“I’m out.” Those are the two dreaded words you don’t want to hear if you’re a budding business owner standing in the den before five fire-breathing dragons – otherwise known as Canada’s business elite. With marketing guru Arlene Dickinson, pizza baron Jim Treliving and The Wealthy Barber’s David Chilton staring entrepreneurs down, it’s no wonder 1.2 million Canadians tune in every week to see who’ll make a deal and who will shuffle out the warehouse doors with their eyes on the floor.
But of course this is TV, and often even deals that seem locked down on air can fall apart in the follow-up “due diligence” process – or, deals that don’t go down on-air can get a sudden change of heart from a dragon, after the fact. There’s plenty more that goes on after the cameras stop rolling. But that doesn’t keep pitches from being hilarious, painfully awkward or endearingly memorable. Of the entertaining mishmash of ideas and inventions that have been presented to the panel of potential investors or ‘dragons’, these are 10 of the most successful post-show from this Canadian series’ eight season run.
10. Dr. Mist
If this list went by grit and determination rather than annual sales, Claudette Leduc would likely be higher on the list. As a mature entrepreneur she first had to overcome her fear of leaping into the great unknown and starting a company from scratch. However, her desire and drive to create an effective aluminum-free deodorant was the fuel that fired her into the marketplace with her body spray solution.
Dr. Mist comes from Dead Sea minerals and salt that creates an odorless bacteria shield on the skin (the invention has earned its Malaysian inventor a medical award from the International Exhibition of Inventions in Geneva). Leduc secured a deal to be the North American master distributor and by the time she arrived in the den she had already secured $250,000 in sales, with distribution in London Drugs and Loblaws’ Superstore across Canada. This hard-working spirit and result-driven business model was enough for dragon Brett Wilson, who invested in the company with $100,000 in return for a 5% royalty on net sales. Immediately after the show aired, Leduc was contacted by Costco, which wanted to supply the product in ten locations. More distribution followed and as of 2014 Leduc is still going strong, with sales of Dr. Mist at $450,000 in 2014.
9. Dr. Joey’s Skinny Chews
Dr. Joey Shulman set forth into the den in 2013 armed with her 11+ years experience as a nutritionist and one very efficient solution to weight loss cravings. The all natural, gluten-free, low-calorie chewy snack contains 4 grams of prebiotic inulin fibre which helps suppress appetite, balance blood sugars and optimize digestion. All while allowing the snacker to keep their mouth distracted!
Dragon Arlene Dickinson enjoyed the snack and the pitch enough to offer $375,000 for 25% equity in the company. Since Shulman’s season eight debut less than a year ago, profits have increased from $150,000 to a sweet half a million, with Dickinson helping get the product onto Canadian retail shelves that now include Wal-Mart and Whole Foods locations across the country.
8. Nūd Fūd
Pronounced Nude Food, this is what it sounds like: bare naked and proud. The snacks are raw, organic, vegan and gluten-free and unlike some of the other treats on this list, this one is all about the organic whole foods market.
Founder Julia Kirouac managed to secure an investment of $100,000 for 33% plus a 2% royalty in season six with dragon Jim Treliving. While her appearance on the show has proven to be great advertising, the deal with Treliving did not pan out during due dilligence. But going forth into the market dragonless has not hurt Kirouac’s sales: While she has declined to disclose exact numbers, the company sold ‘six figures’ in 2013 and have increased sales between 50-100% since appearing on the show that year. They have increased production capacity with products available in over 150 health food retailers across Canada, including select Whole Foods locations and they’re now in the process of expanding into the US market.
7. Mistura Beauty
Makeup made easy is the idea behind this beauty product created by Andi Marcus. The six-in-one solution that purports to work on almost any skin tone acts as foundation, eyeshadow or lip shade. In the year following its Dragon’s Den premiere in 2009, the product brought in $850,000 and has been featured in retailers throughout Canada including Shoppers Drug Mart and Rexall’s.
