Entrepreneur Bill Rancic was running a profitable cigar retailing website in 2004 when he appeared on and won the first season of NBC’s “The Apprentice,” hosted by Donald Trump. Since then, he has gone on to a career in real estate and has appeared in and produced several reality television shows.
He was in town last week to tout Vidler’s Five and 10’s chance at winning Quickbooks’ “Small Business, Big Game” competition. The East Aurora novelty shop is one of 10 finalists who could win an expenses-paid, nationally televised, 30-second television commercial during the Super Bowl.
He chatted on the patio at Firefly Cupcakes on Main Street.
Q: So, what do you think of East Aurora?
A: I was just saying this is probably one of the most vibrant Main Streets I’ve seen in a long time, so it’s pretty refreshing.
Q: It doesn’t get any more Main Street than Vidler’s Five and 10.
A: It doesn’t. I felt like I was a little boy with my dad. We had a store like that when I grew up in a suburb of Chicago called Hawkins. We used to go there and you’d get to pick out a little toy and it was a big deal.
Q: How competitive is the competition for the Super Bowl ad?
A: It’s as competitive as they want to make it. It’s a life-changing event when you think about it. And not to be overdramatic, but it potentially is a generation-changing thing.
Over 100 million people will see that commercial. If you capitalize on it properly and you seize that opportunity, it’s going to affect that next generation. Their kids are going to benefit from it.
Q: What kind of support does Quickbooks provide with the win?
A: It depends on the business. If it’s Vidler’s, we’d make sure people can get their products online. We’d make sure they have the tools and the resources to make sure that if someone watching in Nebraska wanted to buy something, they would have access. Because right now, they’re not online.
Q: What could Donald Trump learn from Vidler’s?
A: Oh, I don’t know. I think we can all learn from each other. Trump is a smart businessman. He’s an entrepreneur in every sense of the word. He knows how to seize opportunities, which he’s been able to do his whole life since he was a kid. He’s also a generational entrepreneur, his father was an entrepreneur just like the Vidlers, so they could probably learn from each other a little bit.
Q: What did you learn on “The Apprentice” that you could pass on to the Vidler family?
A: “The Apprentice” for me, was spectacular. The one thing I learned was that in business you have to be agile. And on “The Apprentice” we were given a different task every week. The ones who were successful were the ones who adapted and reacted and changed up their game plan based on the task they were given.
And that’s what Vidler’s is doing. They’re saying, “OK, we’re going to adapt, we’re going to adjust, we’re going to take what made our store great and what our grandfather really embedded in this store, but we’re also going to add on different things. And that’s what they’ve done.
That’s why, as you go through that store, you can see where they knocked a hole in this wall and that wall and they brought in candles and cards and you can buy anything from an iPad protector to something you can’t get anywhere else that’s very unique and charming and something that’s very special.
Q: So, are you voting for Donald Trump?
A: Well, listen. He’s a guy who changed my life. And I will be forever grateful. “The Apprentice” was the opportunity of a lifetime. If it wasn’t for that opportunity, we wouldn’t be talking. So I get it. For me it was just ... something I will be forever grateful for.
Q: So that’s a yes?
A: I wouldn’t have met my wife! I wouldn’t have had my son! There are so many great things that came as a result of me taking that opportunity and me winning that competition.
Q: OK, moving on. Did you have celebrity aspirations?
A: No. No. It was weird. A friend of mine, her mom called me up and said, “There’s a new show and I made you an appointment to meet with these people on Thursday.” And in a very short period of time I was in New York filming a TV show. And it was crazy.
Q: And now you’ve got this life after “The Apprentice.”
A: I’ll never forget, after I won, I was running in the park in New York City with a buddy of mine. It was a day after the competition. I said, “Man, imagine if I could ride this wave for six months. Wouldn’t that be something, man?” And here we are almost 12 years later.
Q: So did you actually end up working for Trump or did you just do events together?
A: Oh, I really worked for him. I worked in White Plains, New York for a while. And then I worked in Chicago. And then I got to be a judge on the show, so I would fly in when George, the older fellow, couldn’t do it and I would fill in for him. That was like five or six seasons, which is more than I ever expected.
And then people called and wanted me to do other TV shows. I hosted a cooking show last year for the Food Network (“Kitchen Casino”) and I did a syndicated daytime show with Leeza Gibbons for five years (“America Now”).
I mean, I was an entrepreneur. I still am. My essence is that. I’m still a business owner. That’s something I will never let go. But the TV stuff is fun and I really enjoy it. It’s something I never in a million years thought I would be doing.