The Electronic Retailing Association

Interview with Bob Circosta, the 'Six Billion Dollar Man' - The Role of Home Shopping in Times Like These

by Budd Margolis

After viewing scenes of a world in lockdown, empty cities and abandoned streets, Budd Margolis decided to call his old friend Bob Circosta and interview him about the times we now live in. Bob, for those who may not know, is a legend in our industry and as its first presenter helped establish HSN the first live TV shopping channel in 1982, now part of the Qurate Group. Here is Bob Circosta talking to Budd Margolis about the current situation.

Bob Circosta

It all started in 1977, Bob was working at one as a talk show host at a small Clearwater AM radio station. Station owner, Bud Paxton, went to collect an advertising bill from an appliance company the station had been promoting for 13 weeks. Instead of money, he gave Paxton a case of 112 avocado-green can openers, take it or leave it. He reluctantly accepted the deal and brought them back to the station. Bob was given the can opener and told to sell them on air which he did.

Circosta started to sell more products and this became the International Suncoast Bargaineers Club which grew into the nationwide cable TV phenomenon, Home Shopping Network (HSN).

Over the past 41 years, Bob Circosta has logged over 25,000 hours of selling on TV, made more than 75,000 product presentations and sold $6 billion in merchandise, humbly earning him the title, 'TV's Billion Dollar Man'.

BM: Have you ever experienced anything like this before?

Bob Circosta: No, absolutely not, The first time everyone on the planet should be doing the same thing keeping healthy, staying a social distance from each other, remaining at home, no matter what your beliefs are, we all should be doing the same thing and stay safe and healthy.

BM: What's the role of TV shopping now?

Bob Circosta: Shopping TV was started out as a convenience to viewers and is based on relationships and helping people with unique products that always help people lives. We help people who could not shop for whatever reason and we educate them about how the product can help them.

What TV shopping does, better than anyone else or any other format, is we create a relationship. It is its own social media format and always has been.

And now, many people have to stay home and are alone and having this special relationship with guests or hosts creates a warm medium, as opposed to a just a cold transaction.

But home shopping adds an element of humanity because it is real. Many people over the years have reached out to me and asked how are my kids and family are. We pride ourselves on offering that relationship with the person at home - and we really care and that’s my main point.

BM: What is the most interesting thing you have done on TV shopping?

Bob Circosta: I have sold a water filterer the past 35 years although it continues to improve and now has a filter, with 6 stages of filtration that do not need be replaced for 40 years.  In many USA States you cannot drink the water so this product really delivers a great benefit.

BM: What’s the biggest revenue generator?

Bob Circosta: Again it’s that water filter. I have sold millions and millions of units over the years - in one day we sold about 70,000 units.

You look at the company and product and ask what does it do for the customer, not at its price but at how many might need this solution.

BM: What are the current trends that you see now?

Bob Circosta: For the past year, we have noticed that people want to live independently.

People who live at home and spend more time at home need mobility and pain relief. They want freedom and that’s a big trend I see now and for the future. This crisis will increase viewership and demand in this area. It is not about taking advantage at this time: we are only about helping people cope with their lives.

The vehicle of TV shopping has an advantage over retail and that is our ability to react quickly.  Market trends can change on a dime, and we can adjust to react to live consumer metrics. We are always watching for these trends. It is not about taking advantage of someone, it's only about helping people cope with the crisis.

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Bob Circosta holding an avocado green electric can opener that was sold in 1977 on Suncoast Bargaineer in Clearwater, Florida and launched the TV shopping industry. which moved from radio to TV and became Home Shopping Club then HSN.

BM: How do you prepare to sell a product?

Bob Circosta: I do not look at the price, I consider the advantages and benefits that it provides people. How can someone truly be helped by the product? So if it really provides a benefit, people will happily buy it and enjoy it.

From Day 1, when I look at something, the first thing I ask is what problem does it solve and how can it affect a large group of people - is it a universal problem solver? It is all about helping.  

BM: What can our industry do to prepare for the future and present challenges?

Bob Circosta: Our job is not just about presenting but enabling this special relationship. Every channel should have this special and personal relationship as their prime goal Because the power of our medium has always been based on the power of this relationship.  Enhance that and we will do well.

I encourage everyone not to be fearful, focus on the remarkable experience and talent each one of us has. It is within our power and control to minimise this pandemic and improve our lives.

But we have to believe this is real and serious and understand that and take responsibility. Because of the current crisis, TV shopping channels are bringing in guests remotely. It will be interesting to watch if some of these remote connections continue after the crisis decreases. It could affect expenses such as travel and product costs and margins that could benefit the consumer.

But what impact does remote streamed presentation have? When a shop channel uses an application, such as Skype, our industry has to understand how this impacts the viewer as opposed to being in the studio.  And you can see that on air we always maintain the social distancing protocol. We are asking ourselves whether the viewer enjoys the guest in their own home?

TV shopping is about making it real, I am not a celebrity, I am a real person and that’s what I bring to my work and what people trust and are comfortable with. We are someone they would want to have a cup of coffee with and that’s another important and beautiful part of TV shopping.

BM: Bob’s favourite quote is from Zig Ziglar:

You can have everything in life you want if you will just help other people get what they want.

Zig Ziglar

Bob Circosta: I believe that to this day.