How Bethenny Frankel Built Her Empire
Plenty of Real Housewives hawk products. Gretchen has handbags, Kyle has a clothing store and Phaedra and Kenya have their workout DVDs. But none of the Housewives sell quite as skillfully as Bethenny.
When we first met Bethenny, she was a chef-slash-Martha Stewart castaway who was handing out free samples at grocery stores. Then she stumbled on the perfect product: the skinny girl’s margarita. And so the Skinnygirl brand was born.
Five years ago Bethenny sold the Skinnygirl Margarita brand to the maker of Jim Bean for a reported $120 million. Since then, she’s expanded the Skinnygirl umbrella to dozens of brands, including popcorn, pizza and protein bars.
So, how did Bethenny succeed where so many other Housewives have had only lacklustre success? Here’s how Bethenny built her empire – and how she keeps the Skinnygirl successful.
She Led with Her Personality, Then Went in For the Sale
During the first season of RHONY, Bethenny’s business venture at the time, her book Naturally Thin, actually didn’t get much screen time. Instead, we got to know and fall in love with the brash, fast-talking New Yorker before she swept in with her product pitch.
Bethenny's personality is at the root of her business success. The reason her Skinnygirl brand sells is because she's connected with legions of fans – and stayed connected to them over the years.
“People don’t just turn on the TV and start buying sh-t because you’re selling it,” Frankel told The New Yorker. “I was honest about being broke and being alone, and people connected to me. Which is why, in turn, they connected to the books and products.”
She Embodies the Skinnygirl Brand
Bethenny lives and breathes Skinnygirl. She's the business' number one brand ambassador. Nearly every time you see Bethenny, you see something that makes you think of Skinnygirl. Usually, it's a visual nod to her brand's trademark colour, "Skinnygirl red" – a colour we often see Bethenny sporting on RHONY. She has jumpsuits, pumps and dresses in the hue. She even has a Skinnygirl red wig!
She’s Made Skinnygirl the Unofficial Eighth Real Housewife of New York
Bethenny knows how to score screen time for Skinnygirl. It seems like any time someone goes to pour a drink on the show, Bethenny rushes in and slips a bottle of Skinnygirl liquor into their hand.
Her house is covered in Skinnygirl products, too. A few seasons back, she was even driving around a car wrapped with the Skinnygirl logo. And when the other women complain about all her plugging, it only works to her advantage – one more scene where fans hear "Skinnygirl" over and over.
She Diversified Beyond Cocktails
It's not just cocktails anymore. Since selling Skinnygirl cocktails, Bethenny has moved on to diversify her business with a slew of other products. She now sells everything from popcorn and protein bars to body lotion and blenders. If there's money to be made on a product, you can bet Bethenny's dreaming up a way to create a Skinnygirl version of it.
When a Moment Enters the Zeitgeist, She’s Ready With a Product
Since her big return to RHONY, Bethenny's found a new way to cash in on her parade of one-liners. When fans respond to a moment on the show, like her snapping "Get off my jock" last year, she quickly slaps the saying on mugs and t-shirts and puts them up for sale on her website.
She Didn’t Sell the Skinnygirl Name
Bethenny pulled in millions when she inked a deal to sell Skinnygirl cocktails to Beam Global, but she retained a very important piece of property in the sale – the Skinnygirl name. While Beam now owns Skinnygirl cocktails, Bethenny maintained the rights to use the name for products other than booze; allowing her to continue to build her empire.
“I own Skinnygirl, but Beam paid me all this money to use her,” she told The New Yorker. “I win.”
Russ Martin is a writer who lives in Toronto. By day, he writes about ads and social media. By night, he covers pop culture for publications like MSN, The Grid, Dose.ca and the Daily Dot. Russ watches the Real Housewives like straight guys watch sports. Pass the dip and fast-forward to the fights, please.