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This week’s episode of The Profit has Marcus Lemonis in Surfside Beach, South Carolina, helping ASL Sign Sales and Service. (Why do I have a hunch that the “S” stands for signs?)

ASL’s owner is Anthony Leggio, who you could probably guess from his accent has relocated to SC from Long Island. With a $200K loan from his dad, Louis, Anthony had the shop up and running. Revenue ($441K YTD) seems in pretty good shape, but Anthony, who I’m going to call Strong Island, is apparently very ambitious.

Strong Island is rocking some transition lenses with plastic black frames, a fade with spiked hair, tattoo sleeves and big arms, but is also thick through the mid-section. This has nothing to do with the episode, but it’s a very unique look.

ASL manufactures and sells any kind of sign you can think of. This is a big deal, Marcus says, because I guess most companies that sell signs have to get them manufactured by someone else.

Turns out, ASL is actually Anthony’s, I mean Strong Island’s, initials (middle name Sal because of course it is). But Anthony says ASL could also stand for “American Sign Legion,” which is pure gibberish, but I’m giving myself partial credit for that one. The logo, of course, is a cartoon version of Anthony himself.

It's about to go down... (Photo credit: cnbc.com.)

Just a coupla guys talkin’ about signs. (Photo credit: cnbc.com.)

Anthony’s non-Jersey Shore looking girlfriend Christina Christian (did I hear that right?) works at ASL for free and has no equity. I believe this is the way most Fortune 500 companies do it, so…

In Marcus’ little cartoon infographic he always does in every episode, he says ASL makes a sign for $45 and sells it for $450, so they’re basically printing money.

But Marcus has a wicked burn for ASL when it comes to their sales process: “1985 called and they want their sales process back.” OHHHHHHH SNAP. Don’t forget to tip your waitresses.

Despite his overbearing personality, Anthony is not aggressive enough when engaging a walk-in customer in Marcus’ view.

Marcus asks why Anthony why he called The Profit. If business is good, what does he need an investor for?Anthony is obsessed with growing business as quickly as possible. He reminds me of a young, Italian, tan, stocky Walter White. “I’m getting in the sign business,” Marcus says. “The question is, am I’m getting in the sign business with you.” Sort of a weird thing to say.

I just realized ASL also stands for American Sign Language. Why do I feel like Anthony has never heard of this?

Marcus says he’s not prepared to write a check today. He is putting the check book away.

Other people in the business, including Anthony’s dad (who BTW doesn’t have any equity, either) told Marcus that Anthony is a know-it-all. Also the shop is kind of messy as is the sales process, per the 1985 joke. But all in all the place is making money. It’s still not clear why Anthony would want to give away equity to Marcus for his help, which he doesn’t really seem to need.

Next, Marcus finds out that Anthony has been picking ugly, hard-to-read fonts for customers. Anthony is not a designer. He is also not a sales guy. The Bobs from Office Space and I are wondering, What would ya say…ya do here?

Josh, ASL’s head designer (for the sign company, not the sign language), and Anthony, give a customer conflicting estimates on how long it’ll take to refurbish his sign. Josh conservatively quotes him three weeks, but Anthony says they can bang it out in a week. (Okay, he didn’t say “bang it out,” but it seems like something he would say.) Marcus pulls Anthony aside and he seems to get it…or does he? Five seconds later (in TV time) he reprimands Josh in front of the customer for trying to quote the customer a cost.

Anthony reveals that he doesn’t need money but does want Marcus’ business–I guess making signs for Marcus’ hundreds of businesses? He says he wouldn’t be willing to do a deal with Marcus if Marcus didn’t throw a bunch of business his way.

Okay now a former customer of ASL’s finds out Marcus is in town and tells Marcus that Anthony–crap I was supposed to be calling him Strong Island this whole time–has a bad reputation in Surfside Beach and actually sued this guy. The guy says Anthony/Strong Island has a bad temper.

Later, Marcus walks into the shop and Anthony tells him, “Ya late!” IT’S ON. Only Marcus can call out tardiness on his show. There’s some yelling which is all macho-like, but no one throws a punch and both guys storm off in opposite directions. Lame.

Eventually things cool down and Anthony tells Marcus “I bent ova backwards for that son of a bitch,” re: the disgruntled customer he sued.

“Sometimes you gotta take a pile of poop and stick it in your mouth,” Marcus says, meaning you have to make customers happy even if they give you a hard time. I didn’t go to business school but I assume this poop thing is a common metaphor you learn in the better MBA programs.

With 17 minutes in the episode, Marcus says he’s walking out without doing a deal. I like when this happens, especially when Marcus says that lots of other small businesses can use investments and he’s not going to waste his time with the ones that don’t deserve his money. I couldn’t agree more.

