Unlocking The Profit

One of my favorite TV show is CNBC’s “The Profit,” where Marcus Lemonis invests his own money to turnaround failing small businesses. I saw the premier episode while attending the Las Vegas Star Trek convention last year, fell in love with the show, and can’t get enough of it on the Internet. Alas, CNBC has locked down the episodes when the second half of season two started a month ago. Since I’m not a cable subscriber, and the episodes aren’t available on Amazon or iTunes, I had to watch the sneak preview videos, and read the reviews on Previously TV, The Profit Fans, and Tycoon Playbook. A recent episode showed up on Hulu.

Over 40,000 businesses applied to get on “The Profit.” According to an article in Inc Magazine, there’s a fine line between the businesses that Marcus wants to turnaround and the drama that the producer wants to turn into good TV. In short, there are winners and losers. Swanson’s Fish Market was an obvious loser from the get go.

Unusual Product

The businesses that Marcus favors are either products or stores that have the potential to become national brands. As I’m not aware of any national fresh fish markets (the only fish I eat are frozen fish fillets from the supermarket), I couldn’t see him turn this 41-year-old family owned business in Fairfield, CT, into a national brand. With the family name being Swanson, a national fresh fish market and/or prepared food line might get confused with a national frozen food brand despite being in different markets.

Unusual Offer

Marcus discovers that the business is $900,000 USD in the hole despite doing $150,000 USD in monthly sales. The numbers are hard to figure out. Gary, the father, is laid back. Sue, the mother, has checked out of the business. Larissa, the daughter, struggles with the bookkeeping mess she inherited from her mother, and reached out to Marcus to help her family.

Marcus offers $1 million USD to buy the building to pay off the debt and put working capital into the business, giving the family an option to buy the building back at a later date. Since he didn’t request his usual 50% of ownership, I don’t see what his return of investment was unless the building has significant real estate value and/or appreciation. As he stressed in earlier episodes, he doesn’t do real estate play—and this is a real estate play.

Profitable Disasters

This fish market has a fishy history. A fire on Fourth of July 2009 gutted the original store, which was rebuilt for $1 million USD and the insurance company paid out $1.2 million USD. A warehouse fire that same year cost $30,000 USD to rebuild and a $220,000 USD payout from the insurance company. And, later in the episode, a $35,000 USD boat swamped during a hurricane got bought out by the insurance company for $70,000 USD. All that extra money supposedly went back into the business.

Many people on various comment boards believe that the owners have committed insurance fraud, as insurance companies aren’t renowned for generous payouts. Larissa in a special post on the business website disputes that accusation of fraud and how the episode humiliated her family. If anything, the owners were guilty of using the business as a piggy bank for a luxury car, boats and the remodeling of their house.

No surprise that Marcus walked away after he discovers that the building was under foreclosure proceedings. Unlike earlier episodes where circumstances became deal breakers, this episode felt like it got set up to fail from the beginning. Based on the available public records, the production company—and perhaps Marcus—must have known about this before setting up the cameras.

The S-U-I-C-I-D-E of Robin Williams

Robin WilliamsAs a young child growing up in the 1970’s, I loved watching “Hogan’s Heroes” on TV about a band of misfit POW’s running a resistance operation from inside a German concentration camp during World War II. Bob Crane, who starred as U.S. Air Force Colonel Hogan in the TV series, died in 1978 under mysterious circumstances. My mother proclaimed his death a S-U-I-C-I-D-E by hanging in guarded whispers to my father. (Actually, according to Wikipedia, someone murdered Crane and tied an electrical cord around his neck.) S-U-I-C-I-D-E was a taboo word in my family, as my paternal grandfather committed suicide years before I was born. I didn’t understand how Crane died, but I knew he was gone. That saddened me greatly. When I heard that Robin Williams committed suicide, the same level of sadness overwhelmed me.

