by Art Levy
Updated 10 months ago
I’ve never been camera-shy. The Kent State shootings, I was there for that. That was 1970. I was a student at Kent State, studying telecommunications, from 1968 to 1972, so I was a sophomore. In fact, I was working for the college radio station, and I was out there covering the protests. I wasn’t prepared, professionally or personally, for what I saw. What was I, 20 years old? For many, many years, I couldn’t talk about it. I knew one of the individuals who was hit with a bullet and killed. How do you prepare for something like that? The experience taught me how precious life is and how quickly life can change.
It’s important for anybody in business to make exercise a priority. It gives you energy. You feel better. And if you feel better, you think better. And if you think better, you make better decisions.
My dad was an entrepreneur before entrepreneurs were in style. He owned the largest bowling alley complex — it was a nightclub, a bowling alley, a pool place — in the Ohio Valley. So maybe I got my entrepreneurial spirit from him.
It was 1977, and I loaded up the U-Haul and moved to Pinellas County. I saw an ad in the newspaper for a radio talk show host, and I answered the ad, went in, auditioned and got the job. The station was WWQT, 1470 on your AM dial.
I talked about politics and everything that was going on, and one day the owner of the radio station, Bud Paxson, (the eventual co-founder of the Home Shopping Network) came into the booth, and he was holding an avocado-green electric can opener. He had gotten a box of them from an advertiser who wouldn’t pay his bill. Bud told me: ‘Bob, when you come out of the news, I want you to sell this can opener.’ I laughed. Sell? I’m a newsman! And he said he would give me a dollar for every can opener I could sell, and I told him that’s a pretty good-looking can opener. That day, we sold 112 can openers.
If you take yourself too seriously, you’ll miss out on the joy of life. You have to have humor. You just can’t take stuff too seriously.
I’m going to be 70 in October, so I’m at a point in my life when I’m starting to ache in areas that I didn’t know existed, but I still love to exercise. I run about 20, 25 miles a week. Running gives me an opportunity to think.
Fear stops a lot of people. Rejection stops a lot of people. You have to throw that stuff away and just go for it.
There was a time I wanted to quit. I was burned out. I remember going in to Bud’s office and saying I can’t do this anymore. I remember saying if I see one more cubic zirconia diamond, I’m going to scream. I told him I wasn’t a salesman and I don’t like selling, and then he said something to me that I had no idea what he was talking about. He said: ‘Bob, you have to understand that selling has nothing to do with sales’ and then he said something to me that truly changed my professional life. He said: ‘Bob. If you only remember one thing, remember this — that when you’re selling something, you are doing something to somebody. But if you’re helping someone, then you’re doing something for somebody.’ As soon as I started to think of this selling thing not from a selling perspective but from a helping perspective, everything changed. Before that conversation, I was taking a look at whatever product they gave me and I was trying to think of what to say about it in order to sell it. What Bud was telling me to do is take a look at the product and sincerely and honestly, and with integrity, communicate how the product will help someone. As soon as I looked at it that way, it was so much easier.
I was on HSN from the beginning until the early 1990s, when I retired for a couple of years. But I was bored, so I started my own company to teach people how to do this and to source new products to sell on TV shopping channels around the world.
The business has changed because the technology has changed, but the art of being able to communicate effectively and verbalize a product has not changed since the days when I was on the radio.
One day, they added it all up. I’ve made over 75,000 separate product presentations. I’ve been on the air, selling live, for 35,000 to 40,000 hours, and I’ve sold about $6-billion worth of merchandise. It has been quite a ride — and it’s not over yet.
Read more in our April issue.
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