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Infomercial Man Dean Graziosi
May, 2010, Page 41
Photo by Jason Millstein/illume Photography
“Fear of failure, negative people in their lives – these are the things that really hold people back.” - Dean Graziosi
Valley real estate may be stagnant, but you can’t tell from Dean Graziosi’s infomercials. Sales class is now in session.
Wealth guru Dean Graziosi knows that he’s a tough sell. Especially in “this” economy.
For starters, he can’t quite shake that pesky infomercial stigma. Graziosi, a one-time upstate New York auto mechanic who parlayed a knack for real estate into a nine-figure, direct-market empire, is acutely aware that his earnest, boyishly exuberant TV persona sets off credibility alarms. So he’s done what any good salesman would do: He laughs it off.
“You enroll at ASU, and people are like: ‘Good for you!’” the Paradise Valley resident says amiably. “You enroll at the Dean Graziosi Real Estate Success Academy, and they’re like: ‘Man, you got screwed!’”
The economy’s touch-and-go recovery similarly makes things tricky for Graziosi. Like many experts, the author of Be a Real Estate Millionaire cruised through the 2000s preaching a gospel of sub-prime loans and quick flips – a formula rendered all but obsolete by the collapsed housing bubble and vanquished credit markets. So how does a profit prophet adapt?
“We adapted our philosophy over the last couple of years,” Graziosi says while strolling through a faux living room soundstage in his Tempe production headquarters. “So it’s still a great time to get involved in real estate, especially for Arizona residents.”
If that sounds sanguine given the circumstances, well, that’s Graziosi – a professional optimist who, through good timing and an almost religious zeal for upward mobility, has become a prime contributor to that plume of late-night and off-peak advertisement collectively known as “paid programming.” He’s a stealth celebrity – the kind of familiar but hard-to-place face that you might glimpse in mute mid-sentence on a bank of TV screens at the gym, or find wedged between Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and a half-hour block of ShamWow ads back at home.
Though he swears by his “program,” a regime of books, Websites and tutorials that promise to transform non-pros into cash-flush real estate hotshots, Graziosi admits that “30 or 40 percent” of his product is motivational.
Real estate guru Dean Graziosi insists he’s more than just an infomercial king.
“Fear of failure, negative people in their lives – these are the things that really hold people back,” the 41-year-old says. “If all you want is the info, the real estate techniques, we can sell that to you.
“It’s not expensive. But we can also teach you how to get over the brick wall. To get out of your own way.”
Graziosi estimates that his 270-employee media and investment company, Dean Enterprises LLC, grossed $60 million in 2009. Not bad for a Poughkeepsie, New York, grease monkey who once restored muscle cars to makes ends meet and was too busy saving the family auto shop to attend college. With a clinically depressed father at home and debt mounting at work, Graziosi branched into real estate using, he says, the same kind of no-money-down techniques that would later inform his how-to books.
In the late ’90s, the burgeoning real estate tycoon found himself itching for new revenue streams. Inspired by infomercial titans like Carlton Sheets and Don Dupree, he put $50,000 on credit cards and published Motor Millions, a how-to guide on auto restoration that Graziosi directly marketed to consumers via a half-hour infomercial.
“Instead of making a single chunk of money restoring cars or selling an apartment, I figured I could make a little money off a lot of people selling something that worked,” Graziosi recalls. “My heart was in real estate, but I felt like cars were more accessible for people. Low-hanging fruit.”
Emboldened by the profitability of Motor Millions – and well-versed in the vagaries of call centers, media buying and shipping – Graziosi moved to Arizona in 2002 and transferred his direct-market model to real estate.
His first real estate tutorial, Think a Little Different, came out the same year.
“My media buyer was out here, and she started introducing me to people in the business,” he says. “It was a big culture [in Arizona]. Don Dupree lived out here. So I hired some people. And it grew.”
And grew. And grew. Four books, countless infomercials and umpteen Websites later, Graziosi presides over an empire that – to the outsider – appears slightly cultish. That, too, is by design.
Envisioning a business that would be “relationship-based, not transactional,” Graziosi encourages students to bear testimony to their real estate successes and failures on his flagship Website, deangraziosi.com. He also delivers a weekly sermon via video blog, and – like a battle-tested missionary in a land of non-believers – can instantly recite trusty parables about program graduates who had to fight past interventions and skeptical loved ones to implement his profit-making strategies.
Deflecting skepticism has become second nature to Graziosi, and he’s good at it. Tellingly, if you enter “Dean Graziosi scam” on a major Internet search engine, it directs you to deangraziosirealestatescam.com – a site operated by Graziosi.
None of the above factors directly into the overriding question: Do his techniques work?
Graziosi – whose current strategy for cash-poor students involves compiling “buyers lists” and claiming modest finder’s fees for distressed properties – admits that the answer is almost totally dependent on the person at hand.
“My books don’t spit out cash,” he stresses. “You have to work hard at it.”
On that topic, no one could begrudge Graziosi’s sincerity and expertise. But it should be noted that his professional plan for the next decade involves assuming a limited stewardship role at Dean Enterprises and spending more time with his two children, ages 3 and 1, while “they still think I’m cool.”
“Then I’m gonna send them off to college and go back to work until the day I die,” he declares. As success strategies go, it sells itself.
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