A new TV show, “Mork & Mindy,” starring Williams and Pam Dawber, premiered a few months after Crane’s death. I immediately fell in love with the first episode. Mork (Williams) arrives from a different planet in a business suit worn backwards, giving him the appearance of being a minister to innocent human, Mindy (Dawber), who discovers his extraterrestrial origins and takes him in like a lost puppy. This was the first TV series that I ever watched from beginning to end over four years. I was surprised to learn that his recent TV series, “The Crazy Ones,” got cancelled after one season, which I haven’t seen except for the opening scene of Williams and Dawber being reunited for the first time in 30 years.

My mother committed suicide by breast cancer in 2004. She refused to seek treatment despite knowing that the disease would kill her. My father and I drove up to Boise, Idaho, that summer, to bury her ashes with her parents. He gave me a grand tour of the land. We went up to Lucky Peak Dam, where my paternal grandfather, a carpenter, committed suicide after falling off a roof and injuring his back on a wooden stake (back surgery in the 1950’s was remarkably crude), and, surprisingly, my father explained to me how his father died. I was always under the impression that my grandfather drove off the roadway and tumbled down the earthen dam to crash in a fireball, as some relatives claimed that it was an accident. Not so. My grandfather drove his car down the boat landing at full speed to drown in the reservoir. That’s no accident.

I found out about William’s death after I got off work and took my iPhone out of airport mode. An email from the Huffington Post made the announcement. I felt that intense sadness overcoming me as the death of Bob Crane once did, thinking that 63-years-old was too young to die. His picture got plastered on the front page of the Palo Alto Daily the next morning. News that he committed suicide and had early stage Parkinson’s Disease came out over the next several days. The world didn’t lose a talented comedian, but a truly great human being who showed us our humanity.

Yaktey Sax Car Chase In Southern California

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My aunt in Idaho loves to send out emails with interesting pictures, say, the outdoor toilet seat for the truck hitch in case you really need to take a dump on the road. I’m just enough of a redneck to appreciate the humor despite growing up in California and visiting Idaho only twice in my life for a family reunion (1978) and burying my mother’s ashes with her parents (2004). Most of these emails I glance at and delete immediately, as I can tolerate only so much redneck humor.

My aunt recently sent me this YouTube video of a car chase in Southern California that someone set to The Benny Hill Show theme music (a.k.a., “Yaktey Sax”). A woman driver puts a Toyota Scion and the police through a high-speed chase that went all over a toll road. She even stops at one point to get out of car, as if she was going to speak to the police officers chasing her, and then ran after the car as it drove off without her. California Americana at its finest.

Most Americans know The Benny Hill Show as a half-hour late night comedy show with only the naughty skits, which I watched as a wee lad in the early 1980’s after my parents went to bed. Like most foreign TV shows re-packaged for America, something got lost in the translation. The hour-long variety show in Great Britain featured singers, dances and non-naughty skits. I read somewhere that Benny Hill’s comedy was based on three types of village idiots that were disappearing from modern British society.

Chef Carla Hall @ Santana Row

Chef Carla Hall @ Santana RowMy friend and I were at Santana Row last Saturday evening when we walked into Sur La Table to pick up some cooking utensils, saw a display announcing that Chef Carla Hall, current co-host of the “The Chew” and former competitor in “Top Chef” (Season Five), was having a book signing. We both thought that this event was for later this month. A sales clerk informed us that the cooking demo was taking place outside, the book signing was inside, and that Carla was running late from being in Southern California that morning.

Since we had nothing better to do, my friend bought the book, “Carla’s Comfort Foods: Favorite Dishes from Around the World,” and we stuck around for a few hours.

I’ve been a big fan of “Top Chef” since Season One premiered in 2006 because it was new, different and fun for a Reality TV series. Alas, Season One was special because the chefs were new to competitive cooking, didn’t know what to expect, and put the focus on their cooking. Season Two was horrible as the focus was on the hijinks of the contestants and cooking took a backseat. Every season thereafter was on a downhill slide where I stopped caring about the show over the years. I didn’t watch Season Ten when it aired last year.

