In business we need mentors, business coaches and role models to be successful and to stay inspired. We learn from their mistakes and their successes. They inspire and motivate us. They set examples for us to model and ultimately help us set examples for others who are watching us.
One of my role models (and business crush) is Marcus Lemonis, serial entrepreneur, owner of Camping World and star of CNBC’s The Profit. Prior to the tv show I didn’t know he was. My husband “introduced” him to me one night while watching Shark Tank. We are both business owners and both kind of geeky about business. I was first attracted to my husband because of his business acumen. I know I’m digressing here, but it’s important to know that I love business and being an entrepreneur. And as busy as we are, we make sure to have “date night” watching The Profit. Watching the show teaches us new things, as well as validates some of our own business decisions.
So, when my friend Tiffany learned (from Facebook, so it must be true) that Marcus was going to be in our area (an hour away), she said, “Let’s go have dinner with Marcus at Shuler’s BBQ Restaurant”. Yes, dinner at a restaurant featured on his show that he now partially owns. That’s what he posted on Facebook – “Come have dinner with me.” We knew that we weren’t REALLY going to have dinner with him, but what the heck, let’s go TRY to meet him. Tiffany loves Marcus too, by the way. We drove an hour to Latta, SC to have dinner.
As always, in my “That Really Happened” way, I want to share my story with you about what I learned about business and myself from my interaction with Marcus Lemonis …
We arrived at Schuler’s to join the line that went out the door. As we got out of our cars I could see Marcus in the window. And like a silly school girl, I announced, “There he is. He’s really here.” As a side note, I’ve worked with a lot of tv and movie celebrities and never have I asked for an autograph or to take a picture with any of them. (Although, I do have a really cool picture with Charleston Heston when I was working as a publicist for a play he was in). Again, this is how jazzed I get about the business world! I was nearly tripping over myself to meet him.
As we waited in line we watched Marcus going from table to table talking to customers. No camera crews. No fanfare. And later I learned that many people in this small town didn’t know who he was. I was instantly impressed with his demeanor: personable, approachable, curious and engaging with all people at all levels.
Eventually he made his rounds to our table. He asked each of my friends their names, where they were from and what type of work they did. When it was my turn he asked me where I was from. I hesitated before I said “Myrtle Beach”. He caught on to that hesitation and questioned it. I told him that I struggled to say Myrtle Beach because I’m “from” Chicago. He then said, “You want to come back with me to Chicago? It’s four degrees there right now.” Of course I said “No”. And later my friends and husband said gave me a hard time for missing an opportunity to travel with him … as if he meant it. Silly people!
He asked me about my job. I said I was a business coach. He didn’t seem interested. And I realized a few seconds later that I didn’t say it with conviction either. I have a tendency to cower and lose my confidence around colleagues, peers and mentors. It’s something I’m working on to get over.
He was funny in the way he questioned and spoke to me and it dawned on me that I should mention Carolina Improv Company, my improv comedy theater. So I told him that I owned an improv comedy club and he asked what improv was. Argh! So many people STILL don’t seem to know what improv is and that’s so frustrating. Is that one of the problems of the improv theater business, I wondered? Lack of understanding what exactly the product is? I’m responsible for the messaging of my business, but it’s a little challenging when, as a whole, the improv industry struggles with its messaging.
Marcus asked me if the theater makes money. I said “No, it’s a loss leader. It could use your help.” and he said, “That’s an excuse for not making money. It’s like buying a restaurant just because you like the food.”
Here’s the definition of “loss leader” for inquiring minds…
Per BusinessDictionary.com, a loss leader is: A good or service advertised and sold at below cost price. Its purpose is to bring in (lead) customers in the retail store (usually a supermarket) on the assumption that, once inside the store, the customers will be stimulated to buy full priced items as well.
Per Wikipedia: One use of a loss leader is to draw customers into a store where they are likely to buy other goods. The vendor expects that the typical customer will purchase other items at the same time as the loss leader and that the profit made on these items will be such that an overall profit is generated for the vendor. “Loss lead” describes the concept that an item is offered for sale at a reduced price and is intended to “lead” to the subsequent sale of other items, the sales of which will be made in greater numbers, or greater profits, or both. It is offered at a price below its minimum profit margin—not necessarily below cost.
