Entrepreneur Marcus Lemonis has invested in more than 100 businesses on and off his hit CNBC reality show “The Profit,” from candy shops to pet supply companies, furniture manufacturers and, recently, Chicago-based eyewear brand Ellison — but he’s found a true passion in the fashion industry.
Always dressed to the nines — he’s usually decked in clothes from Barneys, Tom Ford or YSL — the 44-year-old’s love for fashion was sparked by three influential women in his life, starting with his mother.
“My mom used to work in downtown Miami — that’s where I’m from — managing an office building. She got $450 a week and on Fridays, when she got her paycheck, she’d go to the bank and cash it, then stop at the mall on the way home and bring me a new shirt every Friday.” It took Lemonis until he was a little older to truly appreciate the gesture, but eventually he internalized the lesson she was teaching him: “Her version of looking good was, it doesn’t have to be expensive and you don’t have to be a model, but you should always look like you’re put together.”
So when Lemonis — who now lives in Lake Forest — came across a fledgling group of family-run women’s boutiques, COURAGE b, four years ago while filming Season 2 of “The Profit,” he decided to take the plunge into this sector of retail for the first time professionally. It was the right move, and introduced him to the second influential figure: Stephanie Menkin. The daughter of the family behind COURAGE b is now president of Marcus Lemonis Fashion Group, which includes a number of other brands he’s gotten involved with along the way, including Chicago-based Denim & Soul and Susana Monaco.
And finally, fate stepped in: A little more than two years ago, Lemonis attended a women’s fashion trade show in New York City and was approached by a woman who — quite aggressively, he admits — advised him to buy out her Deerfield boutique, Runway. At first, he wasn’t interested.
“She hounded me for a good solid couple of weeks — and I ended up doing a deal with her to buy her store,” he says. “Then, about four months ago, we got married.”
The woman was Bobbi Raffel (now Lemonis), and she serves as the women’s and kids’ apparel fashion buyer for all of his stores. “She’s really accelerated
my desire to be in this business,” he says — but she also convinced him to make one more change: Bring all his fashion boutiques under a single, eponymous label.
There are already 16 MARCUS boutiques across the country, including a recent opening in the Gold Coast, plus Arlington Heights, Glencoe, Lake Forest, Naperville, Winnetka and, coming soon, Hinsdale. Each shop stocks well-known brands like J Brand, Missoni, Rebecca Taylor and Theory, as well as up-and-comers and local labels like Rachel Lynn Chicago.
On screen, the entrepreneur is investing in Season 5 of “The Profit,” which returned from its midseason hiatus this month. “I’m really forcing people to do their own thing, learn on their own, solve their own problems,” he says of the companies featured this season. As usual, some episodes will pull on the heartstrings, like one focused on a business with an anti-bullying charity component.
While he’ll continue to invest in fashion companies on the show and off, there’s one aspect of the industry Lemonis stays away from: sorry, fellas, but he has no plans to enter the world of men’s fashion (despite his own well-curated wardrobe). “When you really understand the nature of how money gets spent in society,” he says, “you know that women rule the world.”
Watch Lemonis on “The Profit” Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on CNBC, and catch the episode featuring Chicago’s Ellison Eyewear on June 26.
Lemonis dishes out professional advice daily on and off screen — here, a few sage tidbits.
His advice for budding entrepreneurs: “If they’re just getting out of college, I would tell them they need to work for somebody else [first]. If they’re [older], my honest advice is that being a business owner isn’t for everybody. At the end of the day, I really want to make sure people know what they’re getting themselves into, and that they have a plan.”
The toughest industry to work in: “Right now, retail. You better have things that are different, you better not be competing with department stores, and you better have price points that [span] both the top and the bottom.”
What irks him in business: “When I feel like people are either: A. getting in their own way; B. being dishonest; or C. disrespecting their [employees]. You can be disrespectful to me, I can deal with that. But you can’t be disrespectful to your people.”
Image at top by Sandro