That was Den

Toy inventors have been regular visitors to the BBC?s Dragons? Den. We catch up with some of the previous applicants to find out where they are now...
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An overwhelming number of toy companies have come before the millionaire Dragons over the show’s four years of broadcast.

In many ways, Dragons’ Den resembles the toy industry in that entrepreneurs entering the Den with a strong idea can become an overnight success. Perhaps it’s this that lures newcomers to our industry into pitching.

One of the best-recognised inventors to have faced the panel is Imran Hakim and his multimedia plush. Hakim was joined in the Den in 2007 by a life-size version of iTeddy in an eye-catching pitch.

Peter Jones and Theo Paphitis saw the potential of his creation and between them invested £70,000 in return for a 22.5 per cent share of the business.
Soon after, Vivid signed the distribution rights and the turnover from iTeddy sales was forecast to hit £20 million by the end of 2009. The deal is now coming to an end and Hakim is looking at his options for 2010.
Since its launch, iTeddy has been sold in 45 countries.

Over the last year, however, the market has proved challenging, but Hakim ensured he kept the brand alive and is now looking at ways in which he can refresh the product.

Hakim says: “Working with Theo and Peter has been absolutely fantastic. It’s been a great experience and there’s a real chemistry between us. We are now working on other projects together.”

Known widely as the one that got away, Rob Law bought his animal-themed ride-on children’s suitcases to the Den in 2006, asking for a £100,000 investment for a ten per cent stake in Trunki.

Despite a successful start to his pitch, things went downhill when Paphitis managed to break the lead on one of the cases.

Richard Farleigh was willing to invest in return for a 50 per cent stake. Law was unwilling to give up this percentage, however, and so left with nothing. The entrepreneur continued with his plan though and the firm has now grown to a team of 12 and hopes to further expand to 20 over the next 12 months.

The Trunki cases are now distributed in 40 countries by Law’s firm, Magmatic and the range has grown to feature Trunki Extras, Yondi – a travel pillow – and most recently, Boostapak, an innovative children’s backpack which doubles up as a booster seat.

Key to Magmatic’s success is an innovative marketing campaign. The firm has enjoyed frequent national TV coverage, while high profile PR stunts have ensured the products are kept front of mind.

Law explains: “Bringing brands to life is paramount to our success, it creates another platform which allows us to engage with our consumers, harnessing the power of word of mouth advertising and having some fun at the same time.”

For the year-ended February 2008, Magmatic turned over £700,000 and the following year, the turnover grew to £1.14 million, with a net profit of £36,000. In 2010, Law is forecasting a £2 million turnover, which he hopes will bring a £100,000 profit. The firm has also secured a cash injection of £200,000 to launch new products from private equity investor, James Stevens.

The most recent success story comes from Vernon Kerswell of Extreme Fliers. Kerswell appeared on the show in 2009 with R/C products, the Apache and Terror Wasp. He was after £75,000 for a 15 per cent stake. The sticking point for the Dragons, however, was the lack of patents. Furthermore, Jones, who has a 25 per cent stake in R/C firm Bladez Toyz, poured doubt on the venture and the entrepreneur left without investment.

Since leaving the Den, the inventor has been granted his patents and in turn, Paphitis has offered him support with ideas and contacts.

The company exhibited at Autumn Fair last September and now supplies over 150 retailers in the UK. Kerswell offers: “I am getting set to launch at Toy Fair and Nuremberg. Dragons’ Den has given a huge boost to our product range, which has led to lots of retailer stockist and great publicity for shops stocking them, as it was watched by over six million people and is constantly being repeated and is available to watch online.”

Danny Bamping and his Bedlam Cube impressed the Dragons in 2005 and he managed to secure a £100,000 investment for a 30 per cent stake between Paphitis and Rachel Elnaugh.

