Personal Finance

For 'Real Housewives,' it's all about the right deals

Key Points
  • Many reality stars come out with books, jewelry, clothing or accessories in the hopes of cashing in, but starting a business is no easy task.
  • Andy Cohen, the executive producer of Bravo's "Real Housewives" franchises, tells CNBC what it takes to be a successful television personality turned entrepreneur.
  • "The viewers are really smart," he says. "When it's organic or a great idea, they just go for it."
Bravo | Getty Images

For reality TV stars, the fame can be immediate. The fortune is harder to come by.

Few know that better than Bravo's "Real Housewives," stars of a reality series that includes franchises in New York; New Jersey; Dallas; Atlanta; Potomac, Maryland; and both Orange County and Beverly Hills in California.

Bethenny Frankel, an original and current cast member of "The Real Housewives of New York City," found unparalleled success after using the show to launch her Skinnygirl brand, which started as a low-calorie margarita and quickly expanded into other alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, snack foods and now jeans (coming in the fall).

Frankel reportedly netted over $100 million when she sold Skinnygirl Cocktails to Beam Global, the maker of Jim Beam, in 2011.

Excluding cocktails, Frankel still owns the rest of her successful Skinnygirl empire. In 2016, the entrepreneur landed a spot on Forbes' list of America's highest-paid reality stars.

Bethenny Frankel: The skinny on Skinnygirl
The skinny on Skinnygirl

But that doesn't mean everyone can do what she did — not that they haven't tried.

There's been clothing, shapewear, sunglasses, jewelry, handbags, skin cream, cannolis, cocktails, wine, cookbooks, novels, tell-alls, a toaster that never quite got off the ground and even sex toys (which proved hugely popular).

"Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't," Andy Cohen, the executive producer of the "Real Housewives" franchise, told CNBC at a Purina One event in New York that promoted the pet food and raised funds for shelter dogs through the Petfinder Foundation.

"The viewers are really smart," he said. "When it's organic or a great idea, they just go for it.

"They know when it's ridiculous, or when it's amazing."

One of the best — and most underrated — "Real Housewives" businesswomen is Kandi Burruss of the Atlanta franchise, according to Cohen, who pointed to Burruss' successful line of adult sexual aids, sold directly by "consultants" at parties similar to those from Rodan + Fields skin care or Stella & Dot jewelry.

"They're doing very well and they're really expensive," Cohen said of the Bedroom Kandi products.

The viewers are really smart, they know when it's ridiculous or when it's amazing.
Andy Cohen
executive producer of the "Real Housewives"

Other such business ventures that have resonated with viewers — in part, said Cohen, because those products are closely associated with the women behind them — include Beverly Hills "Housewife" Lisa Vanderpump's signature sangria and rosé wine products, as well as New York "Housewife" Ramona Singer's skin care line (relaunching soon.)

"They're continuing to build their brand," he said, of the "Housewives" turned entrepreneurs. "As they should."

Disclosure: CNBC parent NBCUniversal owns Bravo.

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