While dragon Brett Wilson showed interest in the product a deal was never solidified. But after the episode aired, Marcus received a call from Costco and says the company grew 1100% in that year. With some perseverance and a little financial help from family and friends Mistura products can now be found in 700+ stores across Canada, and growing. According to Marcus, sales are increasing steadily and in 2014 the company is now working with a local investment partner on financing purchase orders and roll outs. As a result, she says she will likely meet her year-end target of $1.2 million.
6. Shoelery by Erica Giuliani (formerly Erica Giuliani Shoe Accessories)
The shoe world got a bit flashier with this glam-footed pitch by sisters Patricia and Nadia Macri in 2010. Erica Giuliani’s shoe accessory line was a hit with dragon Arlene Dickinson, especially after a seal of approval by guest dragon Jeanne Baker, a Canadian Fashion Icon who saw Giuliani’s products as an upward trend in the footwear industry. The company is one of the few that has since bought out a Dragon’s Den partner, according to investor Tony Reis who has become hands-on in key operational areas, after also injecting capital funding into the business.
The company has since rebranded their core shoe clips product line to “Shoelery by Erica Giuliani” (formerly Erica Giuliani Shoe Accessories). They have expanded rapidly since a humble beginning of one kiosk in a north Toronto mall, and projected sales are growing by over 200% with sales now solidly in the seven figures. They are also expanding their product lines to include Bootbeltz and Shoeclipz, while being represented in numerous shoe stores nationally including Town Shoes, Nine West, Hudson’s Bay and The Shoe Company. Reis says they are growing their sales rep network rapidly in the US as well, establishing key international distribution partners and testing direct selling options into the US market.
5. AWAKE Chocolate
This pitch was no snoozefest, as chocolate-with-a-kick peaked dragon interest during a 2013 sampling in the den. The product was a brainchild of business partners Matt Schnarr, Adam Deremo and Dan Tzotzis who have a cumulated 35 years experience in the packaged goods industry with employment histories that include Kraft Canada and Pepsico.
After perfecting their chocolate bar that packs a 140 milligram punch of caffeine, roughly equivalent to one cup of coffee – a recipe that was developed in Tzotzis’ Stoney Creek Ontario kitchen – the three moved on to woo the dragons. In 2013, they secured a $200,000 investment with dragon David Chilton for a 7.5% return of capital royalty. During due diligence a lower royalty return was struck.
Since the show, the company has seen $2 million in sales and are forecasting $7 million for 2014. Schnarr says Chilton has been instrumental in their growth since the show and has helped secure commitments from 3,000 stores in Canada. The chocolate bar now sells in 16,000 stores across North America, with a target of 25,000 stores by end of the year. In 2013, AWAKE won the Convenience Innovation Award for best new chocolate bar in Canada, beating out 14 other submissions from major manufacturers including Hershey, Mars and Cadbury. The bars are also trending into the glamorous world of the rich and famous where food substitutes and energy supplements are always welcomed, and are even being included in a number Hollywood gift bags.
4. Dig It Handwear
There’s something oddly heartwarming about watching dragon Kevin O’Leary sell ladies’ gardening gloves on the home shopping network. Perhaps it comes from catching a glimpse at the inner character of his usually tough exterior. O’Leary has been trotting out the benefits of gardening gloves, with pillow-topped protectors to protect manicures, as part of his investment deal with Dig It Handwear.
The company, based in Etobicoke, Ontario and Vancouver, BC, and run by Wendy Johannson and Claudia Harvey, received $50,000 from the notorious tight wad after their Season four pitch in the den. While O’Leary initially wanted a 3% royalty on sales in perpetuity, he eventually let it go after meeting with the ladies during due diligence and getting a sense of the full range of Dig It products, which include safety sunglasses. Since the 2010 deal, sales have grown into the millions according to Johannson, with big box partners like Home Depot, Canadian Tire and Lowes. The company is in the process of expanding in the US and have grown from 30 accounts when they’d reached the den to hundreds and counting.
