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Opinion: Lemonis shows his true colors on CNBC

Opinion: Lemonis shows his true colors on CNBC

By Greg Gerber
Editor, RV Daily Report

There is a huge difference between live television interviews and “reality” television, where scenes are carefully written, scripted and even rehearsed before the final images are shown on TV.

As a reality show, The Profit is highly scripted.

In an interview setting, “The Profit,” RV industry Emperor Marcus Eralius Augustus Tiberious Lemonis, has the ability to give people a glimpse into what he really thinks. Such an occurrence took place Friday during an interview with CNBC, the station that airs Lemonis’ reality show.

Trading of the new Camping World stock was underway, and the CNBC hosts were questioning Lemonis about the historic day and what it meant for him and the company.

Emperor Lemonis conveyed that the initial public offering was done at the right time and was an important step in the evolution of Camping World as a company. But, he also offered insight into what he truly thinks of the company he heads as the part-time chief executive officer, and its customers.

“I’m a big believer in three things. I hate revenue, I hate motorhomes and I hate debt,” he told the awe-struck anchors.

He went on to note that 100 percent of the revenue raised in the initial stock offering would be used to retire the firm’s massive debt, which he said has historically been at “three times leverage.” That means every dollar of equity is supplemented with two dollars of borrowed capital.

“We don’t want to add stores or open stores or anything that effects our EBIDA (earnings before interest, depreciation and amortization) or EBIDA margin,” he explained.

“I don’t like motorhomes because they don’t turn as fast and they aren’t as high margin. We sell them, but we don’t focus on them,” said Lemonis. “For us, it is really about selling warranties, insurance, roadside assistance, service and parts.”

So there you have it, independent dealers, who often wonder how Camping World can sell products for less money than you’re invoiced at wholesale. The company makes more money selling warranties, insurance, roadside assistance, service and parts, than it does on the sale of RVs, especially motorized units.

Lemonis claimed that 3.3 million of the estimated 9 million historic RV owners have given his company money in the past 24 months. However, he told the CNBC hosts that the number of RVs in circulation will continue to grow.

Yet, as RV Daily Report pointed out several months ago, the number of RVs in circulation has remained unchanged at 9 million since 1997, despite 5.7 million new RVs being build between 1997 and 2015.

So, how will Camping World continue to grow going forward if Lemonis doesn’t want to open new stores and he hates motorhomes and debt?

That’s easy. He’ll do so by using debt to build new stores and through acquisitions of existing dealers.

“That’s really our pipeline. We open an average six to 10 stores a year, but if the market slows down a bit, we can do as many as 25 in a year,” Lemonis said.

So, with less money in an economic downturn to provide capital for acquisitions, where does Camping World get its money to pick up more stores?  Well, only The Profit knows for sure.

“You know what we do on the show, right? We look for businesses that need help,” he told CNBC. “That model doesn’t just live on TV, that lives in my real life.”

Surprisingly, one of the CNBC hosts pointedly asked Lemonis if he is focused on Camping World instead of The Profit. He asked how a shareholder knows for sure if he’s really committed to the Camping World brand.

“I have 33 million reasons to care. I own 33 million shares and 43 percent of beneficial ownership is mine,” he explained.

“The performance of company has actually been better while I have been making the show, so employees might prefer I make more episodes,” he added. “When you think about priorities, the bulk of my net worth is in the company, so there should be no confusion where my focus is.”

Perhaps the most revealing statement he uttered described how he really sees Camping World customers — as names and addresses.

“When I say I hate revenue, what I am essentially saying is that we don’t do deals, we don’t open stores, we don’t buy businesses for revenue. We buy them for accretive earnings and to grow the database.”

The database.

For someone who hates revenue, hates motorhomes, doesn’t do deals, hates debt, doesn’t want to add stores or open stores or anything that effects Camping World’s EBIDA, Lemonis’ plan for the company’s long-term success is to take over 10 dealerships a year, and as many as 25 in a downturn, but not to sell motorhomes, rather to make money selling warranties, insurance, roadside assistance, service and parts to the ever-growing database of Camping World customers. Got that?

Good Sam Club members already suspect Camping World makes more money spamming them with offers by outside firms than it does selling core RV products. Lemonis seemed to confirm that Friday.

Incidentally, in trading today, Camping World stock (CWH) was down 24 cents and closed at just 26 cents above its IPO price of $22.

