Alpacas on Dragons’ Den
Picture from https://startups.co.uk/dragons-den-series-11-episode-11/
Way back in 2010, Tracy wanted to try Dragons’ Den and Kari-Helene didn’t; she changed her mind in 2011 and Tracy applied for the application forms. Copious amounts of paperwork later, our application was sent to the BBC and we waited. Another series of the programme was aired and we heard nothing, so we forgot about it. Eighteen months later, we were asked in for a preliminary audition, screen test and to bring more information. We were given interview pitching tips, Pre-Audition Q & A sheets and told what to expect. Quickly writing a pitch to cover all the salient points, it was ‘all systems go’.
Scene 1 – Getting there
One gloriously snowy morning in January 2013, Tracy loaded Bessie, the van, with everything she could think of which might be needed on the day. Setting off with hours to spare, she followed the Google Map directions which was great until the last half mile; then they took her to the wrong place. Frantically phoning the BBC contact, Kari-Helene (who had a seamless journey on public transport), Tracy successfully got completely lost in London and eventually arrived at a BBC location, but it was the wrong one! Kari-Helene met her and together they travelled the last 300 yards to the right location and proceeded to manoeuvre round the back of the building to the loading bay. Quickly we set up a display for our patterns, yarn, finished garments and ourselves.
Scene 2 – The Audition
We had to pitch, on camera, to the film crew and pretend they were the Dragons. We had some rehearsal and Kari-Helene forgot her lines, once she got them right, Tracy stumbled over her words. Much laughter later, we filmed our pitch until the last take, when we felt we had given the opportunity our best efforts.
Scene 3 – The Competition
Of the thousands of applications received, The BBC had four teams, filming eight applicants a day for 4 weeks. Of these, they whittled down to those they would like to invite onto the programme. We were told we would hear.
Scene 4 – Hurray!
In February, we were informed they would like us on the programme, to bring alpacas, and that the filming would be at Manchester in March.
Scene 5 – Getting ready
Serous preparation now took over, learning all the facts, figures, market share, details, exit strategies, competition and everything we could think of. We had to make our usual display freestanding as there would be nothing to lean it against. Whilst Bessie the van was being serviced, Tracy set about mocking up our fence panels with knitted pockets; to join them together, she used our Chunky yarn and a bootlace pattern.
We then had a dress rehearsal thanks to Mick George. Using his business premises, we said our pitch to John and Neil (two of his directors) and answered questions relating to our business and finances. This showed us where our arguments were weak and what other points we needed to cover. They also suggested we pursue the wedding idea more. We adapted our pitch, learnt more figures and felt we had the information we needed ready to regurgitate to any dragon.
Scene 6 – The Alpacas
Manchester is too far to take the alpacas from Cambridgeshire and it wouldn’t be fair to keep them in a horsebox over night, so Tracy searched the British Alpaca Society website to find a breeder who lived locally and who would be willing to let them borrow two alpacas on the day of filming. She contacted Shaun Daniel of County Alpacas who recommended Miss Darcey (a brown female described as ‘bomb proof’) and Alfie (a white youngster with a good quality fleece). As we’d never met before, it was arranged for us to visit Shaun and Julie the day before filming, meet Miss Darcey and Alfie and have a little walk around with them. Hopefully this idea would give us all confidence.
We all arranged to meet up, at The BBC, the following morning a 7.00 a.m.
Photos: Shawn and Julie Daniels
Scene 7 – Setting up
Once we left Shaun and Julie, we drove the last 40 minutes to The Copthorne Hotel which had been arranged by The BBC and we checked in. After unpacking, we met other contestants in the foyer where we waited for the staff to take us to the venue. Everyone else got into a mini-bus but we followed behind as our newly constructed display didn’t fit in!
Collectively the contestants were given last minute instructions and we had to stay behind to be given more instructions relating to the alpacas. We eventually arrived back at the hotel at 9.30 p.m. only to be told the restaurant was closed! We managed to sweet-talk the staff into giving us something to eat before retiring for the night.
Scene 1 – Up and Ready
There we were, bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready for the day.
We met Shaun, Julie, Miss Darcey and Alfie in the loading dock and decided to have an impromptu rehearsal. The line up was Kari-Helene leading Miss Darcey, then Tracy leading Alfie (we didn’t realise until afterwards that the height of each went down in uniformed stages).
We started our pitch. Every time Kari-Helene spoke, Miss Darcey looked at her, nodded and made a humming noise; this happened every time Tracy spoke too. Kari-Helene took no notice, but Tracy did… what started as a smile, turned into chuckle and then became a guffaw! She couldn’t stop laughing, couldn’t speak and then her eyes started watering. Luckily the makeup lady was able to do a repair job so that it didn’t show in front of the cameras.
Scene 2 – The Set
We had asked for time to show the alpacas the set before we saw the dragons. This was just to ensure that they weren’t spooked by anything. Darcey was as beautifully behaved as promised; Alfie followed her and as long as he was in close proximity, he seemed quite content. We practised walking past the props, then the lift and finally where the filming would take place. The director checked the lighting, camera angles and once he was happy, we were asked to proceed. To our right was the freestanding display which needed to be covered when we walked in and then unveiled once we were in front of the dragons. It was hidden by folding doors that moved on wheels.