Johannson says O’Leary’s involvement has given them credibility in the industry and helped open doors, while providing a necessary sounding board on resources and tools. These are invaluable assets that, adds Johannson, she couldn’t put a price tag on. As of 2014, Dig It products are stocked by over 120 retailers across the country, and both Johannson and Harvey have been nominated as Female Entrepreneurs of the Year in British Columbia. Johannson, based in the Vancouver office, is also one of the founding member of Women in Construction (WINC) and the Lower Mainland Green Team, which helps to clean up parks and recreation areas around the greater Vancouver area.
3. Steeped Tea
Who knew tea parties could be so lucrative? Tonia and Hatem Jahshan, from Hamilton, Ontario, had some idea. The pair made their pitch to the dragon’s in 2012, with dragons Jim Treliving and David Chilton closing a deal of $250,000 investment in return for 20% of the company. Steeped Tea began when the business owners had an “aha!” moment in Nova Scotia several years ago over a cup of loose-leaf Earl Grey. Tonia, who is also a mother of three, started selling the tea from home before moving into hosting tea parties, similar in style to the “tupperware party”.
Since then, Tonia has created over 150 teas as well as tea-related products such as recipes and rubs. According to Chilton, in 2014 Steeped Tea is anticipating $12 million in sales, up from $1.2 million when the couple first arrived in the Den. They now have over 3000 consultants across Canada, and have began to expand into the U.S. Market with over 200 and counting. Currently the company employs 41 people at its 20,000 sq/ft facility.
OMGs are arguably one of the greatest success stories to come out of the den, due in part to their already-proven track record in business, as well as the fact that everywhere you shop these days in Canada, brown paper bags of chocolate-wafer goodness are dangling out from a retail display.
To Kevin O’Leary’s perennial plea of “Where’s the money?” during their season six pitch, business owners Chris Emery and Larry Finnson responded with their previous Clodhoppers business; a chocolate and graham cracker business inspired by Emery’s grandma. After selling the company and waiting out a five year non-competition agreement, the two candy connoisseurs came up with a new one: OMGs, also a graham cracker and chocolate treat that includes toffee and almonds.
Dragon Arlene Dickenson was the one to bite into this candy enterprise and invested $250,000 in OMGs, in exchange for 50% equity. According to Emery, who won’t reveal the current annual sales for OMGs (although we know that in the first year after appearing on the show the company brought in nearly $2 million) Dragon’s Den was “an incredible spring board”. Exposure on the show resulted in the candy being listed nationally across Canada at most retailers including 500 Loblaws stores. As of March 2014, the candy has launched into all 619 Sam’s Clubs in the USA. The company has grown from 0 to 15 fulltime employees and at the 10,000 sq/ft factory in Winnipeg 1500 bags of OMGs are produced every hour.
1. Holy Crap
This is the biggest deal that never was! The Sunshine Coast mom-and-pop-shop with a twisted sense of humour has grown to become a multimillion dollar business since its owners Brian and Corin Mullins pitched to the dragons in 2010.
The vegan cereal, which was born out of an experiment to help Brian with his sensitivity to wheat and gluten, sold $65,000 worth of product in less than two months. After tasting the product on the show Jim Treliving said simply, “I love it. I want to buy it.” However, a deal with the dragon’s did not come to fruition behind the scenes, due to the fact that the deal would have meant leaving their Sechelt home base, which was ultimately a deal breaker for the couple.
This decision didn’t hurt them any. After the show aired, the company sales spiked higher than the Mullins’ probably dreamed possible, and sales of their product went from 100 units a month online to 2,000 plus a day, making the company owners millionaires in a few short but productive months. Corin Mullins is now one of two Canadian winners of 12 Ernst and Young Women Entrepreneurs of the Year in 2013, honouring her sales and management accomplishments. Since the launch of the company’s new single serve cups and oatmeal cereals – which was based on the company’s NASA experience, creating Holy Crap for Mission 35 on the International Space Station – the company could do a cool $15 -$20 million this year alone. Looks like Commander Hadfield isn’t the only Canadian conquering space these days!
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