Screen: CNBC

Has The Profit Invested Its Time Wisely?

A strong first season still had room for improvement.

The first season of The Profit wrapped up with an episode about Mr. Green Tea, the family ice-cream company from Jersey that the other five viewers of Crowd Rules may recall from that show's premiere. Marcus Lemonis said right up top that the company isn't "facing a crisis" like other companies he's tried to work with; the problem, still, is that dad Rich is risk-averse to the point of paralysis, while son Michael has a lot of solid branding ideas that he doesn't back up with equally firm arithmetic.

It's an interesting situation to end the season on, because it might not seem like it's as good television as the stubborn/possibly corrupt Charla and her popcorn "business." Yeah, Rich and Michael clash, but it's father-son stuff that hasn't kept Mr. Green Tea from making money; the company seems to have functional job titles, neither of them is "wrong" in his approach or insensible to the other's position, and there isn't the rank ignorance or unworkable systems we've seen elsewhere…so Mr. Green Tea is kind of the perfect company to highlight in terms of what The Profit and Lemonis do well, to wit: identifying opportunities and acting to develop them.

Last night's episode didn't do that as well as I'd have liked, though, and it pointed up some opportunities for the show itself that I hope it develops in a second season. …Hey, I just said "pointed up." Must be back-to-school season. Hee. Sorry! Anyhoodle, so: let's take the segment with the real-estate negotiation as an example. Nowhere is the difference between cost and value more interesting and psych-thriller-ish than in commercial real estate, and I liked that Lemonis got the deal done by offering to buy the bank's position in the building, then explained why this made more sense for him (he gets to liquidate ancillary properties that are part of the loan package) while giving both MGT and the broker what they needed in the deal. I also understand that he wants to teach Michael, figuratively, to fish instead of treating him to fish and chips, which is why he let Michael start the discussion and then stepped in with a more sophisticated solution when they hit the 250K impasse, because then Michael figuratively eats forever; also, Michael's literal problem is that he doesn't do the nuts-and-bolts math before going ahead with big marketing ideas (like the Fiat 500 he bought for mobile sales, a good idea that needed better oversight than the back of the envelope).

But most of the time, I would rather watch Lemonis elbow these clowns out of the way and get the shit done. Mr. Green Tea is basically fine, and it's one of those businesses with such a strong emotional/family component that it's really not practical for him to order Rich to stand down; Rich has to feel invested, psychologically. Lemonis handled that right, taking Rich for a walk and letting him talk through his concerns so that he could feel good about moving forward.

The thing is, the moving forward is what the demographic probably wants to see, and as nice as it is to see Rich getting straight with the process in his head, and the real-estate negotiation, spending time on the family's learning curve meant the episode skimmed over a lot of other stuff that I wanted to dig more into, like:

Michael rocking the "mobile mochi" Fiat: The branding choices generally don't get much time on The Profit; I want to know why Lemonis's branding squad picked certain colors and fonts, and why in turn the Emanueles responded to some and not others. I liked that Michael had a hashtag going, #mobilemochi, but the mochi in general -- rice-flour wrappers with ice cream in the center -- struck a chord with Lemonis, and I wanted to learn more about that brand extension. How do you explain it to the consumer? Do you push that for retail or restaurants, or both? Is a single-serving brand the way to go? Do you trademark it somehow? I don't need to see a grotsky warehouse interior for ten minutes; I know what that costs to clean. Explain to me your new thing that's going to pay for the cleaning instead.

The pop-up concept: That's a framework I'd like to see more of in a second season. Is that a worthwhile investment for Lemonis? How does it work? Do you use pop-ups to test new products, or as springboards to more permanent retail-storefront placements? We saw the Emanueles looking at a pop-up-type space, for about two seconds, but I'd like to get more into that idea; it's a retail situation we've seen so much more of in recent years, and with the economy doing what it has been, both in the recession and post-Sandy for many Jersey businesses, I'd have liked to know more about the pluses and minuses there.

The flavor expansion: How many new flavors? Which ones? Why those? How are they researched or focus-grouped? How do you sell those to restaurants? Is this how the brand gets that whole shelf in the grocery store that they were pushed to go after on Crowd Rules? Where's the line between "something for everyone" and "diffused focus that drains the business's energy"?

O hai, internet: I don't know if it's something Lemonis wants to trifle with, because he likes things he can build and scale out fast, but what about home/Etsy businesses? Internet-based businesses that rely on sponsored tweets, or a key mention in a magazine, to make that last step to viable visibility? Again, probably not his thing, but: used books. I've worked in the field, I spend a lot of time in them as a consumer, and every single one I've ever dealt with needs at the very least for Lemonis to come in with a case of Febreze and some alphabet flashcards and be a hard-ass about the children's "area," because the shit is insane. Okay, he's not necessarily going to expand the local bookshop to 41 locations nationwide, but if can spend five grand on new laminate floors and tell the fire marshal to go in and yell at somebody, he's going to make his money back in about a week.

The show is great; Lemonis is very watchable and great at breaking the concepts down without lecturing, and The Profit is almost there in terms of balancing its own content. But the episodes may need to just…go on as long as they're going to go on, or have several businesses in play over several episodes each, because I know they're shooting weeks of film and we're getting 41 minutes; let it play out a little more. And consider focusing more on the "stories" the show can change: Process and Product. People is the most important to Lemonis, and I don't disagree, but on a show on this network, I think you want to show more Process and more Product tweaks, and find a way to empower Lemonis further to do that without owner interference. I mean, owners can change everything back afterwards if they'd like or something, but if every episode has a full segment devoted to explaining to an adult why s/he can't have stacks of cash lying around the office or mildew in the machines, and s/he's like, "You're not the boss of me," that's not the most efficient television process, let's face it.

Very strong freshman effort, though, and it smartly ended with a follow-up from that dillweed florist. More follow-ups, more process…can't wait to see what products and people come next.

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