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“You know, I do business on handshakes and I try to help people, and I do it to make money.”

That’s a quote from Marcus Lemonis, the star of CNBC’s hit show The Profit. Each week on the show Lemonis tries to help a failing business get back on its feet. Sound familiar? Well, it should (especially if you have read this blog).

Reality shows like Hotel lmpossible, Restaurant Impossible, and Bar Rescue feature industry experts visiting foundering businesses, addressing problems big and small, and within a week, transforming former money pits into profit machines.

But The Profit is a little different. Lemonis isn’t necessarily an expert the type of business, like hotels or restaurants, that he’s trying to rescue. He’s an expert in business. (For more on his background, check out his Wikipedia page.) His oft-repeated mantra is People, Process, Product. In each episode he examines all three and determines if the business has any hope for a turnaround.

And here’s the kicker: Lemonis isn’t just a hired gun, like Hotel’s Anthony Melchiorri or Restaurant’s Robert Irvine. Lemonis is putting up his own money, a la Shark Tank, to revive these businesses but also make a profit for himself. (The name of the show is just one big spoiler, isn’t it?)

Lemonis’ financial contribution is typically enough to pay off the business’s debt, plus some money for some upgrades to equipment that will have an impact on the bottom line. In exchange for his cash—it’s always such a baller move on when he whips out his checkbook and writes a million dollar check to a business owner—he asks for a large chunk of equity, often as high as 50%. He also requires full operational control of the business.

Like the “Impossible” shows, most of the time Lemonis business proposal and management style are met with some initial resistance from the owners, but eventually they realize that what’s good for him is what’s good for them. Happy ending, right?

Not quite. Sometimes, and this is much rarer on the various Impossibles, Lemonis can’t come to an agreement with the business, and he backs out. (While the check presentation is a big moment on the show, in reality I’m sure there are lawyers and accountants digging into the company’s financials and the owners’ credit histories to make sure the business isn’t a lemon.)

On the episode I caught last night, featuring Swanson’s Fish Market in Fairfield, Connecticut, Lemonis wrote the business a million dollar check to temporarily buy the building in which the market resides and clear up its debt, which he believed would be the pecuniary boost they needed to get back on track.

But as Lemonis (or his lawyers, off camera) dug deeper he discovered that the mortgage on the building was not, in fact, “in good shape” as the business co-owner Gary had said it was. It was in foreclosure.

Besides that, Lemonis couldn’t get past the fact that Gary owned a boat while some of his employees were covering the costs of the fish out of their own pockets. He also couldn’t get through to the other co-owner, Sue, about why her owning a BMW with $500 a month payments was sending the wrong message to her employees. Neither were willing to sell off their toys in order to take a little pressure off the business and, ya know, pay their frickin’ employees. (Unlike many struggling businesses I’ve seen on shows like this, these two had no guilt over paying themselves.) The icing on the cake was that when Lemonis came back a few weeks later to check in, he found out the owners were doing renovations on their home.

In the end Lemonis walked. There was no text at the end, like you’d see at the end of Hotel Impossible (“Occupancy is up 75% since Anthony’s visit. The hotel has plans to upgrade all rooms within the next six months.”) It was Lemonis’ quote (from the beginning of this post), and then the episode just kind of ends.

In a previous post I wondered why this didn’t happen more often, as it did in an episode of Hotel Impossible last season. If these people aren’t willing to do what it takes to run a successful business, why does the show still insist on helping them? I imagine there are so many American businesses doing things the right way (or at least what they believe is the right way) and still struggling. Why not help them instead?

(Here’s an idea for a show: when one small business is too stubborn or foolish to accept the free help of an expert—who, by the way, they called!—that expert goes across the street and helps their biggest rival. Or better yet, the expert starts his own business just to crush them. Too much? Watch the Hotel Impossible episode about the Thunderbird Motel–or read my post about it–and tell me those people deserve to stay in business.)

The only regrettable aspect of Lemonis walking away from Swanson’s was that the owners’ 24-year-old daughter, Larissa, was apparently working the hardest of any of them to keep the company afloat. She also seemed to be the only one who saw the value of Lemonis’ involvement and potential investment. Maybe somewhere in the near future she’ll open her own fish market and put her parents out of business? Or at least buy them out? After all, what better way to learn how to run a successful business than seeing first-hand all the ways not to run one?

***UPDATE*** I’m not sure about the sequence of events here but Larissa Swanson, the daughter of the owners of Swanson’s Fish Market, wrote a treatise on the company’s website in response to the way their episode of The Profit was edited and the deal that Lemonis ultimately walked away from. You can read the whole thing here, but the her key points are quoted or paraphrased below (with my own thoughts in italics).