Season Five may have been the exception to this sad state of affairs. Carla was the runner-up for that season. Out of the many winners and losers over the years, she has maintained a higher visibility than most by trading in her catering business to become a celebrity chef. Before my car died from a blown head gasket last year, I used to hear her on KGO Radio’s “Cooking With Ryan Scott” from time to time. Since I generally don’t watch TV, I’m not familiar with her work on ABC’s “The Chew.”

Carla arrived an hour late, strolling out of the store and on to the mini stage, where a cooking table with an overhead mirror and prepped food was waiting for her. Caribbean-style music blared out from the restaurant behind her. With her headset on, she introduced herself as she prepared an Italian dish called caponata with eggplants, explained the international flavor of her new cookbook, and took questions about being on “The Chew” and “Top Chef.” She was quite funny and the caponata was quite tasty.

After the cooking demo, Carla went inside the store and my friend lined up outside for the book signing. I spent my time roaming around the store, looking at items and being thankful that I’m unemployed, broke and immune from buying any kitchen gadgets. One item in particular I was looking for was a grill press. Not the BBQ kind, but the ones used in commercial kitchens. I’m using a heavy pot lid to press my hamburger patties on the stove. Alas, the store only had the BBQ kind. My friend, meanwhile, got his book signed and had a picture taken with Carla.

When Godzilla Comes To San Francisco

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According to this Snickers candy bar commercial, Godzilla is a regular guy. (I’m assuming that Godzilla is a “guy,” although the 1998 American movie with Matthew Broderick turned “him” into an asexual iguana.) He flirts with the girls at the beach, rides an ATV on a dirt course, can slam down a Ping-Pong ball like a Japanese master, and becomes the center of the party. Unless he gets hungry, grows to skyscraper height, and starts trashing the place. His friends unwrap a Snicker candy bar to throw into his mouth, returning him to regular guy size and everyone watches him go water skiing.

With the new Godzilla movie coming out in May, I’ve been trying to avoid any pre-release news (i.e., I’ll see the trailer if it appears at the movie theater). Alas, my roommate is the biggest Godzilla fan in the world. Any Godzilla-related news that hits the Internet gets repeated to me within minutes. This week’s news trend is what the brand new Godzilla toys say about the forthcoming movie.

The synopsis for the movie has Godzilla traveling from Japan, stomping through San Francisco, and getting wasted in Las Vegas. When he does come to San Francisco, we can give him some Snickers and send him down to Los Angeles for a thorough stomping. Las Vegas is only a short stroll through the desert from the burning City of Angles.

The Boss Sings Governor Christie’s Traffic Jam

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On “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” this week, Jimmy Fallon and Bruce Springsteen sung about the traffic jam scandal from last September that gotten New Jersey Governor Chris Christie into a bit of hot water. So far no smoking traffic cone has turned up that the governor orchestrated a four-day closure of two lanes on the three-lane George Washington Bridge to snarl traffic as political payback against a Democratic mayor in Fort Lee who decline to endorse the governor in the recent election.

Unlike the endless parade of manufactured scandals against President Barack Obama, this is real scandal that will send people to prison. If a smoking traffic cone does implicates Governor Christie, his impeachment and removal from office will also remove him as the leading Republican presidential candidate for 2016. That would be a shame.

With the Tea Party extremists chasing moderate conservatives out of office, the Republican Party doesn’t have an experienced heir apparent for the presidential nomination. Governor Christie came close to filling that role. The Tea Party, however, hates him because he hugged President Obama rather than give him the middle finger and for accepting federal aid—the handling of which is also being investigated—in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. As one commentator wrote in response to a political article about the song, you don’t see liberals denouncing Bruce Springsteen for shaking hands with the governor for the Hurricane Sandy telethon event.

What the Republican Party has left are third-rate candidates who will implode from saying something stupid while pandering to old angry white people who no longer represents America in the primary elections, and the eventual nominee who does emerge can’t pivot to the center that does represent America to win the general election. As we saw in the 2012 presidential election, Governor Mitt Romney got tied up and delivered like a pretzel when he went against President Obama. I expect more of the same in 2016.