However after he left the Den, Bamping decided not to go ahead with the deal and to take a bank loan instead. He explains: “Two weeks after we filmed, I received a call from Rachel Elnaugh’s agent to inform me that her company was going into liquidation. Rachel advised me that the best thing for me to do would be to get a bank loan.”

He continues: “I realised soon after I’d been to the Den that this was the best way forward anyway. When I appeared, the Cube was already listed with a range of retailers and I needed the investment for marketing. But the way I saw it, being on the programme had given my company the exposure it needed.”

In the two months following the episode’s broadcast, Bedlam sold well over 40,000 cubes. At this stage Bamping was operating from his basement and had to employ a team of 14 to fulfil the orders, using taxis to go to the local post office to send the products.

The business has grown immeasurably since then. In 2007, production was bought to the UK and Bamping claims the Cube is the only mainstream plastic toy to be made in Britain. Production is also still active in China, thus offering retailers and consumers a choice.

Bamping’s product range now comprises around 37 lines. Bedlam has now been closed solvently and the hero product has been rebranded as Crazee Cube, from the new company, Crazee Thingz. The new firm was set up in order to create a more internationally attractive brand.

Further plans include a burgeoning licensed puzzle range following on from the company’s successful Tate and Lyle Golden Syrup product. Bamping is in talks with Coca Cola, Unilever, Wimbledon and Gilbert. The firm also operates in the corporate gift market, which makes up 25-30 per cent of its revenue.

Bamping still sees the exposure he received on the programme as beneficial. He says: “I got 14 and a half minutes of prime time exposure on the BBC and following the programme, orders for the cube crashed the Gadget Shop’s site.”

Similarly, Christopher Gill saw the exposure the programme would give his products as the main lure. Appearing in 2007 with his ride-on plush, World of Wiz, Gill asked for the biggest investment for the smallest stake to date, requesting £200,000 for a ten per cent stake.

With his colourful product, the producers saw Gill’s pitch as a strong addition. He says: “We saw the show as great publicity, but weren’t really expecting to get any money. The company was in its early stages and we weren’t really ready to pitch.”

Gill has since created books around the products to enhance the characters and has commissioned an animation company to design a cartoon, which he hopes to pitch to TV companies in 2010.

Gill has also extended his range to include new characters, smaller plush and hand puppets. He has yet to secure any retail listings, but sells the product through his website and is now looking to partner with a sales and marketing professional to carry the brand forward.

One of the more off-the-wall toys to enter the Den was Adam Arber’s Roadkill plush, which appeared in 2008. Arber asked for £50,000 for a 20 per cent share. He didn’t receive the backing, but the appearance generated a lot of interest.

Arber comments: “Distributors in the UK, US, Czech Republic, Germany and the Netherlands contacted me after that. Also lots of independent retailers called, asking to stock our products. We were also contacted by a couple of TV production companies.”

The firm’s range of five products is expanding to include a door stop, a range of Roadkill-themed Christmas cards and a collection of vinyl toys will be introduced mid-2010. The firm’s strategy is to stock boutique stores rather than multiples.

Arber is also looking to push sales into overseas markets such as US and Japan, while Germany and other parts of Europe have proved a big growth market so far.

Arber concludes: “The Dragons, maybe unwittingly, generated a lot of publicity for us. Sales really spiked after our appearance. We have appeared on other shows such as Jonathan Ross, BBC News and Graham Norton. I think the Den experience proves there’s no such thing as bad publicity.”
Games have turned up regularly on Dragons’ Den and Joe Gill and Ian McGill of Circa Circa, bought the About Time board game to the panel in a games special in 2007.

While the Dragons liked the idea, they were put off by the duo’s honest sales forecast that it would make a loss in its first two years. Jones said a business that lost money was ‘about as attractive as Quasimodo.’

Despite the lack of funding, Gill also sees the experience as a positive one. He says: “We got into Hamleys purely on the back of the fact that the product would appear on Dragons’ Den.”

