Reality TV's new stars: Small business people

Turning small business owners into stars has become a winning formula for television producers, but some businesses featured in them are cashing in, too. Sales explode after just a few episodes air, transforming these nearly unknown small businesses into household names.
By JOSEPH PISANI Modified: May 8, 2013 at 8:43 pm •  Published: May 9, 2013
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To stop the crowds from disrupting business, and to make extra cash, Robertson opened a gift shop inside the Duck Commander warehouse. “It keeps the people out of my lobby,” said Robertson. The shop sells duck calls, Duck Commander T-shirts and bobblehead dolls that look like Robertson, his dad, uncle and brother, complete with their long beards.

Rick Harrison, the star of “Pawn Stars,” opened a gift shop, too. He sells mugs, T-shirts, bobbleheads and refrigerator magnets, in the back of his Las Vegas pawn store.

Harrison said the souvenirs bring in about $5 million in revenue a year. The pawn business brings in about $20 million a year, up from the $4 million before “Pawn Stars” aired.

The show, which follows people as they try to sell or pawn items ranging from gold coins to classic cars, also stars Harrison's son, his father and an employee named Austin “Chumlee” Russell.

Harrison is cashing in on his celebrity. He was hired as a spokesman for Procter & Gamble Inc.'s Swiffer cleaning wipes and he wrote a book, called “License to Pawn,” about his life and business. (Harrison declined to say how much he made on those deals.)

For “Welcome to Sweetie Pie's,” owner Robbie Montgomery said fans come to her restaurants featured in the show and liken her to their own grandmothers.

The show, which airs on OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, follows Montgomery as she and her son run two restaurants in St. Louis and struggle to open a third. Montgomery has been filmed scolding her nephew when he shows up late for work. In another episode, she pushes her grandson to get better grades in school.

The show has brought more people to her restaurants. “There was a line around the block after the third or fourth episode,” said Montgomery. Sales have jumped 70 percent at the restaurants, which serve Southern dishes such as pork steak smothered in gravy and candied yams. It debuted in 2011. A fourth season began filming in March.



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