It really hit me to the core because secretly I knew he was right. The lesson here is about focusing and niching in business. My own business coach preaches it all the time, as I preach it to my clients. I keep putting off doing a detailed financial analysis of the theater side of our business … does the theater actually lead us to more business and if so, at what cost? There’s a lot to look at in the scenario of my theater:
- Classes lead to show attendance and SOMETIMES corporate training
- Shows lead to classes and SOMETIMES to corporate training and corporate show
- Brick and mortar location gives credibility to my personal brand, supported by me speaking in the community, writing for publications and donating tickets and classes.
To get the best snap shot on our theater business I really need to track all of our revenue and expenses, as well as determine the origin and sources of revenue. The theater breaks even but does it really generate enough money in other areas given that no one is paid on the theater side of the business, including myself, for the time investment to do everything? That’s a missing component in all of this. Based on labor investment of time, does it actually lose money? On a side note, for those wondering why no one gets paid, that’s the way we started the business to get it off the ground. It’s more of a “playground”, club or hobby that sustains itself through the revenue generated from shows.
As I’ve clearly declared, I need to do a better job at analysis, yet I ignore it because I’m afraid that I might learn it’s not worth it to keep it. And that would break my heart, which is emotional and NOT the way to run business. There is plenty of intrinsic value for the theater but if you can’t pay for the possibility of intrinsic reward (hobby), does it make sense to keep that business?
Eventually Marcus asked what brought my husband and I to Myrtle Beach. He seemed a little surprised that I was “recruited” there. No one really gets recruited to work there. That’s another chapter for another time. I told him about my experience as a theater general manager in Chicago which led me to launching an IMAX theater in Myrtle Beach. And he said, “Now, that’s interesting.” Finally, I got his attention! I was elated that I had something “interesting” to him to talk about until he said he had a bad experience at an IMAX theater in his area (he didn’t like that he couldn’t choose his seat in advance).
Of course, I had to boast about how my theater was one of the first IMAX theaters to implement advanced assigned seating. This too did not impress him because that wasn’t HIS personal experience. Across the board assigned seating was not a consistent practice in all IMAX theaters. One of my biggest challenges working in the IMAX world was lack of consistency. Less than ten IMAX theaters in the world are actually owned by IMAX Corporation. The rest the theaters with “IMAX” in the name pay to license the name and the projection technology. They are not required to adhere to uniform policies and procedures. Consumers don’t understand this. And why should they? Even in advertising, IMAX Corporation continues to advertise some commercial (Hollywood) movies as “Now Playing In IMAX” and consumers assume that all IMAX theaters are included. To Marcus’s point, consistency is a key to being successful. And of course, this was a fun and healthy discussion to have with someone like him.
We could sense his need to move on to the next group of customers to talk to and asked for a picture with him. During the picture taking I slipped in that we were “friends” on LinkedIn and that I had tried emailing him. He said, “How’s that worked for you?” And I said, “Not very well. You still haven’t responded.” He went on to say how he answers his own emails and doesn’t have an assistant (and gets hundreds of emails a day). I was tempted to coach him like I do my clients about delegation and investing in resources but I decided not to do that.
Instead I mentioned that I had emailed him because I am producing an event for entrepreneurs in Chicago in a few months and wanted to know how to have him as a guest speaker. He asked how many people. I told him. He didn’t anything else. I then did the thing I hate most about people at networking events. I tried to push my business card on him and he wouldn’t take it. He clearly gets too many. I was devastated, like a rejected woman at a bar at 2am and not even the last man standing wanted me.
He said to email him instead, giving me his email address (one I haven’t seen or heard before, so it’s either for real or fake … HA!) And he said, “Email me and say you’re the lady who was trying to be funny from Myrtle Beach”.
So, what did I learn from this “that really happened” moment?
In summary, these are my take aways from my chance encounter with Marcus Lemonis. Well, first I should say that a woman named Sybil Lee brought to my attention that nothing is chance. And I would agree. I told the universe I wanted to meet him and it delivered. I guess that would be my biggest take away – declare what you want in business, set a goal to get it and it will happen.
My other key learning lessons were:
- In business we need a variety of role models to learn from and be inspired by
- No matter what level you are in business you should aspire to always be personable, approachable, curious and able to engage customers and staff of all levels
- Be convicted in what you do and don’t hesitate – you might miss an opportunity
- Be a little concerned if people don’t understand what you do or sell in business
- Consistency in policies, procedures, branding and advertising is essential for success
- Be willing to analyze your business on a regular basis and know when to let go of things that don’t make you make money. You can aim for intrinsic values later when the money is coming in.
- And by all means, BE INTERESTING as well as interested
By Gina Trimarco, Chief Results Officer