  • “When we sat down for the deal they told us before hand that if he writes us a check, it is only for show purposes and we have to hand it right back.” That sounds about right.
  • “We also did not film for 4 weeks, the filming process started at the beginning of June and ended in September! We were strung along for 4 months. They don’t add that my mom had a contractor at the house painting bc we are fixing it up right now to SELL and put it on the market. We never even did a building deal with him, where he said he would buy It for one million. We did not see a penny for the entire 4 months.” This was not clear at all on the episode. In terms of timing Lemonis mentioned that he went back four weeks later, and that’s when he discovered the property was in foreclosure. More on that…
  • “On August 26th I was served papers by a sheriff on the building for kasowitz (the guy who did a mortgage for it)  I notified Marcus immediately via text..we were not aware that a foreclosure process even started. Our building is fine now and we are taking care of it. Our building also had a contractor Lien put on it 3 years ago and we had the lien removal paper but our mortgager never brought it to city hall to be taken care of and of course they never aired that either!” It’s starting to sound like a he said-she said thing, but ultimately if Swanson’s was even close to foreclosure Gary shouldn’t have said it was “in good shape.” Or was that creative editing, too?
  • “When the boat happened he moved it from the marina and put it in someone’s backyard before hurricane Sandy hit and the motors became ruined and it turned into a salvaged project. He bought that boat 15 years ago.” The fact remains that he’s apparently paying marina fees on a boat, but Marcus made it out to be a luxury yacht.
  • “Marcus even asked me to negotiate with people and had me promise to pay them the next day certified check and never even came through. Those people are so angry now that they are sueing us.” Um…
  • “They also didn’t add how my little brother has a serious mental illness that he was diagnosed with 3 years ago of schizophrenia and it’s so severe that we are constantly in and out of hospitals and have paid over 100k in medical,hospital,ambulance bills and medications.” The show easily could have gone the other way with this and played up this angle, a la Restaurant Impossible, but they chose to go in the direction of villainizing the Swansons instead.
  • Sue had three deaths in her family around the time of the taping, explaining her disconnected, erratic behavior.
  • “Halfway through filming [Sue] agreed to sell the BMW and we filmed a cute scene where we taped for sale signs on her car windows to show we would sacrifice for the deal but they didnt show that either of course.” It’s starting to sound like the producers made the call to cut this into one episode’s worth of content, even though they clearly needed more time to tell the story completely.
  • “I also wanted to touch base on our employees chipping in for product- that i agree was not right but it was a total of only two times and they got their money back right at the end of the day only because we had vendors who wanted cashiers checks in the morning for product and my mother or father were not there to get to the bank and there was not enough to cover it with cash in the register.” Again, they really played up this angle as if it was all the time. That said, it’s no way to run a business.
  • Larissa addresses the circumstances around the fires that destroyed their property and imputes them to a former employee with a drug problem. I’m not sure this is relevant except that it casts doubt for those who may have thought the Swansons may have set the fires themselves for the insurance money.
  • There are also some images on the site including Larissa’s text to Lemonis about the foreclosure and some other critical documents that the show glossed over.

So, what are we as fans of The Profit to make of all this? Well, we all know reality shows edit their footage in order to tell a succinct, compelling story in their allotted amount of time, usually about 44 minutes for an hour-long program. Some edits don’t matter as much, like the exact phrasing of a quote, but others can be specious, like some of what Larissa alleges above.

While I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen of Lemonis and The Profit so far, at this point I’ll really need to take what he and the show are saying with a grain of salt. And I won’t be so quick to write a blog post that paints these small businesses featured on these shows in such a negative light, at least not until hearing both sides of the story.

As for you, I suggest you watch at your own risk.

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Back in April last year, I wrote a blog post detailing the first ever episode of Hotel Impossible. It’s become one of my most popular posts, so I thought it would be appropriate to write a follow up as Anthony Melchiorri, hotel fixer extraordinaire and star of the show, visits six of the hotels from the first season to see how they’re doing since he left them on last night’s episode.

Like I wrote in my last post, my favorite part of watching shows like Hotel Impossible and Restaurant Impossible is looking up the properties after the fact to see what the reviews say. (Full disclosure: If the owners hesitate, even slightly, to listen to Anthony, I start rooting against them hardcore like a Deal or No Deal contestant who went against the mathematical odds for a chance at the million-dollar suitcase instead of cashing in for $250K.)

Here’s what I hoped to find out from this follow-up edition of Hotel Impossible: Was it, in fact, possible to revamp these properties? Did Anthony’s tough love and business strategies pay off? Did the owners ultimately heed his advice, or did they just yes him to death until he was gone, then go back to their old ways?

