Dragons’ Den: Dragons in onesies, a not so cordial partnership and ‘creepy’ dolls

Luckily though, it was not a disappointing final fling with the emotional 60 minute journey giving us plenty of chuckles, although the odd part did leave me wanting to cry into my pillow just a little bit. And no more so than when a mother and son team turned up with their Lookalike Dolls.

After £75k for a 30% stake in their business that offered you 133 different doll combinations so that you could tailor your doll to look like you, your favourite celebrity or even your best friend, they started off quite well and presented Lookalike Dolls to Meaden and Hoppen. As the programme progressed the Twitteverse seemed to concur that the dolls were ‘creepy’, but I think the Twitter contributors perhaps don’t know, or have forgotten, what it’s like to be a seven year old girl.

When I was seven I think I was a little bit creepy. I loved my best friend so much that if I’d been able to make a doll look like her, I am sure I would have done. I’d already named a doll after her, I had a little collection of pictures of her in my desk and wrote stories about our fictitious adventures together. So, if by any chance this was normal-ish, I think there would be a market for it. Practically speaking, the Den said it was unworkable on a large scale, which made sense, and that would have been the emotionless end of it for me, had the duo not started talking figures.

My heart sank as Mum relayed the £100,000 investment they’d made using loans and redundancy money, how they were only currently selling three a week and how she was putting £700 a month into the business to keep it afloat, and to give their stock of 60,000 dolls a warehouse home. It’s the stuff of nightmares and even Bannatyne seemed genuinely surprised at the size of investment. Despite having their hopes dashed by the Den, Mum seemed ever optimistic, although some might say unrealistic, vowing to plough on with the project. We’ll have to wait and see if the world is ready for the creepy – or otherwise – Lookalike Dolls, and if they can stay solvent long enough to sell them.

Cheering me up was a proposed mobile phone app that helped you to find the most popular places locally – so that you could avoid them! As a regular misery, I couldn’t think of anything better than an App that told you where people weren’t. The wonderful prospect of having a quiet coffee and reading the paper instead of queuing for ages and having to share a table with a man that spends more time talking on his mobile phone than a 14 year old boy spends in his bedroom. However, the App developer duo were foiled by facts after Jones called it “irrelevant and impossible” and Meaden elicited information out of them that their own projections showed they would continue to make large losses even in year three – and that was that.

I thought the Den had heated up with the arrival of online jewellery retail business, Hot Pink which was after a £100k investment for a 35% stake in its business. Enabling its customers to design their own bespoke engagement rings with 3D technology and the advice of a personal online design consultant, the Hot Pink entrepreneur had a refreshing grasp on his facts and his business.

Hoppen seemed stuck in the 1970s and couldn’t quite get over the idea that you could do anything but endlessly wander around the shops with your betrothed to find an engagement ring, calling the concept the “saddest sight” (or did she mean site?) she’d ever seen. Drama much? Meaden was more positive and understood the reasons for the service, but this didn’t change the Den’s result – a no across the board.

The Den cooled off even further with a ‘Cordial’ couple which had been running Norfolk Cordial, a luxury non-alcoholic, fresh fruit cordial maker, since 2010. Already with its products stocked in Fortnum & Mason, in Raymond Blanc’s restaurants and a wide range of other places, the pitch was all going so well I was on the verge of breaking out the bubbly – or at least the vodka that one of its founders said went very well with any of the cordials.

Unfortunately, the pesky Den asked a tricky question and it came out that there were already six other shareholders, holding a total of 48% of the company and, although they were apparently willing to dilute their shares to incorporate investment from the Den, this revelation left the investment tasting a bit sour to the famous five. Despite what Piers called a “fantastic” pitch and his comments that they’d “not slipped up once”, none of them could move past the structural issues and all of them bowed out.

The finale of the night was cult clothing designers Young Ones. Currently specialising in Onesies costing around £60 aimed at the university market, student entrepreneurs Tom and Chris made an immediate impression on the Den with their Dragon-individual Onesies. At one point, I think all the Dragons were smiling at the same time and I don’t think you can say that very often. The pitch asked for £75k for a 15% stake in their business partnership and outlined a surprisingly buoyant balance sheet.

For while I thought that there may be yet another episode where no-one managed to secure any input from the Dragons, but I could finally stop holding my breath when Bannatyne uttered, “ It’s not totally un-investable.” It might not be the most gushing endorsement, but who cares if he’s got the money and he’s going to invest in (and hopefully nurture) a great bit of British business talent? A little more banter and his offer was in, £75k for a 40% stake.

It wasn’t what our boys were hoping for and I had butterflies as I watched the boys squirm. They tried valiantly to negotiate, but Bannatyne wouldn’t budge. After what seemed like an age, they got permission to go off to whisper in the corner. “This is just what your dad said not to do,” said Tom to Chris. They discussed it, but I knew what would happen. They had the same look on their faces as my five year old twin boys do when I tell them not to jump off something because they might break a leg, it will hurt and they will regret it. The look that’s a combination of real desire to do it, independence, cheeky defiance and actual fear.

And so Tom and Chris took the investment that Bannatyne called his ‘Deal of the Year’ – and who knows if it was the right decision for Young Ones? The question is does Duncan or Dad know best? I’m looking forward to finding out. I think I need to wish the lads lots of luck because, let’s face it, if it’s Chris’ dad that was right and not the Den, then I suspect that Tom and Chris are never going to hear the end of it…


Clare Bampton

Clare Bampton has nearly 20 years' experience in PR and marketing and founded Derbyshire-based Bampton Communications Limited seven years ago following a career including Lloyds TSB, The Boots Company, TNT and British Waterways. Bampton provides practical, value-for-money PR and marketing services to a wide range of SMEs and marketing professionals across the UK.

About Clare Bampton

Clare Bampton has nearly 20 years' experience in PR and marketing and founded Derbyshire-based Bampton Communications Limited seven years ago following a career including Lloyds TSB, The Boots Company, TNT and British Waterways. Bampton provides practical, value-for-money PR and marketing services to a wide range of SMEs and marketing professionals across the UK.