mays could sell anything. I can’t sell anything because I can only sell things I truly, truly believe in and I’m involved in. Billy, he was an endorser. Half the stuff I have I take from concept to development. I don’t go on and endorse a product unless I own part of the product.

» I’ve turned down at least six reality shows over the years. They want the bad things. They want the dysfunctional. Everyone ends up in a divorce. I don’t want that.

» My son was overweight when he was young. He was a big kid and people would say to me all the time, ‘Are you helping him lose weight?’ I wasn’t going to push my son. I can be a good role model, but I’m not going to make the kid cry or anything like that. Now, he’s like the leanest, meanest jock around and he did it himself.

» I’m a believer that you’ve got to speak up. You’ve got to go for it. I can take a lot of no’s to get a yes. All you ever need is one.

» You do have to realize that on television it has to be very simple to understand. You can’t go into technical things. You’re not buying a pelvic pillow. You’re buying the idea that you can sleep better. It has to serve a purpose. It has to be life changing.

» Most people think I’m hyper, but I am very low-key and hardly speak at all during the day. Obviously, a couple cups of coffee and an energy drink every once in a while helps stimulate that central nervous system for a better presentation.

» I’ve failed a lot in my life. I just also have a shotgun marketing technique. I find a lot of things and, if I love them, I do them all at once and I just need one to work.

» I hit a tree at 55 mph. I was getting ready to do the Gazelle infomercial — and everybody knows the Gazelle was a huge hit for me — and the company in Ohio let me go because I had 200-some stitches in my face and we were three weeks out from shooting the show. But I didn’t take the ‘no.’ I got on a plane and I went to Ohio and I talked to the president of that company. I said to him that I felt that the American public would be more impressed with my infomercial with me having the problem. It was a huge hit. It did $66 million on that one show.

» Passion is the big thing. People understand passion.

Tony Little
[Photo: Brook Pifer]
» Home Shopping kept turning me down. They wouldn’t buy my videos. The buyers would go, ‘No, we don’t sell videos here.’ I tried and tried and tried. They wouldn’t take me, so do I quit or do I realize there’s always a way? In my mindset, there’s always a way. So, I find out that Bud Paxson’s son Todd owns a gym in Clearwater, so I get in my car and I drive over to the gym and introduce myself to Todd Paxson. And I say I used to be a Mr. Florida and a Mr. Junior America and I understand the gym business inside and out. I’d be willing to work with you and help you with the gym business if you can get me 15 minutes with your dad. And he said, ‘Hop in your car,’ so I hopped in my car, followed him, the gates open at this big estate. We drove right in. They open the door. His dad is standing right there. He looked at me and said, ‘You’ve got five minutes.’ I told him about my videos and he said, ‘You’re the guy who keeps calling.’ He made a bet. He said he’ll take 400 videos and if they sell out in four airings on the Home Shopping Network, we’ll do some business. It sold out in four minutes. I’ve been there ever since.

» I continually have to sell myself. Nobody else can sell me.

» Being 53, it sucks. The worst thing for me about getting to be 53, other than the pain and stuff that I go through from the accidents, is I don’t feel it. I look at other people my age and go, ‘Do I look like that?’

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