It doesn’t help Governor Christie that the scandal happened in the backyard of the New York City media market and New Jersey’s most prominent citizen sung about the scandal on national TV. But that’s the East Coast. On the West Coast, we have to settle for renaming the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge as a possible bridge scandal.

Shipping Wars Delivers The Star Trek Bridge

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One of the highlight of the 2013 Las Vegas Star Trek convention was the display of the Enterprise-D bridge that Houston Huddleston, founder and CEO of New Starship, has touring around the country before the bridge eventually goes into a permanent museum. My friend already had a “Captain, I saved the bridge!” t-shirt before we arrived at the convention. We met Houston, sat down in the chairs and had our pictures taken. The latest episode of the reality TV series, “Shipping Wars,” shows how the bridge got shipped to the convention.

If you’re not familiar with the show, a motley group of transporters bid on moving a shipment from Point A to Point B without loosing money. Chris and Robbie won the bid to deliver the bridge to Las Vegas and deliver the Doctor Who TARDIS console to California from the same science fiction convention in Texas with a four-day deadline. Jarrett won the bid to deliver five giant pumpkins from Ohio to Kentucky in one day. Meanwhile, the other transporters deliver their colorful commentary as events unfold on the show.

Chris and Robbie are perhaps the most clueless people ever to walk into a science fiction convention without knowing anything about Doctor Who and Star Trek TV series. The bridge arrived in Las Vegas without incident. The lid for the disassembled crate to ship the TARDIS console in got tossed en route because it kept falling on top of the bridge. Worst, they demanded full payment even though they failed to deliver the entire shipment to the customer. The stopped by the convention in Las Vegas on their way back home from California.

Jarrett was no better. Being the less experienced transporter out of the group, he finds himself in trouble when he comes around a corner too fast and a 1,000+ pound giant pumpkin goes flying off the trailer into a ditch to make pumpkin. He abandons the destroyed pumpkin, buys a similar giant pumpkin and almost gets away with not telling the owner what happen. Of course, the owner does figure out that this particular giant pumpkin wasn’t his. But Jarrett insisted and got full payment because the owner was in a bind, surprising himself that he can actually make money doing this.

While my friend and I were at the convention, we noticed quite a few camera crews running around the place. The end credits for the episode shows Chris in a Federation shirt and Robbie in a Federation skirt uniform and Vulcan ears, walking through the dealer room and sitting on the bridge with Houston. We may or may not have seen them being filmed.

No Funemployment For Spongebob Squarepants

Spongebob Squarepants Gets FiredSpongebob Squarepants gets fired because his boss figured out that he could make an extra nickel without him. Although his friend explains to him the benefits of “glorious unemployment,” Spongebob wants a new job and not a “funemployment” vacation (i.e., living off of unemployment benefits before looking for a new job). A self-sufficient view that transforms the environmental/gay/liberal-friendly sponge into a new conservative darling. With the economy still in the crapper, getting a new job sooner is more important for a different set of reasons.

Before the Great Recession in 2008, I would apply for unemployment benefits, post my resume on the job search websites, have three job interviews, and get a new job within six weeks. That happened three times over a five-year period. I never got stressed out from being laid off. My monthly expenses were modest and collapsible enough to live off of my unemployment benefits for a short while.

Despite following my previous unemployment routine after being laid off on Friday the 13th in February 2009, I didn’t get a new job within six weeks. The Great Recession was different. I was out of work for two years, underemployed for six months (i.e., working 20 hours a month), and filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. After going through all that, I didn’t qualify for food stamps because I still made more money than someone working at Wal-Mart.

I had three jobs in the last three years since then. After my contract ended the first two times, I got a new job within three weeks and drew only one week of unemployment benefits. I’m hoping for a third time in a row. I don’t know if my unemployment benefit will be on my old claim ($293 per week) or a new claim ($456 per week). If I get a new claim, I can probably relax a bit and take my time in finding a new job during the holidays. If it’s my old claim, I’m screwed. I still haven’t financially recovered from the Great Recession.

