Like many entrepreneurs who have taken that nerve-racking lift ride up to visit the Dragons’ Den lair, the duo behind Beauty Boulevard and its wildly-popular product Glitter Lips knew very little of what was in store.
Rachel de Caux and Paula Short and been making steady progress with their salon in Lincoln, providing hair and beauty services, when they got talking one night about lip products. Deciding that there wasn’t really anything out there that exciting in the lip gloss space their natural reaction was to have a go themselves.
The two could never have imagined how quickly their Glitter Lips product would take off, so much so that they didn’t even tell friends, family or clients in the salon that it was actually them that had come up with the new offering. In case it failed, and they were labelled as a couple of “silly ladies”, they kept shtum and tracked its popularity.
The first Christmas after Glitter Lips went on the shelf and they were selling one an hour, just through word of mouth – not bad for a small salon in Lincoln. Interest from the likes of Topshop, a slot on ITV’s This Morning and being within the in-flight magazines for airlines Thomas Cook and Thomson was part of the next stage of growth and very soon the two entrepreneurs were being courted by BBC researchers to appear on Dragons’ Den.
Now a mainstay on British television since 2009, Dragons’ Den has launched the public profiles of business owners and investors including Duncan Bannatyne, Theo Paphitis, James Caan and Deborah Meaden. It pits up-and-coming businesses against seasoned investors – those looking out for the next big thing, and prepared to put their money behind it.
Rather than apply to be on the show, the beauty duo were tracked down after the growing popularity of their Glitter Lips product. Neither of them had thought much of investment, instead focusing on being as “cheeky” a possible with getting their products into as many locations as possible.
“We didn’t want to turn down the opportunity,” the two told Business Advice, “we thought we had nothing to lose so agreed to go on.”
“That was a long time ago, and since then there were a lot of things we had to go through. If we said we’d made £100, we had to prove it – knowing the ins and outs of everything. This took lots of time for our small team, consuming a great deal of time and energy. But it was a good exercise, to stand back and look at it from a different perspective and with fresh eyes.”
Short and de Caux were of the belief that if they could make it through Dragons’ Den unscathed, investment or no investment, then they could probably handle anything. However, their experience of being avid watchers of the show did little in the way of preparation. Contrary to what happened with those previously who had no coherent business plan or set of financial figures, bumbling their way through pitches and being kicked to the kerb by unimpressed investors, the two were expected to know their numbers by heart.
“It is so real as well,” they added. “We thought it would be like TV, where you get to meet people before. But you don’t – you step in front of them two seconds before and what you see is what you get, there is no second chance.”
The Glitter Lips pitch lasted one hour and forty minutes, which was then condensed down and edited for the show – airing on 14 August. Having lived with the nerves day in and day out for the weeks before filming, neither ate properly or felt like they weren’t in the right frame of mind for the job at hand.
Interestingly enough, Short and de Caux felt the Dragons’ Den investors almost had “voices in their heads” – as one minute they’d be complimentary and the next scathing. “But we knew it was telly, so had to have peaks and troughs – they will cut you down,” they commented.
“But from an entrepreneurs point of view you don’t know where you stand as they play you against each other as well. All want to get you for very little money, and only being in business for a few years we didn’t realise that. There are lots of mind games but, like going to an auction, you stick to your price and limits.”
For those that haven’t seen the episode, it’s spoiler alert time. The Glitter Lips girls didn’t leave the studios with an investment offer, but did manage to get the six foot six inch Peter Jones to try on their product. While they were deep in conversation with Sarah Willingham about PR, Jones took it upon himself to try the lip gloss on – and then asked if the whole pitch could “get serious for a minute”.
The two readily admitted to Business Advice that they never really wanted investment, just a bit of brand awareness. “Since filming we’ve been able to negotiate big contracts without anyone’s help, and have supplied big companies in the likes of Australia, the US and the UK. We don’t have their [the Dragons’ Den investors] deep pockets, but we are the ones with the passion.”
Feedback from a few of the judges was that the two clearly didn’t need any investor help, as they were making great progress themselves. Others were worried about the product being a flash in the pan, a fad that might burn out and leave them with a less than impressive set up. But with Dragons’ Den history seeing the creator of the now global Tangle Teezer product range sent packing, neither Short or de Caus are worried.
“We can be the next Tangle Teezer,” they exclaimed. “It’s a big bold statement but we like to think the ideas we have are really innovative and there are new products coming out in the next few months.”
Having began with startup capital of £3,500 each, the business owes no money, has a healthy bank account and is turning over £250,000. The exposure they’ll receive from being on the show will go a long way in the consumer products world, especially for a beauty business.
Their tips for any other young entrepreneur considering a Dragons’ Den experience is to do your homework. “Take stock of what you are, and have a look at questions from previous shows that people fall down on,” the added. They also had a warning for business owners not willing to take investment, only on there for the marketing. “They might cut you out,” they said.
At the end of the day, both feel the show only reflects the opinions of five people, and that there are many others out there willing to back the right people. If they could go through the whole process again they would – but this time, rather cheekily, wouldn’t be so polite to the Dragons’ Den pack.
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