"Wow, what a douchebag."
After I had said this for about the fifth time watching The Profit, CNBC's "save my small business" show, I realized that the way to succeed in business without really trying is to first surround yourself with competent, hardworking folks to whom you are not related. The main thing that seems to drag a business down is one strategically placed asshole. This of course makes for great TV, because the best shows involve hopelessly deranged owners and their browbeaten and terrified staff. You see it again and again on these "Save My..." genre shows like Bar Rescue, Tabitha's Salon Takeover, and Save My Bakery. Everyone makes the same mistakes — they put Cousin Randy in charge of general management, despite the fact that he'd rather be playing Candy Crush Saga all day and dipping into the vodka. They order way too much merchandise or food and have zero idea what sells and what doesn't, so most of it rots and festers on the shelf. They fall in love with concepts that no one else gets or appreciates, like a fruit pizza or massages at a car wash.
But as with most pleasurable things in life, one man's folly is another man's Thursday night entertainment. These shows rule.
The Profit is my latest favorite, though it's hard to replace Gordon Ramsay's Save-My shows (Kitchen Nightmares and Motel Hell). The Profit stars Miami businessman and entrepreneur Marcus Lemonis, who touts Lee Iacocca as his mentor but cut his TV teeth with appearances on Celebrity Apprentice and Secret Millionaire.
I didn't want to like the guy at first. He's creepily well-groomed, a bit cocky, and has an estimated net worth of $50 million. He swoops in on dying small businesses, like a popcorn company or a toy manufacturer, and offers to inject much-needed capital and his expertise in exchange for as much as 50 percent of the company. He subscribes to that old "business is business" schtick, which means profit comes first over everything else. However, once you watch a few episodes, it becomes apparent that it really does need to come first if people are going to keep their jobs. And if a business actually starts to make bigger profits, then more people can be employed.
Sounds easy, right? Invariably, he runs into some major roadblocks. At least half of the shows have ended with him dissolving the deal and splitting because the people are so hopeless. Take the WorldWide Trailer Sales episode. Lemonis finds a company that makes, for lack of a better term, roach coaches. With the food truck explosion, the business has, seemingly, taken off. The owners claim it's a million-dollar business, yet they only ended last year with a net earning of $200,000. Lemonis sees a ton of potential and some easy fixes, but he doesn't realize whom he's dealing with. The people who run it are a formerly married couple; he cheated on her, and don't ever think she is going to let him forget it. The bitterness is Shakespearean, and Lemonis can barely get a word in before they erupt into cursing and screaming at each other any time they are in the same room. One look on Lemonis' face says it all: This will never work.
Another good one was the L.A. Dogworks episode, about a daycare center and boarding business for pooches. Again, things were looking bright for all involved until it became very apparent that the owner was a maniac who regularly flew into Donald Duck-like rages at his staff, which he loudly proclaimed as incompetent and insubordinate.
My main quibble with the show is that it always ends abruptly. All of a sudden he decides he can't do the deal, or it's a go and hands get shaken, but then it immediately fades to black. At least Kitchen Nightmares is always edited to make it look like some sort of story arc has occurred, even if the final tears and "everything is going to be fine now" message are totally forced. Don't put too much reality in my reality TV, mmmkay?