He continues: “As a business owner, you need a launch pad and if you haven’t got £100,000 to spend on marketing, you have to find other ways to get the word out. The story still works to this day and people still like to hear about it.”

By the time the programme aired, About Time was stocked in Borders and a year later, was also on the shelves of Harrods and John Lewis. In January 2009, while exhibiting at Spring Fair, the firm signed a UK distribution deal with Lakeland and has also expanded into the US with a major retail deal.

Gill explains: “We got really lucky and one of the very senior execs at Barnes and Noble played our game at Christmas [2008]. He liked it so much that he placed an order for 5,500 units, which is our biggest order to date.”

The firm has also boosted sales with an unusual route to market. In 2008, it linked with The Guardian to launch a special edition of About Time using front pages of the paper. The partnership proved successful and the firm is now looking to repeat it and is in talks with a number of other UK titles. The company also entered Germany with a production deal with Die Zeit, a German newspaper.

There’s further plans in the pipeline for Circa Circa, including a travel edition launching at Spring Fair and Toy Fair 2010 and the firm has recently recruited industry veteran, Dave Norton to grow sales.
The team also hopes to build on the personalised route and is in talks with a number of heritage organisations and other content owners regarding further special editions of About Time.

John Chambers from JC Games also appeared on the 2007 games special with his wife asking for £60,000 in return for a 20 per cent share of his Blackhole Game, but left without any financial backing.

The following January, Chambers launched the game at Toy Fair and in 2008, sold 900 games. At Toy Fair 2009, the firm introduced its latest word game, Qb.

Chambers offers: “In the first ten months, we have sold over 9,000 games and have nearly achieved break-even. We have sold the licence for the US, Canada and South America to Pressman Toys of Manhattan. They are launching a 32-cube version of Qb at New York Toy Fair in February 2010.”

The firm will also launch a travel product and is looking to create versions of the game in different languages. Chambers recently signed a deal with Launch Products to open further retail channels.

Rachel Lowe entered the Den in 2005, asking for £75,000 to help launch Destination London.

Despite not gaining investment, the game became Hamleys’ top selling game between the time she filmed and the episode airing.

Lowe then launched 21 editions over the next four years, through her company, RTL Games.

She later signed a deal with Warner Bros to make Destination Hogwarts, based on Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. Warner then pushed the film’s release back eight months and unable to pay creditors as a result, in July 2009 RTL Games went into administration.

Lowe comments: “I am currently working with a number of interested parties in order to take the brand forward and to the next level. We are hoping to complete in the New Year.”

So it seems that despite their business acumen and success, the millionaires in Dragons’ Den don’t always know a good toy when they see one and get it wrong as often as they get it right.

Bladez of Glory

n 2007, Peter Jones TV released Tycoon on ITV, a series following six entrepreneurs competing to create the most profitable company in ten weeks.
Iain Morgan created Bladez Toyz, an R/C toys firm and won the challenge. Jones is a 24 per cent shareholder and takes an active interest in the firm.

Morgan says: “Peter Jones is an inspiration to work with and has supported Bladez 100 per cent since we started.”

Bladez Toyz has since supplied its products to many major retailers as well as a range of independents and buying groups.

Morgan is also working with distributors in Mexico and Europe, and in Denmark has launched toy concessions in one of the largest Danish hypermarkets, Bilka.

The firm also signed exclusive rights to the flying toys category for the film, Terminator Salvation.

Morgan offers: “Terminator is such an iconic licence and was an ideal fit with the Bladez philosophy.”

Once he has shown his range at Toy Fair in 2010, Morgan hopes to expand the concession business model.

He says: “We can provide real innovation, exceptional customer service and value for money all in keeping with our retailer’s social and ethical requirements.”



Inventor focus: Dragons' Den

It’s one of the more daunting ways of getting a toy to market, but Dragons’ Den gives toy inventors opportunities for funding, advise and exposure. Billy Langsworthy talks to those who survived the Den.

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