Firm whiffs on ‘Shark Tank;’ but basks in aftereffect

Brian J. O'Connor
Detroit News Finance Editor

Jess Sanchez-McClary spent Monday proving the wisdom of the saying, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.”

The CEO of Detroit’s McClary Bros. pitched her drinking vinegars business on the season premiere of the ABC-TV reality show “Shark Tank” that aired Friday night. She was one of two entrepreneurs who went home empty-handed when the self-made billionaires on the panel declined to invest in McClary Bros.

Jess Sanchez-McClary wasn’t a winner on the TV show, ‘Shark Tank,’ but since her appearance, demand for her vinegar drinks, shown below, has surged.

But not so empty-handed after all, thanks to what’s known as “the Shark Tank effect.”

That’s the case where a business strikes out but then cashes in on the publicity that comes from exposure to 5 million viewers on national television. Not only do businesses that pitch on “Shark Tank” see a big uptick in sales, but the exposure also can attract distributors, suppliers and other potential investors.

“On Saturday, visits to our website were up 15,000 percent,” Sanchez-McClary said Monday. “We’ve had about 1,000 orders so far. We have done now, on the website, as much in sales as we did on the website the whole of last year.”

The biggest surge in orders for the vinegars, which are used as mixers in non-alcoholic drinking and craft cocktails, particularly an older form called a “shrub,” has been 20 or 30 orders after a national magazine piece or other publicity. Even though she expected an upswell of business after her “Shark Tank appearance,” McClary still spent much of Monday in meetings planning on how to handle the ongoing waves of orders, which continued to come over the weekend and all day.

“A lot of today was spent organizing how we set up to fulfill this many orders really quickly and get them out without errors,” Sanchez-McClary said. “We’ve never been inundated like this before.”

The interest wasn’t limited to online retail sales, either.

“We’ve had a lot of stores all over the country that want to carry it, and probably another half-a-dozen or so distributors have also reached out to us.”

TJ Hale, host of the online Shark Tank Podcast and author of “The Ultimate Guide to Getting On Shark Tank” says that for any business, it’s an accomplishment just to get on “Shark Tank,” considering that 50,000 entrepreneurs audition and that many episodes that get taped never air.

“Airing is the apex,” Hale says. “If you air, it’s all worth it. Good to her for getting on.”

As for the increase in business, “We call it ‘the Shark Tank tsunami on my show,” Hale says. “It’s big. It’s a lottery ticket. It’s the reason you do it, because it’s a big payoff. Everyone from investors to distributors to Nigerian scammers will call after someone goes on ‘Shark Tank.’ ”

On Friday’s episode, the sharks — regulars Mark Cuban, Lori Greiner, Robert Herjavec and Kevin O’Leary, as well as a guest, actor Ashton Kutcher — weren’t wowed by the niche market for drinking vinegars, even though Sanchez-McClary noted the company is profitable, with sales of $305,000 since 2012.

At one point, O’Leary — an often harsh critic who calls himself “Mr. Wonderful” — was less than wonderful to Sanchez-McClary, telling her, “Let’s be honest — it’s four guys and dog that drink this stuff. Why are you doing this to yourself?”

Kutcher intervened, telling him to back off. “She gave you an answer,” the actor told O’Leary, “and if the answer’s not suitable that’s fine, but you don’t have to belittle people.”

For her part, Sanchez-McClary felt she handled herself well on the show and the condensed version of her much-longer interview didn’t represent her pitch session with the sharks.

“I was concerned about will they edit it to make it look like I don’t know what I’m talking about,” she said. “And they didn’t. I think I came across as pretty knowledgeable talking about my product.”

McClary Bros. Drinking Vinegars are sold or served in more than 300 bars, restaurants and sold in stores in 17 states. Launched in 2012 and named after her twin sons, Jack and Ben, now five years old. The products are manufactured by Hopeful Harvest, a for-profit subsidiary of Forgotten Harvest, and made with made with organic, unpasteurized apple cider vinegar and fresh, seasonal fruits, vegetables and herbs.

Sanchez-McClary was invited on “Shark Tank” after attending a casting call at the Tech Town business incubator in April, then taped the show in June. Producers also taped an introductory feature that showed Sanchez-McClary and the namesakes of the business, something her boys enjoyed.

“They were very excited,” watching the episode she said. “They loved it and they got to see themselves on TV, which is even more exciting.”

(313) 222-2145

Twitter: @BrianOCTweet