CNBC's 'The Profit' reality show saves small businesses, feels a bit more real

Entrepreneur Marcus Lemonis fixes struggling small businesses in dramatic style.
Entrepreneur Marcus Lemonis fixes struggling small businesses in dramatic style. (FREDERICK M. BROWN /Getty Images)
Posted: July 31, 2013

By all accounts, 1-800 Car Cash is a thriving company.

A national brand with 19 franchises across the country, it bills itself as the most hassle-free way for car owners to sell their rides for cold hard cash.

Just a year ago, Car Cash was a struggling business operated by two bickering brothers out of a dilapidated garage in Midtown Manhattan. The brothers and the business were on the verge of a total meltdown.

What happened in the interim is captured in the first episode of CNBC's latest reality series, The Profit, which premieres at 10 p.m. on Tuesday.

A sort of Kitchen Nightmares for small businesses, The Profit is a surprisingly dramatic and compelling docu program that gives capitalist makeovers to family-owned small companies on the verge of collapse.

The show's secret weapon: Marcus Lemonis, a self-made entrepreneur and investor best known as the founder and chief executive officer of Camping World, a chain of camping-equipment stores.

The Profit, which will have a six-episode first season, followed in January by a longer second season, has a familiar formula. Each week, we're introduced to a dysfunctional business, including a florist, a popcorn brand, a cleaning-supply company, and a dog-care facility.

Lemonis diagnoses the problem, invests hundreds of thousands of dollars in the business, and implements a new plan that he enforces with an iron will - even if the owners hate it.

Lemonis doesn't have the oily charm of a Donald Trump or the foulmouthed, loutish brute force of a Gordon Ramsay.

He's not a natural performer and doesn't warm up to the camera easily.

Yet, while so many reality show stars are little more than poseurs, Lemonis comes across as a man who knows what he's doing. He has gravitas and self-confidence to burn.

Lemonis uses his own money, spending more than $2 million over the first season alone. "I guess there's a little bit of altruism involved" in investing his own money, the Lebanese American businessman said in a phone interview. "But it's only worthwhile to step in if I can make money off the deal." That typically includes a piece of the company and a percentage of the profits.

Not every episode of The Profit has a happy ending. Lemonis loses money in one episode.

"The show is real," he said. "It's raw."

What makes the first season so fascinating is that all the companies are family-owned. Each episode gives us a window not only into how the company works, or doesn't, but also into how family dynamics affect business.

Car Cash, for one, was founded in 1977 by the late John Baron, who left it to his two sons, Jonathan and Andrew.

Jonathan is four years older and an admitted "control freak" who never felt comfortable allowing Andrew to make independent decisions that affect the company.

Lemonis watches as the dominant Jonathan continually ignores his brother's input and mocks his qualifications. Lemonis forces the older brother to incorporate some of Andrew's ideas - which turn out to be sound.

"I ended up being a spectator of the family drama that was unfolding before me," said the Miami-raised Lemonis. "In Episode 1, my role was to mend that relationship and bring the brothers together."

Jonathan Baron nearly goes ballistic on-camera when he's forced to relinquish control to Lemonis.

He now says he's glad he eventually relented.

"I had to get to a point where I could see the vision Marcus was bringing," he said on the phone from Car Cash's New York office. "It's hard to describe, but his vision is just unbelievable."

Lemonis promises that by year's end, Car Cash will have 70 locations.

"It almost sounds too miraculous," he said. "Go see it for yourself."

Jonathan is sold. "I cut a great deal with him," he said. "I think three years from now I'll be looking back and I'll say this is the best decision I made in my life."

. . . and don't miss

The Tuesday episode of TLC's Who Do You Think You Are?, which has experts from Ancestry.com research family history, will have a South Jersey flavor. The episode, set for 9 p.m., will have actor Christina Applegate investigate the family history of her Trenton-born father, Bob Applegate.


Television

The Profit

Premieres 10 p.m. Tuesday on CNBC.


Contact Tirdad Derakhshani at 215-854-2736 or tirdad@phillynews.com.

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