Off the Cuff

The biggest mistakes small business owners are still making

“I would say that my biggest mistake in my business career was letting my ego get ahead of me when I was younger,” Marcus Lemonis, chairman and CEO of Camping World, told “Off the Cuff.”

“You get a little bit of money, you get a little bit of success, and you kind of lose focus,” he said.

But there was one person who could bring him back in to focus.“I remember my mother coming to my house one day and she looked at my car and said to me, ‘You got to be kidding me.  I mean, really?  You're in your 20s.  What do you do next?’  She said, ‘You're more impressed with what you're able to acquire than what you're able to give away.  And I'm not impressed.’"

His mother may not have been impressed, but others were.

Lemonis was born in Lebanon and adopted as a baby by a Greek family that owned car dealerships in Florida. The family was also very close with American business icon Lee Iacocca, who changed Lemonis’ career and life.

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Just out of college, Lemonis was working at a car dealership when the car legend put him in a different fast lane. Lemonis told Business Insider that Iacocca steered him to the RV industry, where he would be able to “get into a business where you can be a big fish, not the little fish.”

In 2003 he started buying up RV dealerships and three years later he merged with Camping World. The combined business now makes up about 25 percent of the entire RV market and is worth about $3 billion.

In 2008, when the financial crisis hit, he faced his biggest threat.

“At the time I had 4,000 employees and laid off almost 1,500 of them.  In most cases they were good employees; came to work on time, did an excellent job.  But my business needed to survive,” he said.

Making those layoffs cut Lemonis deep.

“When I thought about the impact that I was having on that person's household and their mortgage payment and their car payment and I was flying around in my own plane and driving a fancy car, it just didn't add up for me anymore,” he said. “So I really was able to reassess.”

Lemonis rebuilt the company and now has 6,000 employees in over 100 cities across the U.S.

He’s been featured on NBC’s “Celebrity Apprentice” and ABC’s “Secret Millionaire” and stars in CNBC’s “The Profit” where he tries to save struggling businesses while investing his own cash in the process.

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“Small business in America's been difficult to execute since the beginning of time.  The failure rate is phenomenal.”

Too often Lemonis says entrepreneurs don’t realize the time and money it takes to get a business off the ground.

“One thing you should be guaranteed of when you start a small business is you're going lose money for a while,” he said.

You’re going to lose a lot of money, according to Lemonis, and you’re going to need to spend a lot of time on the job.

“I think what's lost in this country is that—business owners are unfortunately scared to be the first ones to come in in the morning and the last ones to leave and do all the work in between.”

Tough talk like has brought on his critics. He's been called “the most controversial man in the RV industry” and worse. But Lemonis says he’s not bothered by the criticism.

Now at 39, the man who puts RV drivers on the road doesn’t find it easy to kick back and relax.

“I wake up every day and I feel like it's the Super Bowl and I leave it all on the table every day.  It can lead to high stress, exhaustion,” he said. “I mean, it can lead to things that aren’t good.”

He admits he’s had to make sacrifices for his success including his personal life. But for now he’s comfortable with his choices and he hopes his business will be his legacy.

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