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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 February, 2005, 00:02 GMT
Surviving the Dragons' Den
By Will Smale
BBC News business reporter

Tracie Herrtage
Tracie Herrtage relaxing on one of her Beanocks
Factual television programmes about the world of business have not historically been must-see TV.

More often shown at rather quiet times in the viewing schedule, they tended to be drier than a drought on a particularly arid day.

Thankfully all this has changed in recent years, with the birth of a whole new generation of prime-time business programmes that realise the need to entertain viewers.

One such show is the BBC's own Dragons' Den, in which budding male and female entrepreneurs are invited to pitch their start-up idea before a panel of five hard-nosed, "been-there-done-that, don't-suffer-fools-at-all" successful business people or 'Dragons'.

The aim of the entrants is to successfully convince one or more of the dragons to invest in their business in the face of a potentially brutal bombardment of forensic questions and criticism.

With the first series now over and a second in the pipeline, two of the successful entrants so far are Tracey Graily and Tracie Herrtage.

Business ideas

Ms Graily runs Grails, a tailoring company that makes bespoke ladies suits, based in Hertfordshire since its launch in September 2003.

Tracey Graily
Tracey Graily at work on one of her suits

Customers pay around 700 for a suit that is entirely made to measure from the exact materials of their choice.

Ms Graily, who has a degree in textiles and clothing, quit a successful career in retail - where she worked for both Mothercare and Next - to start up the company.

Essex property developer Tracie Herrtage didn't have to quit a top corporate job to start up her business Le Beanock, as she had been her own boss for a number of years.

The way they film the show is brilliant for the audience, but really daunting for the entrants
Tracie Herrtage

But instead of sticking to the bricks and mortar, her company is based around a piece of furniture that came to her as a brainwave a number of years ago.

Fed up with the family's Black Labradors getting their hairs all over the beanbags in their lounge, Ms Herrtage wondered why didn't she raise the bags off the floor using chains drilled into the ceiling. Hey presto, she had invented Le Beanock, a cross between a beanbag and a hammock.

Ms Herrtage said her friends and family were all saying she should launch the Le Beanock as a product, and so she did in January of last year, with a retail price of around 750.

Business boost

After finding out about Dragons' Den through advertisements and being informed by business support organisations such as Business Link, both Ms Herrtage and Ms Graily were invited onto the show last summer - for filming ahead of their appearances being broadcast last month.

Dragons: From left to right: Peter Jones, Doug Richard, presenter Evan Davis, and Rachel Elnaugh
A fierce gathering of Dragons

Both said going before the dragons and cameras was very daunting, but ultimately incredibly rewarding and a huge boost for their businesses.

"The impact of the show has been pretty amazing," said Ms Graily.

"I've seen a 50% increase in customers, and what was particularly interesting was the number of additional website hits - 7,000 visits in the week after the show.

"Being on Dragons' Den certainly was nerve-wracking, and it is great drama."

Ms Herrtage says everything has been "mad" since her appearance on Dragons' Den.

"The way they film the show is brilliant for the audience, but really daunting for the entrants," she said.

"Since the show I've had hundreds of emails, and now have the money to start an advertising campaign. I've even secured distribution contracts for Italy and the Channel Isles."

Role models

On the show Ms Graily received 60,000 each from dragons Doug Richard and Rachel Elnaugh, in exchange for both getting 20% stakes, while Ms Herrtage sold Ms Elnaugh a 49% stake in Le Beanock for 54,000.

Peter Jones - tennis to telecoms entrepreneur
Simon Woodroffe - Yo! Sushi founder
Rachel Elnaugh - founder of Red Letter Days, gift experiences company
Duncan Bannatyne - nursing homes to health clubs boss
Doug Richard - US software entrepreneur

For both Ms Graily and Ms Herrtage the financial backing was vital.

"Before I went on the show it was a nightmare to get finance," said Ms Herrtage.

"My bank was only prepared to offer me 10,000 on top of my mortgage, which was next to useless."

Although Ms Graily was able to invest a substantial amount of her own savings to start up Grails, she still had to take out a hefty bank loan. She fears that the process is far too difficult for would-be business people, especially women.

"It can be so difficult for business women to get financial support," she said.

"Hopefully the female entrants on Dragons' Den will inspire more women to start up their own companies and show that they deserve to be supported."

British women close business gap
21 Jan 05 |  Business


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