To watch the CNBC interview with Lemonis, click here.

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About Greg Gerber

Greg Gerber is a freelance writer and podcaster who has been writing about the RV industry since 2000. He is the former editor of RV Daily Report.


  1. This guy deeply understands the industry, the mfgs, and the owners. He knows that the technical knowledge of the new owners is minimal and is taking advantage of it. These are luxury purchases that have overstretched many owners financially, the legal system is not really available for recourse, and the new owners have trained themselves to be victims relying on doing a B&M in the forums to try to make themselves feel better, hoping fellow owners will help them with free advice.

    Just place a Mercedes-Maybach starting at $166,000 next to a Newmar Canyon Star at $176,000 and then tell me why it is all about the journey.

    • And I might add, that MH owner would never have purchased that Mercedes-Maybach. He would have said he could not afford to do so.

  2. Marcus owns 38 million shares, I watched it twice just to make sure, you better edit your op Greg since you did quote the numbers.

    • Does that make his “paper” net worth over $836,000,000?!

      Honestly I can not believe he just stated what he did on national TV. I don’t care about Motorhomes! I am building and buying brick and mortar businesses to sell intangible assets that require no inventory or store to sell. A smart businessman would say “Let’s sell the stores and focus on these high margin items.”

      As an aside the prospectus was clear in the use of funds:

      • All parts of it must be put together. No one piece or even a combination of the pieces would be nearly as successful as the whole. As Best Buy what happened when they thought that was a good idea and started opening stand alone Geek Squad shops.

  3. The brick and motor is required to sell the colorful Chinese gadgetry that allows them to collect the data that in turn fills the data bases that support the intangibles that support the take over of 10 to 25 dealers per year.

  4. Camping World sucks! Their service sucks they don’t uphold their warranties. Just go to some of the RV pages on FB and see how people really hate them!

  5. Funny how their ipo has been a big flop so far!

  6. Camping World will never get another penny from me. Their service sucks. The managers could care less. Their reputation continues to tank. One day they’ll get what they deserve, bankruptcy.

  7. What utterly baffles me is how any self-respecting dealer could take the company they worked so hard to build, all their loyal employees and the customers they built relationships with, and sell them all to this guy. (Tom Johnson Camping Center comes to mind. That was a shocker.) They have to know what Lemonis is. They have to know he’ll suck it dry. How can you do that? I guess the money talks to some folks loudly enough to drown out the rest.

    • Fortunately or unfortunately that’s our “free market” system that everyone wants to keep. One thing to remember…nothing has value unless you have a willing and able buyer and seller coming together to complete the transaction. Good and the bad, that’s what we have eventually have to deal with.

  8. I’m no defender of CW, but think you guys are missing his business points. Without the shorthand, what he’s really saying is

    (1) I don’t like revenue just for the sake of increasing revenue. Collecting $10 from a customer increases revenue but doesn’t do anything for the business if the product sold costs him $10. Revenue increase, but the business doesn’t make a penny from that increased revenue. Too many vehicle dealers want to increase revenue without concern for profitability.

    (2) Big Expensive Class A Motorhomes are really costly to have on the lot. Look at the cost to finance (floorplan) each rig while it sits on your lot waiting for a buyer that might never come before the model year changes and you have to discount it. In retail language, they cost you money (interest from floorplaning) and don’t turn. You can do much better with less expensive options like travel trailers and pop-ups. From a retail perspective, motorhomes really are a pretty terrible product.

    (3) I hate debt – he’s looking over the horizon and can see an economic slowdown. He was caught in a bad position in 2008-2009 and doesn’t want to repeat that mistake. This time, he wants minimal debt AND a load of cash/credit to snap up other dealerships who weren’t as prepared for the next downturn. His deals on the profit are always borderline predatory because the businesses are so out of cash that their choice is his deal of go under. A bunch of RV dealers will find themselves in the same situation once the next economic slowdown comes.

    I don’t really care for CW. I’ve never bought a rig there, don’t trust their service, and think the stores have gone downhill. Still, he’s just being honest about some business realities of a tough industry. People can ignore it, but those same people will be on his doorstep looking for a deal when the crap hits the fan.

  9. Good Sam Road Service left us stranded on the road for hours out in the desert, after paying membership for about 10 years and never having called them before that day.

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