“Marcus kicked me right in my f-ing a$$,” Anthony says through tears, ostensibly realizing the errors of his ways, i.e. trying to scam Marcus into investing in ASL a way to get sign business from him. It’s hard to take him seriously when he’s wearing a shirt with a cartoon of himself on it, but he sort of seems genuine.

Back from commercial and now we’re in…Los Angeles? Marcus is now revisiting a gourmet popcorn company called Planet Popcorn, which he walked away from in another episode of The Profit. Apparently after agreeing to invest, Marcus found issues with accounting and inventory. Also the owner, Sharla, seemed reluctant to make changes.

It kind of seems like Marcus feels bad for Sharla because after the episode aired she came out looking really bad, and she lost a huge account with Disneyland. That’s gotta hurt.

Marcus looks around and sees a more organized office and a more professional-looking Sharla (despite her dress’ plunging neckline) who knows her sh-stuff. But when Marcus asks her about the Disneyland account, Sharla says she doesn’t want to talk about, tears up, and goes into what appears to be a closet to hide. I mean I’m sure it still stings, but, like, get it together when the money man is standing in your office potentially ready to make you a deal.

Aaaaand she’s back. Despite losing Disney and apparently some other accounts and being humiliated on TV, she has picked herself up by her bootstraps (classic entrepreneur word!).

Now they’re sitting down talking business. She offers 20% of her business for $50K; he’s not having it. He’ll take 40% with a 50-cent per popcorn bag royalty, a la Shark Tank‘s Kevin O’Leary. The check book is coming out. Sweet redemption for Sharla and Planet Popcorn! Maybe Marcus will call ASL when Planet Popcorn needs a new sign! Maybe not.

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I started watching ABC’s Shark Tank less than a year ago and since then, I haven’t been able to stop.

The concept of the show is simple: product inventors and/or owners of nascent businesses stand in front of five millionaires and billionaires–would-be investors in their business, or “sharks”–and pitch them on why they should invest their own money in exchange for part ownership (i.e. equity) in a company they’ve never heard of run by someone they’ve never met before.

Most of the presentations are what I’d call “professionally cheesy” (or “cheesily professional”?). They’re rehearsed little 30-second intros that tell the sharks the name of the company and tease what it does or makes, finishing with a flourish in the form of a catchy slogan often uttered in unison. (Jelly company Mango Mango went with, Are you ready for this jelly?) At some point during the little song and dance the entrepreneur(s) (or “treps,” for brevity’s sake) reveals what share of their company they’re selling and for how much equity, e.g. $50,000 in exchange for 20% equity in the company.

Depending on the product, there’s usually a short demo of how it works or what it does, after which the floor is open for sharks to pepper the treps with questions about manufacturing costs, margins, annual sales, their background, and anything else germane to a potential investment.

The better presentations–and the ones most likely to whet a shark’s appetite–are the ones where the treps A) know all the answers to the sharks’ questions and B) have good answers. By good answers I mean the company is profitable, the margins are high (i.e. the product sells for a high price but costs very little to make), and sales have increased year over year.

(One pet peeve of mine related to the Q&A portion is that almost every trep’s answer starts with, “So,” as in, “How much do you make it for and how much do you sell it for?” “So…right now it costs about $5 a unit to produce and we sell it at retail for $9.99.” I know it’s just a stall word in a nerve-wracking situation to let them gather their response, but they do it every time!)

Where was I? I blacked out. Ah yes, the sharks. Each has their own distinct business background (click the links in each shark’s name to learn more), personality, area(s) of expertise, and investment strategy. Episodes features five sharks from a rotation of six. The sharks, far more than the treps, make the show what it is. For the uninitiated, the sharks are:

  • Mark Cuban. The moral compass of the show. Usually very supportive and free with advice even if he doesn’t make a deal with the trep. Calls out his fellow investors for bad deals that don’t favor the trep. Occasionally calls out treps (2:20 mark) whose products/companies he deems specious, irresponsible, or who are on the show for free advertising and not actually seeking a partnership. (Cuban also forced Shark Tank‘s production company to change its policy re: taking 5% of all businesses that appear on the show, regardless of whether a shark chooses to invest his/her own money. What a guy.)
  • Kevin “Mr. Wonderful” O’Leary: Shark Tank’s answer to Simon Cowell and the show’s constant reminder that it’s not a charity—it’s about making money. On almost every episode Kevin will eschew equity and request a royalty deal where he recoups his investment upfront by taking a cut of every unit sold until he’s paid back in full, then taking a smaller royalty for each unit sold “in perpetuity”—meaning FOR-EV-ER.
  • Robert Herjavec: The nice family guy—but don’t jerk him around or he’ll say things like, “I’m a very nice guy, but don’t mistake my kindness for weakness.” Also loves kids and dogs.
  • Lori Greiner: A Chicagoan (listen to the accent) and big player in the QVC world—which is the driver behind most of her deals, as in “This will sell very well on QVC.” (Incidentally, I had no idea QVC was such a huge moneymaker but based on the size of some of the checks she writes, it’s doing a-OK.)
  • Barbara Corcoran: The wacky older woman on the panel–wacky like a fox, that is–also with ties to QVC.
  • Daymond John: Tends not to stray too far from his forte, fashion. Will regularly mention that he started out selling hats on the street (he founded FUBU).

