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How I Made It: Tony Little

Go ahead, think out of the box

December 28, 2007|Andrea Chang | Times Staff Writer

The gig: As "America's Personal Trainer," Little runs a fitness empire that includes exercise equipment, videos, apparel and nutritional products. The former bodybuilder's infomercials are aired in 81 countries, and his products -- such as the Gazelle -- have grossed more than $3 billion. He is also known for his catchphrase, "You can do it!"

Education: Graduated from Dixie M. Hollins High School in St. Petersburg, Fla., in 1975.

First job: Worked for his grandfather at an Army surplus warehouse when he was 14, lifting boxes of bayonets and burning old motors to extract copper.

Injuries: Was injured in three major car crashes -- one involving a collision with a lobster truck and another with a school bus -- and nearly electrocuted himself twice. "I've got a very weird life," Little says. "My psychologist says it's because I'm easily accessible."

Got the idea: While recovering from the first crash, which ended his bodybuilding career, Little watched an infomercial featuring Jane Fonda and was motivated to start his own fitness business.

On the path: Ran a small business cleaning gyms to raise money for his first local cable TV show. Later, Little asked 100 people to finance his first exercise video and was rejected by all of them before a lawyer wrote him a check for $125,000.

Biggest challenge: Persuading audiences to give him a chance at a time when most exercise videos featured women.

Marketing tricks: Grew out his now-infamous blond locks for a more "rock star look." "People who look just regular don't have channel-stopping power," says Little, who someday would like to cut his hair on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" and donate it to a charity.

First big purchase: Prepaid college educations for his two children.

Daydream job: Interior designer. His look? "Spanish-Mediterranean with eclectic art -- my first house could have been 'The Addams Family' meets 'Great Gatsby.' "

Coming to a store near you: Little will debut Body by Bison -- a line of bison products including burgers, hot dogs, steaks and jerky -- next year. He's also releasing a line of footwear called Cheeks Exercise Sandals, "because they exercise your butt and legs when you walk."

Advice: "You've got to think out of the box nowadays. . . . You change your mind-set, you change your life."


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