Tracy held the lead reins whilst Kari-Helene moved them. The director didn’t like the effect and so a production assistant went off to see if he could find something else. He came running up behind us holding out a big, black cloth. He looked like a giant bat! Miss Darcey and Alfie, span round and ran away as fast as they could, going in different directions, behind Tracy’s back. She didn’t let go and Shaun and Julie ran on to the set to help calm them down. Miss Darcey was fine, she ate a piece of carrot and settled quickly, Alfie however, lost confidence; as long as he could stand next to Miss Darcey, facing the wrong way round, he felt comfortable.
Scene 3 – The Pitch
Well we were as ready as we could ever be and entered the den.
Hello, my name is Tracy Birch
And I’m Kari-Helene Rane
Our company is called Purl Alpaca Designs and we are here today to ask for £125,000 investment for 25% equity in our business.
Tracy We are a ‘Field to Fashion’ company; these are alpacas, this is their raw fleece which we prepare in-house, take it to a specialist mill and have it spun to our unique specifications. We then create exclusive designs for our yarn and sell knitting kits.
Our Sales are made through our website, a large online retailer, a monthly show on a craft shopping channel and we exhibit at 10 of the larger knitting shows which take place around the country, throughout the year. A local specialist yarn shop acts as our retail outlet.
K-H We have started to market and sell finished garments which are hand made by our team of experienced knitters based in the UK. This includes several designs which are ideal complements to any wedding dress. We have also started to develop the wholesale side of our business, both of yarn and readymade garments. These areas of development are where we need investment.
Tracy Alpaca is one of the most luxurious natural fibres in the world; it is exceptionallylightweight, soft, warm and water repellent. Asthe most colour diverse animal in the world, alpacas come in 23 registered colours from ice-white to midnight black, with shades of brown, fawn and grey in between. This is why we have the fleece washed but not dyed and we blend it to make our colours. Our fibre is locally sourced (some from our own herd).
K-H Knitting is gaining popularity. In 2010 the craft market contributed £3 billion to the UK economy and this figure is growing. Yarn shops are re-opening and knitters want a quality product. There is a growing trend to support companies producing in the UK which have an ethical attitude towards the fibre-providers and the environment.
Tracy Our business has reached a plateau. We now need help to grow from being a small business to medium sized one.
Part of the investment is to help us take advantage of ‘economies of scale’. By manufacturing our yarn using the larger mills, we can cut our costs by approximately 28%. To do this, we need to procure much larger quantities of fleece and have the funds available to have this made into yarn.
K-H We also need to have the resources to market our two new revenue streams.
Thank you for listening and we look forward to answering your questions.
Tracy Would anyone like to say “Hello” to the alpacas before they go home.
Scene 4 – The Dragons
Apparently Peter Jones’ face was a picture when we walked in! Alfie wasn’t sure about this whole idea and kept stopping before walking forward. Tracy held the reins and Kari-Helene carefully removed the cloth from our display; there were no mishaps this time!
After our pitch, the dragons met the alpacas, asked lots of questions and Tracy realised she was the same height as Peter Jones’ elbow. The alpacas were led off set and, once reseated with hands washed, the dragons did their thing.
Deborah Meaden was really enthusiastic about alpacas and their fibre; she owned a mill and we thought we were in with a chance. Duncan Banatyne however, wasn’t interested. Very quickly he said that it wasn’t for him and he was out. He said: “In fact, you’re boring me”, which we found funny!
Peter Jones picked up on the fact that Tracy had said the yarn was water repellent and questioned her about it. To check what she said, he proceeded to chuck a full glass of water over the Icon Dress which was displayed on the mannequin.
Peter: It’s soaking
Tracy: Brush it off
Peter: (brushes water droplets off) Oh, not that I didn’t believe you or anything!
Piers Linney and Deborah asked lots of questions relating to how alpaca fibre compares to that produced by different breeds of sheep. This was an area we hadn’t researched; Tracy replied that she didn’t feel she had the right knowledge to make an informed and accurate answer but could easily go away and research it. However, as a natural fibre, felt sure that alpaca would work favourably as blends for any use of product.
Peter Jones asked Tracy a question and as she took a deep breath, he interrupted her:
Peter: I like my answers short and sweet
Peter: Bit like you
Tracy: Thanks very much!
Piers asked Kari-Helene about design, production and hand knitters.
Piers: My mother is an amazing knitter, she can make a suit in an evening.
Kari-H Great, does she want a job?
They had a chat and then Piers said: “I can’t believe I’m pitching to you to get my mother a job!”
All in all, the dragons were really lovely to us and we laughed a lot. Once it was realised how small the UK alpaca fibre producing industry is, they lost interest. In their final summary, they liked us and our products, but that we were too niche for their investment.
As a parting shot, Deborah said that she thought we were ‘very racy’ to ask for £125,000 based on our current trading figures.
The show airs on 2nd March 2014 and we shall see how they edit it – either with the hilarity or not!