After my last job officially declared a layoff of “permanent” employees, my coworkers bombard me with questions about being a contractor as they been with the company for five or more years. They all thought they could take a six-month vacation, look for a new job before exhausting their unemployment benefits, and get hired immediately. I warned them against doing that. I had several roommates who did that during a normal economy (i.e., between the Dot Com Bust in 2001 and the Great Recession in 2008), couldn’t find another tech job because their programming skills were obsolete, got cashier jobs at a drug store, and are still toiling at minimum wage jobs. My coworkers didn’t get laid off this time, but my contract came up for renewal and that was that for that job.

A Truly Tasteless French Ad About JFK Assassination

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You can always trust the French to come up with something truly tasteless about American culture, say, a new TV ad for a gambling company with the JFK assassination as a backdrop. Two Dallas cops are standing along the parade route when one bets the other that he can spin his gun like a cowboy, accidentally discharges the gun, and the bullet ricochet all over the place until hitting someone inside a passing open-air limousine, where a Jackie-O look-alike scrambles over the backseat as a Secret Service agent jumps the back of the limousine, and the bumbling cops points to a nearby building.

An interesting reinterpretation of an iconic moment from American history that still prompts raw emotion in people, as the 50th anniversary of the assassination is on November 22, 2013. I wouldn’t be born for another six years, but the assassination deeply impacted my parents as their first wedding anniversary took place time. Like many significant events witnessed on TV, they remembered where they were when it happened. For my father in particular, and many older white Americans in general, this was the moment when the American dream got flushed down the toilet and the country went straight to hell.

Here are my favorite pop culture reinterpretations of the JFK assassination.

Red Dwarf

This British science fiction comedy TV series, “Red Dwarf,” has the intrepid crew going back into time to accidentally prevent the JFK assassination from happening. Most Americans remember JFK as being a great president because he got assassinated. If he had survived to complete his term, people might have remembered his administration as being no better or worse than the Jimmy Carter administration. The Red Dwarf crew takes an older, washed-up and jaded JFK back in time for him to pull the trigger to assassinate himself from behind the fence to restore his place in history.

The Watchmen

I was at WonderCon 2009 when the opening montage for “The Watchmen” movie, based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore, got revealed for the first time, where a series of reinterpreted American scenes from the 1940’s to the 1980’s included the superheroes with Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a-Changing” playing in the background. The JFK assassination takes place with The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) pulling the trigger from behind the fence. The visual effects and the music made for a stunning montage.

The X-Files

From “The X-Files” TV series came the episode, “Musings of A Cigarette Smoking Man,” which explains how the Smoking Man as a young man became a key player in so many conspiracy theories about aliens and UFOs. His role in the JFK assassination was setting up Lee Harvey Oswald to take the fall by being in the wrong place at the wrong time and firing the fateful shot from a storm drain. As the older Smoking Man once told Agent Fox Mulder, he had watched presidents die.

The Nightmare Continues At Amy’s Baking Company

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For some strange reason, CNBC has made the fifth episode of “The Profit” unavailable on their website unless you have a cable TV subscription. That’s frustrating since I only watch TV online. Fortunately, Hulu had the episode, “LA Dogworks,” available for viewing. Marcus Lemonis tries to turn around a dog daycare center but walks away when the verbally abusive owner refuses to change. One of the reasons why I love watching this show is that Lemonis isn’t afraid of walking away from a bad deal.

Hulu followed that episode with the episode of “Nightmare Kitchen” that featured Gordon Ramsey walking away from the verbally abusive owners of Amy’s Baking Company. I’ve heard about this episode when I read news articles about the owners that are still having a social media meltdownfacing legal issues and retaliating against the critics months after the show aired. As I watched the episode, I couldn’t believe the number of F-bombs that the owners tossed at everyone who disagreed with them. I’m surprised that a “South Park”-styled counter wasn’t keeping track of how many times the F-bomb got mentioned.

If you watch enough episodes of “Restaurant Impossible,” where celebrity chef Robert Irvine spends $10,000 USD to turn around a failing restaurant, most owners are people who never worked in the restaurant business, paid too much money for their restaurant and have no clue on what to do next. There’s more to running a restaurant than opening a new store front, hiring staff and cooking food. Many of these people would have been better off investing their money into a stamp collection.

