Fitness Expert Tony Little and retail distributor PPI Entertainment have reported that sales of Little’s video ‘Bodycize/Bodyshaping’ have reached 7 million units. The video, which initially sold 500 copies on the Home Shopping Network, has spawned several ventures for Little including merchandising of workout equipment and accessories, informercials, a book and an 800 number for questions.
NEW YORK – A Little video can go a long way.
Fitness expert – now celebrity – Tony Little has parlayed a cassette called “Bodycize/Bodyshaping,” which originally sold 500 copies on the Home Shopping Network, into a one-man venture encompassing workout equipment and accessories, infomercials, a book, and an 800 number for customers with questions. There may be a few of the latter – Little and retail distributor PPI Entertainment claim sales of 7 million tapes since Little’s 1987 debut.
Combined revenues exceeded $100 million in 1993, according to Little, whose output is now available in 27 countries outside the U.S. His plans include testing and evaluating other fitness designers’ gear and franchising physical rehabilitation centers with doctors as his partners.
“When I used to go the VSDA and tell people my numbers, nobody ever believed me,” says Little, based in St. Petersburg, Fla. That kept him a stranger to stores until “some people checked it out, found out it was for real, and PPI picked them up for distribution to retail in the U.S. and Canada.”
Little’s big break after HSN was an infomercial. In January 1993, he signed with the syndicated “Amazing Discoveries” program, which moved an average of 80,000 three-packs a week of “Target Training” during the spring and summer, traditionally the worst months for video.
“When I started, it was very hard for a new artist to break into retail and stand out. Plus, men didn’t sell, and [isometric] exercise definitely didn’t sell. But on television you can present your ideas directly to the consumer,” Little says of his early strategy.
PPI took some convincing. Senior VP of sales Shelly Rudin says, “We never expected the phenomenon that Tony is.” Little’s “Target Training,” his first title to be offered at retail, has sold more than 1.5 million units at $12.98 in less than a year, Rudin says. Now, he jokes, “I’m afraid I’ll open a closet and Tony will be there.”
Little says he has “tremendous loyalty” to the Home Shopping Network, which still gets his programs first and on an exclusive basis. It’s a win-win proposition, he believes – HSN sales are helped along by testimonials from satisfied buyers, whose enthusiastic words prime retail customers when the tapes finally arrive in stores.
That’s the scenario for “Fat Free,” which, according to Little, has been a million-unit seller on television. An infomercial will begin airing in about four weeks, and PPI will take the new title to retail in the fall.
PPI’s marketing plan includes consumer magazine and newspaper ads backed by special header cards in-store, mailings, and even a baseball cap with a replica of Little’s trademark ponytail in back. Rudin, who says Target Stores have already committed valuable point-of-purchase space for October, is confident that “Fat Free” will get the endcap displays that guarantee heavy exposure. A second thrust, scheduled for the first quarter of 1995, will capitalize on what the trade considers the best time of year for fitness videos.
With his cassettes established, Little created a “One-On-One Trainer” line of exercise equipment that includes two stationary bikes, two steppers, a cross-country skier, and a treadmill. Each comes with a “Personal Trainer” workout video. Little estimates that retail sales have been about $45 million in the year and a half that “One-On-One” has been available.
Also carrying Little’s name is the “AB Isolator” apparatus with companion video, backed by a two-minute TV commercial; licensed products including “Home Fitness Digest” magazine, vitamins, and apparel; and a kit consisting of a “Digital Coach” computer, meal planner, videos, and calipers to measure fat.
Little is putting the finishing touches on his next product, which he and his supporters think will be “huge” in a market previously unreceptive to fitness tapes. In conjunction with a charity, Childrens’s Miracle Network, he has developed a kids’ program packaged with a “wonderball,” a kind of a cushion that rolls and bounces. It will get a workout at Universal Studios, where Little is producing the video using animal and monster characters in his routines.
PPI hopes to have the program in stores by the fourth quarter. Wonderballs also will be sold separately in toy departments by Formula Ventures, which handles several Little accessories.
While the children are exercising, their parents can be reading Little’s “Technique,” due from Warner Books in October. It will, he says, explain his philosophy of stressing education and “structural integrity” over potentially injurious high-impact routines.
If they’re owners of his cassettes, they may have heard the same points from a National Academy of Sports Medicine personal trainer who answers calls on a toll-free line Little established recently. Little says the service averaged 5,000 calls a week in its first two months.