As debate moderators introduce every other candidate by their political credentials (Governor, Senator, what have you), Donald Trump comes to us only as “businessman.” So considering it’s his one and only qualification for the candidacy, you’d think he’d be better at it.
Trump’s purported lack of business acumen has been a major sticking point recently, with Marco Rubio (may he rest in peace) even calling Trump out for his shoddy record: “I mean this is a guy that’s taken Trump airlines bankrupt, Trump vodka, nobody wanted it, Trump mortgage, was a disaster, Trump university was a fraud.” Rubio’s right—but he’s also barely scratched the surface.
Of course, everyone is familiar with Trump’s real estate failings (more generally known as Atlantic City), but it’s the business ventures where his recklessness really shines. The man licensed his name to hundreds of trademarks (like the game show below that lasted but a year) and incorporated countless businesses-to-be, but only a select few (dozen) were actually led by the hand of the Donald himself.
So to commemorate our country’s imminent President Trump-wrought downfall, we’ve compiled every major, non-real estate-related Trump business disaster out there (we think). Because while we aim for completeness, the man has failed—a lot. If you know of anything we missed, please do let us know down below. And Donald, good luck with that wall.
Service rendered: Steaks
Years in business: 1
What went wrong: Trump filed the trademark nearly ten years ago, noting that it would be used for “meat, namely, beef, veal, lamb, and pork.” The meat itself came from the Sysco-owned Buckhead Beef, and after first (and presumably, unsuccessfully) attempting to sell the Trump-branded meat on a custom steak-centric website...
...Trump decided to work out an exclusive deal with—where else but—The Sharper Image. A bizarre pairing, sure, but The Sharper Image had nothing to lose. From Think Progress:
[Sharper Image CEO Jerry] Levin described the licensing agreement as “unique,” noting that it lacked the kinds of things he had seen in traditional agreements, like minimums, which would have required the Sharper Image to pay the Trump Organization a set amount regardless of how many steaks they sold.
As you would expect of anything worthy of bearing the Trump name, the steaks didn’t come cheap. For instance, $1,000 would buy you 24 burgers, 16 steaks, and the dull pangs of regret.
For whatever reason, the wildly expensive steaks sold by a novelty electronics chain didn’t fly off the shelves. Or, as Levin put it, “The net of all that [media attention] was we literally sold almost no steaks,” Levin said. “If we sold $50,000 of steaks grand total, I’d be surprised.”
But how did they taste? According to one reviewer, “They are really greasy, have no flavor, over-priced and just gross!!”
Service rendered: Travel search engine
Years in business: 1
What went wrong: Remember Orbitz? Expedia? What about Travelocity? GoTrump.com provided exactly the same service but with significantly more Trump (i.e. pictures of his face, a delightful mustard-gold trim, and “Trump Picks,” which highlighted “specific hotels and vacation packages that are his personal favorites”).
As Trump explained in the website’s About section, “I only put my name on the best, and at GoTrump.com you will get the best information and the best online rate available.” Unfortunately for the Donald, “the best” doesn’t really mean much of anything when you’re boasting both private jets and cheap hotel deals.
When the site launched, a financial analyst told The Washington Post that it seemed like “a vanity site” that “won’t make much money.” He was right. The site shut down the following year.
Service rendered: Hourly flights between Boston, New York City, and Washington D.C.
Years in business: 4-ish
What went wrong: This was another case of Donald Trump attempting to turn a service that already exists into something a little more Trump-y. But this time, rather than build something entirely new, Trump purchased Eastern Air Lines Shuttle, which had been offering hourly flights on the East Coast since 1961 with moderate success. That all changed with Trump’s magic touch.
The airline had succeeded largely because of its no-frills service—you didn’t need a reservation ahead of time, there were no seat assignments, no check-ins, and no boarding passes. You’d show up and hop on a plane for relatively cheap. When Trump bought 17 of the company’s Boeing 727s for $365 million in 1988, “he added maple-wood veneer to the floors, chrome seat-belt latches and gold-colored bathroom fixtures.”
