My Favorite Small Business Reality Shows

I’m back from vacation, and I really had a good time. I had a great visit to New Orleans, the home town of my lady and business partner Zara Green, where I got to meet nearly all of her family at the wedding of one of her nieces. I hit the gym hard and heavy, knowing that I had the luxury of extra sleep for full recovery from my intense workouts. I celebrated the approach of that most wonderful time of the year–football season–by watching hours upon hours of programming and meaningless preseason games on the NFL Network. I even made it to the driving range (that’s all I have to say about that).

But most of all, even more than watching my beloved football, I watched reality TV. There. I said it.

Now, before you get a picture of me in front of my big screen mesmerized by a show like Love and Hip Hop (which often, curiously, has little to do with love or hip hop), I don’t mean those shows focused on women behaving badly, “real” housewives foolery and young people behaving stupidly that give much of reality TV a bad name. I’m talking about the great (and growing) number of reality shows focused on the challenges of running and growing a small business, including raising capital, managing employees, dealing with personal issues, attracting and keeping customers, and hiring and working with family members. Not all of these shows are great, but many of them are very good, and a few have become favorites of mine because they really deal with the hard realities and tough lessons of entrepreneurial success. As a small business expert, frequent judge of business plan competitions (such as MillerLite’s Tap the Future) and mentor/advisor to many entrepreneurs, I can watch these shows for hours on end. In fact, that’s exactly what I did on my vacation.

So, for your viewing and/or DVRing pleasure, following are some of my favorite small business reality shows. If you are an entrepreneur or aspiring business owner, or you simply want a better understanding of what makes a business succeed or fail, these are my must-see TV recommendations:

Shark Tank (ABC): I’ve already gone on record in an earlier blog post about why I believe Shark Tank is required viewing for every entrepreneur and aspiring business owner, especially if you plan to enter elevator pitch contests, business plan competitions or are looking to raise capital from investors now or in the foreseeable future. Shark Tank features business owners and entrepreneurs from all walks of life pitching to a panel of five wealthy angel investors (the “sharks,” including FUBU Founder Daymond John) in hopes of getting one or more of them to invest in their business. Unlike most of my other favorites, the entrepreneurs featured on this show are building businesses in a diverse array of industries, from tech and fashion to food and fitness, opening up endless possibilities for learning how to evaluate their needs and prospects as well as the preparation and negotiating skills required of entrepreneurs. What I love most about Shark Tank is the focus on the bottom line: The investors are brutally uncompromising on the position that the point of business, whether investing in a company or starting one, is to make money.

Tabatha’s Takes Over (Bravo): There is so much more to starting and running a great business than the technical skill and knowledge of the entrepreneur. Yet, so many people start businesses without even that. In this case, the skill is being able to cut, wash, color and otherwise “do” hair–the business of hair salons. And nobody breaks down what it takes to succeed in this business like the star of this show, salon owner Tabatha Coffey. This show covers it all, from entrepreneurs with no backbone, to employees without needed skills and training, to poor marketing and customer service–all those things that will kill a salon, or any business. Tabatha whips the salon into shape, beginning with the owner(s) and often resulting in employees being fired, while completing a physical makeover and reopening of the business. Originally called Tabatha’s Salon Takeover, the name of the show has been changed to reflect Coffey “taking over” other types of small businesses.

Restaurant: Impossible (Food Network): Don’t even think about starting or buying a restaurant before watching this show. (You will definitely be more thoughtful about where you eat after watching it.) Similar to Coffey with hair salons, veteran international Chef Robert Irvine is brought in to rescue dying restaurants–many of them plagued by poor locations, horrible management, bad cooking and a plethora of health code violations–in just two days and with a budget of $10,000. While the show focuses on restaurants, the lessons about marketing, customer service, hiring and managing employees, and staying on top of costs and pricing, apply to most businesses, and certainly all service businesses.

Bar Rescue (Spike): This show applies the business makeover formula to bars of all types, adding the elements of alcohol and nightlife to the volatile mix of poor management, sanitation issues and incompetent owners and employees. Featuring “bar and nightlife expert” Jon Taffer as its host, the show captures the poor conduct of owners and employees on hidden camera (an element in common with Tabatha Takes Over), before confronting the entire staff and dealing with the problems plaguing the business. Also, like both Restaurant: Impossible and Tabatha Takes Over, Bar Rescue doesn’t simply create and exploit drama for its own sake (though their confrontational hosts ensure that there are plenty of fireworks), but really teaches how inept leadership, operational mistakes, poor training and employee misconduct have bottom line impact. For example, bartenders who over pour alcohol can cost a bar thousands of dollars in lost revenue–the difference between turning a consistent profit or operating with monthly losses.

Well, those are my picks for favorite small business reality TV shows.What are yours, and why? Please share your recommendations below, so I can set my DVR programming for my next vacation. Thank you.

This blog is dedicated to my thoughts about money, entrepreneurship, leadership, mentorship and other things I need to get #OffMyChest. Follow me on Twitter at @AlfredEdmondJr.