Here’s a brief recap of each follow-up, as well as a few tweets Anthony (@AnthonyHotels) sent out in real time last night:

Ocean Manor Resort Hotel (Fort Lauderdale, FL), 10 months later
The hotel seems to be doing better now that the owner is less involved and the GM is running the show, but it’s still receiving negative reviews on TripAdvisor. A January 28 review called it “The worst hotel ever!” Not a ringing endorsement for the job Anthony did, but I appreciate the show tellin’ it like it is by actually mentioning the negative reviews in its recap. My favorite line from the follow-up came from the owner, who said that since Anthony left, they’ve renovated “over 37 rooms.” So…38?

Dude Rancher Lodge (Billings, MT), 5 months later
There was nothing too remarkable about this hotel’s recovery. During the initial visit, Anthony won over the curmudgeonly sales manager, but she retired and they hired a younger manager from the area to replace her. This seemed to be working out just swimmingly until THERE WAS A SHOOT-OUT BETWEEN POLICE AND A CRAZED GUNMAN AT THE HOTEL. (The police eventually shot him dead, in case you were wondering.) Still, the recent reviews are mostly positive…

Purple Orchid Inn, Resort & Spa (Livermore, CA), 8 months later
A couple-owned hotel and spa, this appeared to be one of Anthony’s easier missions. The property is gorgeous; the spa just needed a little updating. Also, Anthony persuaded the couple to put on some events to promote their own wine and that of other local vineyards. According to the owners, who have since had a son, they’ve now gotten 150,000 visits to their website and they’re doing 300 spa appointments per month (previously they were doing about two appointments per week), which is what Anthony said a spa in the area should be handling in order to maximize its profits. See their reviews here.

Purple Orchid Resort & Spa in Livermore, CA

Purple Orchid Resort & Spa in Livermore, CA

Dream Inn (Daytona Beach, FL), 5 months later
This place was being run by an older couple (the mother was recently diagnosed with cancer) before her son took over the day-to-day operations. It was a pretty classic case of a hotel that was being run by people who, despite the hotel being their only source of income, didn’t know (or care) how to help themselves. The rooms need to be CLEANED? The hotel staff should wear UNIFORMS? We NEVER woulda thought of that! (Also, the property was overrun with dolphin statutes, like a lot of dolphin statues, which was just weird.) Since Anthony’s visit, the owners replaced their housekeeping staff with a professional cleaning service, and guests no longer have to clean their own dishes (in the original episode, leaving a dirty dish would have cost a guest a $25 charge at check-out). Per the owners, revenue is up 25%, occupancy up 10%. With the hotel’s phenomenal view of the ocean, Anthony thinks it can do even better than that. Still, the recent reviews are very strong.

La Jolla Cove Suites (La Jolla, San Diego, CA), 7 months later
Like Purple Orchid, Anthony’s primary role in fixing this place was to consult on the marketing front. And like Dream Inn, the view was not the problem. The owner wasn’t utilizing the roof space, they launched a marketing event to get locals up there to expose them to the view. The owners were also in the process of renovating the rooms but ran out of money. Since Anthony’s visit, the owners didn’t disappoint. They replicated the sample room Anthony’s designer created 22 times, all rooms have new mattresses, and Anthony’s famous “face plant” method–falling face-first onto the mattress–is now used the staff to test the mattress softness. Meanwhile Anthony struck gold with his suggestion to use the roof top as the hotel’s main selling point: since he left, La Jolla Cove Suites has hosted 29 weddings and 35 corporate events on roof deck. Per the owner, the hotel was named the second-best wedding venue in the county, and she says people mention Hotel Impossible when they call to inquire about rooms and events. Occupancy is up 22% occupancy, and there’s been a $400,000 increase in revenue (I believe that number was year over year) in the last five months. Anthony earned his paycheck on that one. Here are the reviews.

New Yorker Boutique Hotel (Miami, FL), 10 months later
As with the Dream Inn, this too was couple-owned and the co-owner wife had been recently diagnosed with MS. Meanwhile the financial struggles piled up, with the owners’ whole family living in a small apartment in the back of the hotel, now $1 million in debt. They seemed generally clueless about how to run a hotel, in one instance admitting that they let emails sit in their inbox for several days, even for a corporate client inquiring about rates for 150 nights a year (Anthony, incredulous, closed the guy over the phone in about two minutes for $85 a night). But after Anthony’s visit, which included a few lessons in marketing in sales, the couple says they’ve paid off 50% of their debt, and the co-owner is better able to manage her health and see doctors more often. Meanwhile, they report the hotel’s occupancy is at 80-95%. The reviews, on the other hand, are a mixed bag (don’t stay in room 223, apparently).