Apparently, customers who appreciated the service’s ease weren’t into the over-the-top makeover. Alienated customers combined with the high fuel prices of the late 80s translated to Trump Airlines never turning a profit. As Time explains, “The high debt forced Trump to default on his loans, and ownership of the company was turned over to creditors. The Trump Shuttle ceased to exist in 1992 when it was merged into a new corporation, Shuttle Inc. No word on whether the gold-plated faucets survived the merger.”
Service Rendered: Drunk
Years in business: 5
What went wrong: After labeling the drink as “The World’s Finest Super Premium Vodka” and proudly quintuple-distilling it in Holland from “select European wheat,” Trump was proudly telling anyone who’d listen that T&Ts (Trump and tonic) were about to become the number one drink in the country.
Trump was supposedly attempting to rival Grey Goose for a spot on the nation’s top shelves. No one else seemed to have gotten that message, though, and the drink went out of production in 2011 when no one ever wanted to drink it.
Service rendered: Residential and commercial real estate financing
Years in business: 1.5
What went wrong: Even someone as deluded as Donald Trump probaby should have been able to predict this one. While the bubble hadn’t burst quite yet, in 2006, market prices were already starting to fall. And a few months after that is when Trump Mortgage decided to make its debut, with Trump telling CNBC that it was “a great time to start a mortgage company. I’ve been hearing about this bubble for so many years from you and everybody else in your world, but I haven’t seen it. I will let you know when I see it.”
A year and a half later, after failing to hit any of its financial targets, Trump apparently decided he saw it, and Trump Mortgage shut down for good. Although if you ask him about it now, Trump calls the business a “tiny deal” that “he never ultimately moved forward with”—which is objectively untrue. Trump did move forward with the company, it’s just that no one wanted to follow.
Trump: The Game
Service rendered: Family fun
Years in business: 1
What went wrong: In 1989, Donald Trump decided that if people love Monopoly, surely they’ll love what is essentially the same thing but Trump-themed. He convinced Milton Bradley to release the game, assuring them that this face could move 2 million units off shelves in a year.
His face, of course, could not, and the game went out of production after a year. But for the Trump purists among us, you can still buy a (lightly used version of) the game for an appropriate $69 on Amazon.
Service rendered: Entertainment for luxury-enthusiasts
Years in business: 2-ish
What went wrong: The magazine launched in late 2007—just after his mortgage company was forced to shut its doors. Most people might see a failing market and a just-failed business venture as a sign that maybe it’s not a great time to start a print publication dependent on a general interest in luxury goods. Donald Trump, however, is not most people.
While the magazine “saw early success, cashing in on the booming advertising market for yachts and other high-end commodities” (at least according to the closing press release), in actuality, it... did not. As it turns out, people suffering from a major recession aren’t too keen on “yachts” or “high-end commodities” or “anything that requires money.” Who knew.
Service rendered: For-profit, non-accredited fake business degrees
Years in business: 6
What went wrong: For a “school” that can’t actually give you any sort of recognized degree, $35,000 is a hell of a lot of money to spend on tuition. Especially when that school, according to the lawsuit four students filed against the business in 2010, consists of classes described as “extended infomercials,” sells “non-accredited products,” and takes “advantage of these troubled economic times to prey on consumer’s fears.”
Once the lawsuit hit, state education officials started hammering the school for operating under the name “university,” since it was never chartered as such and was operating as an “illegal educational institution.” So that same year, Trump changed the name to the Trump Entrepreneur Initiative. Already outed as a fraud, though, the business shut down a year later.
Service rendered: Hydration
Years in business: Less than 1
What went wrong: In 2004, Donald Trump decided that people were crazy about the water available in his hotels and casinos, announcing that “it was so good that people wanted to buy cases of it.” Attempts to distribute widely failed, and the water is once again relegated to Trump’s own properties.
The New Jersey Generals
Service rendered: Football
Years in business: 2
What went wrong: Since Trump couldn’t buy an NFL team of his own, he settled on the next best thing—the short-lived United States Football League established to challenge the NFL. Realizing he had a million other projects on his plate, though, Trump quickly sold the team only to buy them back again in the very same year.
Things only got worse from there, according to Business Insider, “The team folded one year later, in 1985, along with the entire USFL. People blamed Trump for the demise of not only the team, but the entire league. Allegedly, he was trying to pull the Generals into the NFL — and made poor investment decisions in the process.”
