Home Featured Story A Successful Entrepreneur Puts His Money Where His Mouth Is

A Successful Entrepreneur Puts His Money Where His Mouth Is



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CNBC’s reality television show, The Profit, premiered in 2013. Each episode finds Marcus Lemonis offering struggling small businesses capital investment and his expertise in exchange for an ownership stake in the company.

After the deal is accepted, he focuses on saving the business and making himself a profit ― even if it means firing the president, promoting the secretary or doing the work himself.logo


During the show’s three seasons, Lemonis has had several successful projects, including:

Shuler’s BBQ

Shuler’s BBQ, Lynn and Norton Hughes’ restaurant in Latta, South Carolina had hit a financial wall. It was too popular. Preparation of the food that the people lined up for Norton Hughes and Lemonis at Schulers BBQ copywas very time consuming. The couple didn’t think they could continue operations.

When Lemonis tasted their homemade biscuits he was hooked. Why not make that the signature product, find distribution and make those biscuits the new sought after comfort food? Lemonis was all in and the couple accepted his terms and his investment.

In addition to marketing the biscuits, Shuler’s BBQ got a huge expansion of the restaurant space, as well as modernization of the business process, such as accepting plastic in addition to cash. It was a success story for a couple who took advantage of good advice, evolutionary changes and a smart investment.

The Simple Greek

Married couple Mike and Kathleen created the My Big Fat Greek Gyro concept 10 years ago. Kathleen’s parents emigrated from Greece, and Mike believed he could turn the gyro into the next big thing in the “fast/casual” dining venue.

They sold four franchises, which paid an upfront fee of $10,000 each, and remitted a monthly royalty that Mike approximates at $65,000 a year per location.

As with many of the businesses featured on The Profit, My Big Fat Greek Gyro was in trouble. Franchisees were in revolt over the lack of guidance and support, and Mike and Kathleen struggled to provide it. The menu contained a lot of non-Greek items like tater tots, cheese sticks and humus. Many of the menu items weren’t prepared fresh prior to freezing, and frozen food can be more expensive in the long run.

“This business needs structure, discipline and most importantly leadership,” Lemonis told the couple. In addition, he told them, “A new name has to be created, a new concept has to be created, a new menu has to be created.”

After Marcus met with the franchisees, who had never met each other or had a strategy session with Mike and Kathleen, he found that:

  • None of them were making money.
  • There was no uniformity at the locations and most were in awful shape.
  • The name was in dispute with a trademark holder across the country.

Lemonis offered $350,000 for 55% of the business, with total control. The couple accepted. He allowed them to keep the flagship location for themselves. He provided the cash infusion to transform the look of the franchises, and mandated that only freshly prepared Greek food would be served. The name was changed to The Simple Greek. The new operation transformed even the poorest performing location and a franchise was reborn.


Swanson’s Fish Market

The story of Swanson’s Fish Market generated a record number of responses, both positive and negative. Connecticut based Gary Swanson, Jr., his wife Sue and adult daughter Larissa owned Swanson’s Fish Market. The family told Lemonis about disastrous accidents that had caused the financial problems they faced.

After a handshake deal and a $1 million check, Lemonis began to feel that the Swanson’s story was false. After further due diligence, Lemonis believed he’d been bamboozled about the value of the business. He left the Swanson Fish Market, chalking the experience up to a lesson learned.


As Chairman and CEO of Camping World and Good Sam Enterprises, Lemonis heads close to 6,000 employees in over 100 cities across the US. He was born in Beirut during Lebanon’s civil war, and was adopted by Leo and Sophia Lemonis, a Greek couple living in Miami. Early on, Lemonis began learning about the Marcus Lemonisautomotive industry from his grandfather, who owned two of the largest Chevrolet dealerships in the U.S., and Lee Iacocca, who was a family friend and later a mentor to Marcus.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in political science from Marquette University in 1995, he held several sales and managerial positions for AutoNation. From 2001 to 2003 he served as CEO of Holiday RV Superstores Inc. Following that, he co-founded a company called FreedomRoads, and began acquiring RV dealerships. In 2006, the company merged with Camping World with Lemonis as CEO, and in 2011, merged with Good Sam Enterprises, with Lemonis again at the helm.

Lemonis attributes the success of Camping World and Good Sam to the three P’s: people, process and product.

In the past 10 years, he’s successfully turned around over 100 companies. For example, Rose’s Bakery & Wheat Free Café was set to close its doors on Christmas Eve of 2012 when Lemonis stepped in with an investment that would allow the bakery to remain open. He wrote an initial check for $200,000 to become the majority owner of the business, and committed an additional $150,000 investment over the next 18 months. Not only did he save the bakery, but opened a second location in Highland Park, Illinois. Lemonis has added several other businesses to his holding company, Marcus Lemonis Enterprises LLC, including: Amazing Grapes, Bee’s Knees Food Co., Betty Lou’s, Crumbs Bake Shop, Dapper Classics, E-Net IT Group, Key West Key Lime Pie Co., Little Miss Baker, Mr. Green Tea, ProFit Protein Bars, Sweet Pete’s and Wicked Good Cupcakes.

In 2007, RV Business Magazine named Lemonis “Newsmaker of the Year” for having “more impact on the industry than any single individual or company in recent memory as an agent of change and retail consolidation.” Crain’s Chicago Business featured him in their 2005 edition of “40 under 40”; and in 2008, Ernst & Young named him “Entrepreneur of the Year.”


Below are 20 of Marcus Lemonis’ motivational quotes on life and business.

  1. It’s a privilege and not a right to own a business.
  2. At the end of the day, the numbers don’t lie.
  3. Every business in America that is successful today started as an idea.
  4. Businesses are based on relationships and relationships are based on people.
  5. Stay focused, work hard, know your numbers, and be disciplined. If you do those things and take care of your people, the likelihood of being successful is very, very high.
  6. I always say that your first loss is your best loss. Sometimes your pride of ownership (mine included) gets in the way of the right decision.
  7. I like trends and fads as a consumer, but not as an investor.
  8. Have no fear and be willing to fail.
  9. Nothing shuts people up like performance.
  10. When you’re doing business with people, it comes down to character.
  11. My success is 100 percent attributed to the people I surround myself with. I surround myself with people who aremarcus-quote out copy smarter than I am and people who are more creative than I am.
  12. People will work for recognition and opportunity more than they’ll work for anything else.
  13. Always remember that we are all one mistake away from hurting our business.
  14. Things are always going to go wrong. People make mistakes. I know I do. It’s how you resolve it that matters most. Listen, be open to criticism, resolve it with speed and empathy, and take responsibility.
  15. If you have a level of integrity and a level of discipline and a level of work ethic, you can take a bad product or a bad process and make it work.
  16. The best deals are when both parties that come to an agreement feel just a little uncomfortable.
  17. If you don’t have emotion and you don’t have passion, then you shouldn’t be in business; because money is a byproduct, not the purpose.
  18. When you shake somebody’s hand, it’s got to mean something.
  19. Surround yourself with good people.
  20. Control your cash, stick to your core business, and know your numbers.