I regularly tune into to watch BBC’s Dragon’s Den and have been watching it ever since the days of Levi Roots’ Reggae Reggae Sauce. Business owners, entrepreneurs, inventors and wheeler dealers go on the show to pitch their business or invention to the panel of Dragons, which have included business power houses such as Hilary Devey, Kelly Hoppen, and Peter Jones for a large investment and a percentage of equity in their business.
Someone asked me jokingly if I would be applying to go on Dragon’s Den with The Soap Cabin. Firstly:
- The Dragons want the finished, already hugely successful product or business. It should already be turning over LOTS of money and you MUST know your figures!
- You cannot remain ‘handmade’ or ‘British made’. For the dragons to see a return on their investment, you HAVE to go big or go home. You just cannot compete with cheap manufacture in China or Taiwan if you want to scale up. Scaling up to national or international level means mass production to meet demand and therefore you can kiss truly handmade production goodbye. Many of the pitchers have been disappointed because they thought the Dragons would just give them money and then guidance on producing their product quicker. They wanted success immediately, so the Dragons ask if they are willing to move production to India. They say ‘no’ and it’s over.
You HAVE to go big or go home
- We want to remain a handmade, British cottage industry, small batch producer with a personal touch, which is why we firstly aimed at our local area to build relationships through face-to-face interactions and word-of-mouth, therefore building the significance of our web presence, rather than it just being another cold website among millions. We are also currently able to cope with our orders and adjust as we see fit. Handmade is in. People increasingly want to know how their stuff is made, where it comes from and what’s in it; probably a reaction to mass production. Several handmade businesses who went on the show were actually advised to just keep doing what they’re doing because otherwise it would mean moving production abroad and their products would no longer be British, bespoke or unique.
Handmade is in
- Less than half of successful pitches on Dragon’s Den actually get investment. Many pitchers have dropped out after their TV appearance brought them interest and increased sales, or they received a better deal from elsewhere after the TV show airing. There are also the cases of people being overwhelmed, changing their mind about handing over equity in their business, not wanting to go that big immediately, or the usual issues with patents. Read more here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2016/02/11/half-of-dragons-den-investments-fall-through-after-the-show/
I read an article this week by a lady who had a handmade soap business in the USA. In the article she was actually explaining why she had closed her business. To sum it up, she wanted instant success and went too big too soon:
- She went on TV with her soaps, orders increased beyond what she could fulfil
- She had soaps in loads of stores nationally and…orders increased beyond what she could fulfil
- One store she pitched to wanted her to drop her price to fit with their range. This will ALWAYS happen when you try to put your products in a national chain. Margins will be squeezed!
- She was told she needed to have more than just soap in her range, but wasn’t interested. I learnt this fairly near the beginning of our Soap Cabin venture when doing our first ever market stall, because it is strikingly obvious on a stall table when you only have one type of product. Variety and type of product draws people in. We expanded to making body butters, aromatherapy oils, bath bombs (have since dropped these) and selling bath accessories. The lady in the article took the advice to mean mugs and T-shirts?!?
I don’t believe real success is instant, and I believe success is in the eye of the beholder. The reason I’ve been thinking about this is because someone at a party recently asked if I was interested in getting into department stores because they have many buyer contacts through their work. It is great to be presented with that opportunity, but I am keen to stick with our ethos of handmade, small batch for the time being. Also, as mentioned above,there is the practicality of fulfilling the quantity required. I have seen the national store thing work for Neals Yard and Tisserand, who are both in Waitrose and John Lewis, but they have been going for quite a while on the aromatherapy scene and work quite well in that environment. But I notice other natural soap-type products in those stores gradually creeping to the dusty bottom shelf; they are like a small fish in a big pond and I’m not sure I want The Soap Cabin to get lost in that environment.
Anyway, lots to think about; but we’re definitely not applying to Dragon’s Den!