Any time I talk about Shark Tank (which is often) to someone and they’ve actually seen the show, the response is almost always “You watch it, too? I LOVE Shark Tank!”

On May 2 ABC aired a behind-the-scenes special, “Swimming With Sharks” (click the link to view the special) that gave fans a look at the sharks when the camera wasn’t rolling, and some dirt about some of the show’s biggest deals (and non-deals)—as well as some of the stinkers. Below is a recap of each company update:

  • Breathometer ($50): A device that plugs into smartphones and works with a mobile app to perform a self-Breathalyzer test. Per the special, Breathometer expects $10 to 12 million in sales in 2014.
  • Lollacup ($15): A children’s drinking cup with a weighted straw that allows kids to drink even when the cup is not right side up. Profits from Lollacup netted the trep couple who started the company with their $1M dream home.
  • Simple Sugars ($22): All-natural sugar scrubs. Was doing $88,000/year in sales pre-Shark Tank, finished 2013 with $2.1M in sales.
  • Bubba’s Boneless Ribs: A patented process for removing the bones from ribs (without losing the essence of the rib, of course). $200K in first ten days after appearing on Shark Tank.
  • PRO-NRG ($2): A Brandon Jacobs-backed energy drink eventually repackaged as a protein water–after Daymond’s investment and intervention. Per its founder, they’re over $1.5M in sales. During their presentation Mr. Wonderful repeatedly referred to the company as “Pro Nerg.”
  • Stella Valle: A jewerly line made by two female U.S. veterans. $2.5M in sales post-Shark Tank ($50K before).
  • Tipsy Elves ($60): Intentionally ugly Christmas sweaters. No sales figures given.
  • Grace & Lace ($20-36): Lacy women’s socks designed to be seen partially while wearing boots. No sales figures given.
  • Tree T-Pee ($6-7): A mini tent designed to put around trees keep in water from sprinklers to save water. After appearing on the show the trep scored a deal with Home Depot.
  • Voyage Air Guitar ($429): A guitar that folds in half. Working with Kevin, the trep licensed his product to Fender. No sales figures given. Despite their business partnership, the trep and Kevin seem to genuinely dislike each other.
  • Wicked Good Cupcakes ($8): Cupcakes in a jar. Kevin’s royalty deal of 45 cents for every cupcake sold paid off. They’re selling $265K/month.
  • Toygaroo ($40/month): “The Netflix for toys,” lost $200K and went out of business in six weeks. Per Mark, Kevin and the trep had different visions and that caused the company to go under.
  • Copa Di Vino ($3): The trep rejected the sharks on two separate episodes. Mark called him a “gold digger” who was only on the show for the PR. The $300K investment the treo was seeking at the time of his second appearance would have been work $3M today. Now doing $25M in revenue. Trep has a private jet, apparently. Good for him.
  • ReadeREST ($9): A ridiculously simple magnetic hook on which to hang reading or sunglasses. $8.2M in sales so far.
  • Scrub Daddy ($7): A scratch-free scrubbing sponge. The most lucrative trep in Shark Tank history is expected to finish 2014 with $16M in annual sales, and is projected by shark investor Lori to do $30M next year. Within the first hour of their episode airing, Scrub Daddy had 30 to 40K website hits.

Some other thoughts from the special:

  • Mark, according to Robert, is worth more than the rest of the sharks combined ($2.6 billion per Forbes), which I didn’t realize. I’d imagine in some cases, though not all, this gives him an advantage when negotiating against the others.
  • “We are the Mick Jaggers of the business world,” according to Robert. Um…
  • Mark mentioned that it was a family show and people come up to him and say their 9-year-old daughter is obsessed with valuation. Adorable.
  • “Buying a nicer car isn’t as powerful as taking care of my children,” says Robert. He’s so quotable!
  • Interestingly in the “shark on shark” interviews the two female sharks said Mr. Wonderful was a teddy bear, while the guys called him a jerk (excluding Mark Cuban, who wasn’t interviewed, probably because they actually hate each other in real life).
  • We can certainly debate the “realness” of Shark Tank, the vibe I got from all the shark interviews is that it’s genuinely competitive and that none of them wants to be bested by the others. And while this might be viewed as a bunch of rich men and women gambling with these treps’ companies like they’re at a high stakes poker table, the treps stand to gain the most if one of the sharks bets big on them.

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