Much like Robert Irvine’s drill sergeant style on RI, Melchiorri’s New York Italian brashness was not always well-received by his would-be clients. (As the viewer, I didn’t mind the brashness, perhaps because it wasn’t my failures as a businessman he was exposing on a TV show whose title posits these hotels may be “impossible” to fix, or simply because I’m a New York Italian.) There was often resistance in the form of crying, yelling, or just, well, interesting comments from hotel owners like, “paper never crashes” in response to Anthony’s insistence that they invest in a computer system to track reservations rather than just writing them down and filing them away.

Of course I’m sure many moments were played up or down for the cameras, but Anthony seems to be having a positive effect on these hotels, if nothing else than for some increased visibility as “that hotel from the TV.” Perhaps Melchiorri’s reputation will start to proceed him as the show becomes more and more popular and he’ll have fewer clashes with these failing hotel owners, who might actually just shut up and listen. But then, where would the fun be in that?

Hotel Impossible can be seen on Mondays at 10 pm on Travel Channel.

RELATED: Hotel Impossible’s First Mission: Gurney’s Inn on Long Island

RELATED: Hotel Renovation Proves ‘Impossible’ for Anthony Melchiorri

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A shared pastime of my fiancée and me is to watch an episode of the Food Network’s Restaurant: Impossible and then, once it’s over, to Yelp the featured restaurant to see if they were able to turn things around once the camera crew packed up and left. It’s not that we don’t trust Sir Robert Irvine, the ex-military Brit with a heart of gold shrouded in an exterior of tough love and culinary expertise. It’s that we don’t always trust the restaurateurs to stick to the blueprint Irvine has laid out for them.

Inevitably, we’ll find reviews like this one, which reference the restaurant’s appearance on the show, often telling other would-be diners that it’s still the same old dump. In some cases, we find out the restaurant closed shortly after Irvine’s intervention. And while it’s sad to see, there are thousands of other restaurants that don’t have the benefit of a deus ex machina like Irvine. Instead, if they want to survive in the business they have to, you know,  run their restaurant correctly.

Still, we love the show and so we were quite pleased to stumble upon the series premiere of Travel Channel’s Hotel Impossible last night. Hotel Impossible is centered around an expert in the hospitality field and hotel “fixer,” Anthony Melchiorri, with a brash style similar to Irvine’s. In Hotel Impossible’s first episode, Melchiorri goes out to Montauk, Long Island, to rescue Gurney’s Inn, a family-run hotel that has seen a steady decline since the family patriarch and general manager passed away two years ago.

Melchiorri immediately diagnoses Gurney’s biggest issues: crappy service, outdated decor, and the general ineptitude of the management, who are all members of the family. In one scene, he asks the current GM to round up the staff for a 10 am meeting on the beach, and by 10:30 no one’s there. When Melchiorri confronts the GM, his excuse is that everyone’s “on Montauk time.” About fifteen minutes in, we already hate the GM if not the entire family. The head chef, one of the few relatives who actually seems competent, admits on camera that some of the other family members would not have a job at Gurney’s if they weren’t flesh and blood. It’s as if their father left them a coveted masterpiece, and they can’t be bothered to dust the frame from time to time.

OK, we get it: it’s a TV show; there’s got to be some conflict. If they only tackled projects where ownership was totally willing to adopt every change Melchiorri suggested, it wouldn’t seem quite so “impossible.” (Or, for that matter they wouldn’t be in so much trouble in the first place.) But throughout the episode, Melchiorri makes references to the other newer, hungrier hotels in Montauk who can’t wait to “eat their lunch” if Gurney’s keeps going the way it is, and that the only thing saving them is the gorgeous view of the ocean from their property, which this generation can hardly take credit for.

Wouldn’t it make for a decent, and similarly impossible show, if Melchiorri, or Irvine for that matter, helped out one of those competing hotels or restaurants to put a bigger one out of business? While the Impossible shows are entertaining, I can’t help but think that if these were baseball teams instead of service businesses, they’d be swooping in to help the New York Yankees spend their $200 million payroll more efficiently, while the financially challenged Oakland A’s looked around and said, “What about us?”

All that said, there are probably hundreds of newer, hungrier hotels, restaurants, pet shops, bakeries, food trucks, writers, and yes, even baseball teams, who are slowly making headway in their respective industries, chipping away at the market share–all without the help of a TV show. But for their sake, let’s hope that Melchiorri or Irvine don’t show up one day to help their competitors across the street.

RELATED: Hotel Renovation Proves ‘Impossible’ for Anthony Melchiorri

RELATED: Hotel Impossible: After Anthony Special – A Review

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