NEW YORK There's no business like small business.
Mix the high stakes of running a small business with a dash of family drama and throw in a camera crew and you get hit reality television shows such as 'Pawn Stars, ' ''Welcome to Sweetie Pie's ' and 'Duck Dynasty. '
Turning small business owners into stars has become a winning formula for television producers, but some businesses featured in them are cashing in, too. Sales explode after just a few episodes air, transforming these nearly unknown small businesses into household names.
Sales at Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas are five times higher than they were before 'Pawn Stars ' first aired in 2009. More people are pouring into the St. Louis restaurant featured in 'Welcome to Sweetie Pie's ' to eat its jumbo-sized fried chicken wings and six-cheese macaroni and cheese. And Duck Commander, seen in 'Duck Dynasty, ' is having trouble controlling the crowds in front of its headquarters in the small city of West Monroe, La.
'Sometimes it's hard getting from the truck to the front door, ' says Willie Robertson, who owns Duck Commander with his father and stars in the A&E series with his extended family.
It's a big change for a company that sells duck calls out of a part-brick, part-cinder block warehouse on a dry, dead-end country road. Duck hunters use the whistles, which mimic duck sounds, to attract their prey.
Since 'Duck Dynasty ' began airing in March 2012, Robertson finds at least 70 people waiting in front of the warehouse every morning asking for autographs and photos. Neighbors have complained about the mobs and the police have been called.
Despite the trouble, the show has been good for the family business. Sales of the company's duck calls, which range from $20 to $175, have skyrocketed. In 2011, the company sold 60,000 duck calls. In 2012, the year the show began airing, the company sold 300,000. 'We saw a big difference as the Nielsen ratings went up, ' says Robertson.
To stop the crowds from disrupting business, and to make extra cash, Robertson opened a gift shop inside the Duck Commander warehouse. 'It keeps the people out of my lobby, ' says Robertson. The shop sells duck calls, Duck Commander T-shirts and bobblehead dolls that look like Robertson, his dad, uncle and brother, complete with their long beards.
Rick Harrison, the star of 'Pawn Stars, ' opened a gift shop, too. He sells mugs, T-shirts, bobbleheads and refrigerator magnets, in the back of his Las Vegas pawn store.
Harrison says the souvenirs bring in about $5 million in revenue a year. The pawn business brings in about $20 million a year, up from the $4 million before 'Pawn Stars ' aired.
The show, which follows people as try to sell or pawn items ranging from gold coins to classic cars, also stars Harrison's son, his father and an employee named Austin 'Chumlee ' Russell.
People have been lining up outside the pawn shop since the reality show began airing on History in 2009. The store installed misters above the line to keep fans cool under the hot, Las Vegas sun.
Fame has disadvantages. Harrison says he wears a hat and sunglasses to disguise himself, even on visits to IHOP for pancakes with his kids. During an overseas vacation, he was swarmed by fans at the Tower of London
'It amazes me, ' says Harrison. 'I'm just a fat, middle-aged bald guy, but people still want to meet me. '