Bill Rancic Shares Business Successes, Advice
His parents went out of town for a wedding anniversary trip and he stayed with his grandmother, who taught him to make pancakes.
Rancic called his grandmother’s friends and invited them over for breakfast one Sunday morning, making them pancakes. Each lady left a $5 bill by the plates.
Rancic said he put the money in his pocket and said nothing, then demanded to be taken to his grandmother’s house on other weekends. He said his mother was a little suspicious of the new, stronger bond with his grandmother.
Eventually, his mother was cleaning his room and found the young Rancic’s stash of cash. He had to confess he ran a makeshift restaurant from his grandmother’s kitchen.
“So that was my start to becoming Donald Trump’s apprentice,” said Rancic.
He spoke at the Northwest Arkansas Business Conference and Expo on Thursday at the John Q. Hammons Center in western Rogers. The event was held by the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce.
At 23, Rancic founded the Internet-based company Cigars Around the World in a 400-square-foot studio apartment. He was Donald Trump’s original “Apprentice” on the television show famous for the tag line “You’re fired!”
Now, Rancic develops Chicago real estate and appears in and produces television programs, including “Giuliana and Bill” on the Style Network.
He had $24,000 to start his cigar of the month business and had no money for advertising. Rancic said he sat down and wrote a letter about the cigar club on a used computer he purchased from his brother-in-law.
Rancic printed the letter and put the copies in envelopes inside cardboard boxes. He knew a box would get opened before a letter would.
Rancic also went to a costume shop and bought pairs of nerdy glasses with thick fake lenses, and put the glasses on the letters inside the boxes. It said “Please take a closer look at my business plan.”
He sent the boxes to every radio station in Chicago and wound up getting 35 minutes on air during prime morning drive-time. That led to the phones ringing at the cigar business he ran from his apartment, and he and his partner sold their first 12-month cigar club subscription.
Rancic said he repeated the nerdy news release technique with radio stations in other markets, and also got on the air in Los Angeles. The hosts would mention the 1-800 number to order the cigars during the air time, and Rancic said that kept his business phones ringing and his sales going.
He then got on syndicated national television and on CNN.
“We decided to start selling cigars to casinos and resorts and country clubs around the country,” Rancic said.
He did not just talk about himself, but took numerous questions from the audience of about 125 people.
Ray Vaughn, owner of a 1-800-RADIATOR franchise based in Bethel Heights, Ark., asked Rancic how to compete against larger businesses with deeper pockets.
Vaughn and others in his situation can set themselves apart through marketing, better service, faster delivery or personal touches, Rancic said.
Vaughn’s franchise supplies factory made and aftermarket modified automotive parts, including radiators and anything to do with an automobile’s cooling system.
Vaughn said he started in his franchise four years ago and has about $950,000 in annual revenue, with three full-time employees and one working part-time. His territory includes a good part of Arkansas from Mena north, over to the Oklahoma border and across the Missouri line.
“Some of the competitors that were established since before I have been here have huge pockets and they are practically giving some parts away,” just to encourage repeat orders, Vaughn said.
He plans to take Rancic’s advise to set himself apart in providing excellent customer service and installation help. He also sends small loyalty gifts and incentives after a certain number or dollar amount of orders.
Rancic’s world changed after he auditioned for “The Apprentice.” He went through a week of tests, including personality tests, intelligent quotient tests and numerous interviews.
Once he made the cut, the network employees gave him two weeks to wrap up his business in Chicago and get to New York City for the 13 weeks of filming.
Rancic said he also was sworn to secrecy and could not tell anyone where he was really going.
Television producers told Rancic to say he was leaving for Havana, Cuba, to buy tobacco fields and would not have any contact with the outside world. Rancic thought it would be illegal to travel to Cuba and people might raise eyebrows, but no one questioned him.
“My friends actually believed me. I thought my buddies were pretty sharp, but apparently not,” Rancic said.
“The Apprentice” competition came down to Rancic and someone with a master’s degree in business administration from Harvard, but Donald Trump announced in front of 30 million people on live television that Rancic was hired.
“I remember thinking to myself, why me? What separated me from the pack of all these people who wanted to win? One, I thought like an entrepreneur and I took on that job as an owner,” Rancic said.
“It’s also about agility. You must change up your game plan. We had 13 different business challenges we were given. I changed up my strategy based on the case,” Rancic said.
Some of the contestants brought one way of doing things or one way to manage.
He figured he would never see Trump again once he got the job, but Trump spent time with him and showed him the ropes, Rancic said.
“One of the things I have done in my life is people watch. You can learn so much, good and bad, from people watching,” Rancic said.
He has watched successful entrepreneurs, who all share similar traits.
They are creative, and can pursue different opportunities.
They are good decision makers.
“They never quit and they never make excuses,” Rancic said.
He said he had read in a book once that the wealthiest places on Earth are cemeteries. The dead lying in those graves had dreams and desires that will never be fulfilled, businesses that weren’t started and relationships that never were formed.
“It is up to us not to bury that potential we have,” Rancic said.
Lana F. Flowers is a gifted Arkansas reporter who can handle news about Walmart and retail, movie and book reviews, human interest stories, features and anything else you'd care to mention. She lives in Rogers, Ark., with her husband Jesse, daughter Layla, cats Lottie Boots and Emmy, and dog Fuzzy. Send an email -- email@example.com