No surprise that Amy’s Baking Company falls into this all too familiar pattern.

The husband, Samy, a former house builder who gets out of the business long before the housing bubble popped in 2007, asks his wife, Amy, what they should do next. Her dream was to open a restaurant. He sunk a million dollar into the new business. She ran the kitchen, he ran the front desk. Somehow they managed to keep the business going for many years until a blogger writes a bad review that accused them of serving frozen pizza and business falls off dramatically.

Expecting Ramsey to use his reputation to fix their reputation from the “online bullies” boggles the mind. The frequent F-bombs at customers, stealing tips from the staff and serving undercooked frozen foods aren’t something that a celebrity chef’s reputation can paper over. As the cameras revealed on “Nightmare Kitchen” and other reality TV shows, the problems that business owners face are not always external. If they can’t look in the mirror to see the true source of their problems, they and their business will never change for the better.

Watching “The Profit” In Las Vegas

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While attending the Star Trek convention in Las Vegas, my roommate and I had a role reversal between what we do in our off hours. After I come home from my tech job, I’m writing on the computer and he’s flipping through the TV channels with the remote. After arriving at our hotel room, I found myself flipping through the TV channels with the remote and he’s connecting with his Facebook friends at the convention on his iPad. A brand new reality TV show called “The Profit” on CNBC caught my attention.

Marcus Lemonis, a self-made multimillionaire, invests his own money to help owners turn around their struggling business by taking full control for a week and making practical changes in exchange for a percentage of the profits. He focuses on the Three P’s: People, Process and Product. A business needs two out of three to survive, but having all three working together creates more profit for the business.

The second episode of a six-episode season featured Jacob Maarse Flowers, a second-generation family owned florist business in Pasadena that the son, Hank, inherited after his father passed away. He proves himself early on as being a weasel more interested in sitting on his ass, collecting a paycheck and letting his mommy write the checks to bail out the business. When Marcus asked him why he doesn’t have the store phone number on the delivery vans, he doesn’t want to have customers calling because that means more work and buying more flowers. Not realizing that having too much business is a better problem than not having enough business.

Despite cleaning up the store, installing security cameras, equipping the vans with GPS and a wraparound graphic with the store phone number, Hank goes home before the re-opening party and doesn’t see how these changes will make a difference. He tries to reneges on a $150,000 USD investment for 25% of the profits and behaves like a spoiled brat when Marcus calls his mother on the speakerphone to demand his money back. The episode ends with Marcus planning to file a lien against the store building to get his money back. Later, while being interviewed on a different CNBC financial show, Marcus reports that the mother later returned his money.

Unlike the similar “Restaurant Impossible” with Robert Irvine on Food Network, where Robert often threatens to pull out if the owners refuse to change but somehow manages to reopen the renovated restaurant, “The Profit” doesn’t always have a happy ending because Marcus isn’t afraid to walk away from a bad deal. I find this refreshing for a reality TV show. Every business is different, few owners are willing to give up control and even the best deals can fall apart at the last minute.

After being a short story writer for seven years and an ebook publisher for three years, I’m in the process of reinventing myself and my business. “The Profit” is a very informative TV show that touches many of the issues that I’m facing as a business owner. I look forward to seeing the other episodes and the full season next year.

The Men’s Wearhouse Guy Is Out Of The Job

When the news broke that George Zimmer of the Men’s Wearhouse—not to be confused with vigilante George Zimmerman who went on trial for murder—got fired from his own company, I couldn’t believe it. I practically grew up on his TV and radio commercials with his signature line, “You’re going to like the way you look—I guarantee it,” over the last 30 years.

However, this is a familiar tale of woe when the founder invites outside investors to put up money and eventually loses control over the company. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out. I predict that Zimmer will get the board to pay dearly for putting him out to pasture, the board will give itself a raise for getting rid of a troublesome founder, and Wall Street will drive up the stock price.

As for the Men’s Wearhouse customers, there’s always Rochester Big & Tall Clothing.