Editor’s Note: Most small businesses start with a dream, but getting rich off an idea isn’t easy. As CEO of Camping World Inc. and Good Sam Enterprises LLC, Marcus Lemonis, the host of CNBC Prime’s “The Profit,” shares how he made millions by taking the phrase “go get it yourself” to heart. The following store is courtesy of CNBC.com, which also ran a full-page ad in USA Today (seen above) promoting the show. Click here to watch a video.
As the CEO of Camping World Inc. and Good Sam Enterprises LLC, Marcus Lemonis became a multimillionaire and a trailblazer in the recreational vehicle (RV) industry.
Born in Beirut and adopted by a family that owned two car dealerships in Florida,Lemonis, who hosts CNBC Prime’s new reality series “The Profit,” says he definitely did not grow up with a silver spoon in his mouth.
“I would say that my parents, they’re very generous,” he said. “They gave me an education. They took me on vacations. But they were very matter-of-fact that if you want something, don’t come asking us for it, go get it yourself.”
And so he did. Lemonis always knew he wanted to be in business because he likes cash, and after graduating from college, he began working at a car dealership. But it was a conversation with family friend Lee Iacocca that set him on his current path.
Lemonis recalls Iacocca telling him, “Look, you can be in the car business forever; you’re just going to be a number.”
Then Iacocca pointed Lemonis toward the RV industry.
Find a great opportunity and seize it
When Lemonis dove into the RV business in the early 2000s, it was ripe for the picking.
“At the time, the RV business was very fragmented. And … the actual brand Camping World [was] started in 1966 by somebody else. And it started as a catalog business with very few stores,” Lemonis said.
With few barriers for entry, and operating with the thought that people will always want to enjoy the outdoors and camping, Lemonis began buying private RV dealerships, eventually rolling them into the Camping World brand, which had only 30 stores at the time.
In 2010, he combined Camping World with the travel club Good Sam Enterprises. The consolidated company is expected to earn $3 billion in 2013. Under his leadership as chairman and CEO, Camping World is set to expand to 115 locations.
“Today, what we have is the single-largest RV and camping company that the world has ever known. Bigger than any manufacturer, bigger than anything,” Lemonis said.
Remaining successful by being accessible
Lemonis intentionally makes himself accessible to his customers and employees, including his email on posters in stores and in catalogs and magazines.
“It’s been a secret recipe of ours. If the customer feels they can access you, they feel closer to you, and they have an affinity to do business with you,” he said.
Congruently, if employees know customers can easily reach the boss, the associates perform better because they’re being held accountable, he said.
“It’s a very dangerous marketing plan, but it’s one that I’ve had for years and I’ll never get away from it,” Lemonis said. “It’s just the secret.”
RV industry executive Marcus Lemonis last night (July 30) offered a primer on how to run a business in CNBC’s new business-based reality show “The Profit.”
Lemonis, the 39-year-old chairman and CEO of Camping World Inc. and sister division Good Sam Enterprises LLC, wasted little time in the show’s season premiere in throwing his weight – and money – around in helping to fix a struggling Manhattan used car buyer called Car Cash.
Run by brothers Jon and Andrew Baron, whose father, Bruce, founded the business in 1977, Car Cash was near bankruptcy when Lemonis entered the picture with bold new ideas for how to turn it around. The brothers grossed $13 million in sales in 2012 but posted a loss of $200,000 and are $200,000 in debt.
“I’m here to fix this business,” said Lemonis, who’s shown driving his red Jaguar at one point in the episode along a picturesque stretch of oceanfront. “If you want people to listen, you put money on the table.”
And that he did, writing a check for $200,000 and providing a line of credit for up to $300,000 at 7.5% interest – a rate that represents a compromise between the 5% offer from overbearing brother Jon Baron and the 10% Lemonis initially requested.
Lemonis, a well-known figure in the recreational vehicle business, noted early on in “The Profit” that he was selling cars by the time he was a teenager, and he takes an instant liking to the concept of buying used cars at the West 55th Street location and then turning around and selling them to car dealers. But the brothers’ policy of selling them through car wholesalers doesn’t sit well with Lemonis who wants to eliminate the middle man and improve on the average margin of $500 per sale.
When Jon Baron ignores Lemonis’ directive to change the company’s traditional way of doing business and get rid of the wholesalers, Lemonis, who has now taken over the company, declares, “You’ve got to the end of the day: they go or I go!”
Much to Jon’s chagrin, he reluctantly ends his relationship with the wholesalers.
Lemonis, who oversees the $2.5 billion CW/GS operations from his Lincolnshire, Ill., headquarters, then instructs him on how to make the customer feel satisfied with his offer for their car by remaining with the customer and talking him through the deal during the appraisal process.
Lemonis spends another $350,000 for 40 contractors to gut and refurbish the tired old building and bring it up to modern-day standards. To underscore his determination to clean house, Lemonis in one scene throws a chair Bobby-Knight-style across the showroom floor. He’s also seen cleaning a toilet.
Viewers do see a warmer side of Lemonis, who takes an instant liking to brother Andrew Baron. Andrew has allowed his controlling older brother to walk over him on numerous day-to-day decisions and is brought to tears when explaining to Lemonis the brothers’ less-than-ideal relationship. As part of the turnaround, Lemonis urges Andrew to write his own TV commercials, and he arranges with a recording studio to tape them. Andrew surprises Jon with a slick 15-second spot that depicts a bolder version of Andrew trumpeting the merits of Car Cash.
Lemonis’ intervention seems to spark a genuine turnaround in the brothers’ relationship with each other, as well as their business. Viewers soon see Lemonis coaching Jon on negotiating the sale of their newly purchased cars to car dealers and stands by, beaming, when Jon successfully flips a BMW he bought from a couple for $14,000 to a dealer for $17,200.
In the show’s finale, filmed three months after Lemonis entered the fray, the brothers’ reconciliation is complete with sales up 30% and the business profitable – complete with a new mobile site and a fledgling nationwide franchise operation based out of the same West 55th Street location.
The franchise was Lemonis’ idea, and while the brothers realize a return on each new franchise sold, the inference is there that Lemonis’ upfront investment will be recouped several times over through the franchise initiative.
So, while there’s a happy ending for this — the first of the season’s six episodes – various promotional trailers for subsequent episodes suggest their endings may be less copacetic.
Next week, Lemonis, who offers business advice in a staged studio setting throughout the segments and invites businesses that are in over their heads to visit www.theprofitcasting.com, enters the flower shop business.
“I hope anyone who has a small business will learn things from this show,” says Lemonis. “So many small businesses fail when they don’t have to.”