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A Green Can Opener Sold in 1977 Opened the World to Home Shopping

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An avocado green can electric opener sold on the radio in Clearwater Florida in 1977 was the birth of at-home shopping. I was dumbfounded when I learned this fact at my first class of "How to Sell on TV" taught in St Petersburg, Florida by Bob Circosta at his corporate headquarters near the HSN campus. Bob was the man who sold that first green can opener!

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I was in the middle of my second year of selling my French dresses on HSN TV and about to launch my first fragrance, "21 Bonaparte" (a sedative blend of orange mandarins, white flowers and patchouli) a fragrance that softly caresses my decoltee every morning when I dabble it inside my dress). I guess the powers that be felt I was there to stay selling my creations on TV and must be sent to school to perfect my visual technique as you can't smell me and my new perfume on TV.

vicky tiel

Unlike most fashion designers, I've been personally selling my designs since I was 12 years old. I sold my first skirt that I made at home in Chevy Chase, Maryland, to my next door neighbor and opened my couture dress shop in Paris on 21 Rue Bonaparte at the ripe old age of 24 about 45 years ago. But I was all ears!

I was taught in Bob's class how to explain to my TV listeners that patterns in my French couture dresses (which cost thousands of dollars) were used in these dresses and to explain what made my dresses different than any other clothing they had ever worn. I could explain bias cuts that cup the bust, sexy slits that intrigue men, flared skirts that help make the waist look smaller, French seaming, draping that enhances the body and I could also explain that I could bring them Paris Fashion newness like hot pink panty hose worn with black and white dresses just out in last week in the St Germain de Pres windows.

What I learned in my "How to Sell On TV" lesson was really thrilling to me, but nothing surprised me more than learning a single fact, that the first item ever sold ON AIR on the radio in 1977 was an avocado green electric can opener for $9.99. The "How it All Happened" story was so mind boggling, I felt it was worth sharing with the thousands of women who live to shop on TV.

Read this then ask your friends to bet on what was the first item ever sold on air! No one will win.

In 1977 Bob Circosta had a Radio News talk show in Clearwater Florida on WWQT 1470 AM that had nothing to do with selling. The radio station had a difficult time getting advertising but Bud Paxson, the station owner, found a local appliance store to advertise for 13 weeks after the news. Sadly, after trying to collect payment, (when the appliance store owner refused to pay saying he never had one client walk in because of their radio commercial), Bud had no choice but to compromise.

After a lengthy discussion Bud accepted a large box of 112 avocado green can openers in lieu of payment and he asked Bob Circosta to try to sell them on the air after the news, instead of their advertising. Bob thought Bud was crazy and begged "I'm a newsman. I don't want to sell things. I HAVE MORALS."

Needless to say the green can openers sold at $9.99 like hot cakes and one thing led to another and Bob abandoned radio news to create a "selling show" on a local Pinellas TV cable station called Vision Cable Channel.

In 1982 the first TV Home Shopping program ever seen by mankind, named The Home Shopping Club was born in Florida and can openers became a sideline part of Electronics. Fashion, Jewelry and Beauty were soon added and women could work, shop, play with their kids and cook without leaving their kitchens. Walls were knocked down and the living, kitchen, TV -playroom became the American norm.

TV shopping went nationwide in 1985 as the Home Shopping Club (HSN today) and was followed by QVC in 1986. By the late 80's about 28 other channels joined TV shopping. By the 90's it was a billion dollar club.

Today Mindy Grossman as CEO has taken HSN TV and HSN online to the highest level, so chic and so cool it's enough for a grand old French couturier like myself to want to join. Others will soon follow and be sent to "How to Sell on TV "school.

As for "21 Bonaparte," my fragrance will be sold more on online and TV and than in stores because today more women shop outside of the stores, who sales staff sadly sit and wait for" traffic." Modern women of the new millennium save their precious time for yoga, spas, cooking schools and vacations instead of wandering the streets looking for a new dress.

Vicky Tiel began designing clothes 40 years ago in Paris and still owns a boutique there. See Vicky and her new collection on HSN and online. Her couture is available at Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus, and her perfumes are carried in Perfumania. Her memoir, It's All About the Dress: What I Learned in 40 Years About Men, Women, Sex and Fashion was published by St. Martin's Press in August 2011.