Talking about the ordeal now, Trump notes that he “did something I rarely do with the USFL. I went into something that was not good.” As rare as every single endeavor on this list.
Tour de Trump
Service rendered: Bike races
Years in business: 2
What went wrong: Keeping with the theme of taking an iconic, wildly successful established tradition and turning it into a fucking mess, Donald Trump decided that he’d bring the Tour de France to us, just—you know, Trump-ier. When asked why he didn’t go with something that made sense, like the Tour de America, for instance, Trump said, “We could, if we wanted to have a less successful race. If we wanted to down-scale it.”
The first year, which sent riders from Albany to Atlantic City, actually managed to bring in some bag names, but unfortunately for Donald Trump, he just didn’t have the money to keep his name attached. Two years after starting the circuit, he was forced to sell his race to the DuPont Corporation, which then changed the name and removed every last trace of Trump.
Trump on the Ocean
Service rendered: Restaurant/catering hall
Years in business: 0.3
What went wrong: Located on the boardwalk in Jones Beach, Long Island, the gargantuan dining space totaled 80,000-square-feet with a 14,000-square-foot basement, all of which we’re sure looked great for the four months before Hurricane Sandy hit. According to Eater, the state had actually shot down Trump’s proposal four separate times since 2006. Once the hurricane took down Trump, though, he agreed to kill his plan—much to the delight of the surrounding community who never wanted it there in the first place.
The Trump Network
Service rendered: Vitamin pyramid scheme
Years in business: 2
What went wrong: Since the folding of Trump Magazine proved that people clearly didn’t have money to spare after the bubble burst, Trump decided to change strategies. With the Trump Network, Trump offered a get-rich-quick scheme centered around what else but nutritional supplements. The motto: Discover the Difference between Opportunity and Success.
The supplements came from Ideal Health, Inc, which Trump purchased in 2009. In addition to the supplements, though, Trump also offered the PrivaTest, which Trump’s site described as “a scientific window into your personal biochemistry.” A test that the Trump Network recommended be repeated every nine months for $100 a pop, which would be outrageous even if the test actually worked. But as Dr. Stephen Barrett, of health watchdog site Quackwatch, noted, “No single test can provide a rational basis for dietary supplement recommendations.”
What’s more, the company didn’t even deliver on its promised scam. A FOIA by Quackwatch in 2004 turned up the following complaint on Ideal Health filed in 2001:
The consumer states that she was working for this company trying to sell their dietary supplement products. The consumer states that she paid the company $5,412.50 for promotional leads, and marketing programs. The consumer states that the company never did the promotional leads, and took the consumers [sic] money and ran
And that’s what Donald Trump decided would be a great investment.
Service rendered: Talk radio
Years in business: 4
What went wrong: Trump’s radio “show” was really just a two-minute-long segment (sponsored by Office Depot) of Donald Trump talking about whatever came into his head. Donald Trump, however, called it “the biggest launch in radio history.”
Buzzfeed recently tried to secure audio of the Trump’s hours of archived programs but couldn’t nail anything down but the demo. So we may never know exactly what Trump decided to share with the masses (since absolutely no one ever tuned in), but judging by segment descriptions such as “No More Viagra for Rapists” and “Stay out of the tabloids and, for goodness sake, don’t say hello to those little boys” (referring to Michael Jackson), it sounds like his stump speeches are the next best thing.
Trump New Media
Almost launched: 1998
Service rendered: Video-on-demand and high-speed internet
Years in business: None
What went wrong: Eager to get in on the exciting world of the information superhighway, Donald Trump was apparently about to dip his toes into the ISP world back in the summer of 1998, announcing that the newly formed Trump New Media would “wire his 20,000 residential apartments with high speed $30 monthly access.”
And sure, Trump could have gone with something vaguely within his realm of expertise—but why break with tradition? A local announcement at the time wrote that “Trump admits he’s hardly the man to head a new media firm. ‘I’ll tell you what I know about it: Absolutely nothing.’” He partnered with Freelinq Communications to launch the firm, but after getting shut out by his more competent competition, the endeavor failed to ever take off.