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Dragons' Den Experience Keeps on Giving

Kelly & Doug getting ready to pitch the Dragons

Kelly & Doug getting ready to pitch the Dragons

It’s been four months since we travelled from Vancouver to Toronto to tape a pitch for Dragons’ Den. We went into the experience hoping and expecting one kind of upside, but we’re realizing a different payoff that is far more valuable. Because we don’t know if our segment will actually make it onto a show, and if it does, we won’t know for 1-2 weeks in advance, this other payoff has nothing to do with dollars or TV exposure.

The big payoff is a solidified unique value proposition (UVP) that became clear after hours of practicing and refining our “pitch”. We had so much we wanted to say, but we had to make it all fit into 40 seconds.

Now, we thought we had our ‘elevator pitch’ pretty well landed, after all we’ve been in business three years, spoken to thousands of people, presented oodles of times to property managers and strata councils (condo boards in Ontario).

“KANDY Outdoor Flooring expands home experiences with new outdoor flooring for condo balconies and ground floor patios.” This is our boilerplate top-line message which we’re keeping, but then we’d into our process of consultation, delivery, design & customization, cleanup and maintenance. Yes, we thought this part was all good and we were ready for our hot seat in front of the Dragons.

We were wrong! I’m sure you know the format if you’ve watched the show. We were told we had 60 seconds to introduce ourselves, our company, and describe what we do. Sounds easy, right?

Once we started practising we couldn’t believe how much of that 60 seconds was eaten up by the mandatory: “Hi, my name is Kelly Niessen, and this is my business partner Doug Niessen. We are from Vancouver, BC and our company is KANDY Outdoor Flooring. We are here today to offer X per cent of our business for a $Y investment.”  Believe me, we tried to get our producer, Hannah, to agree to let our clock start after that mandatory opening, but it was a no-go. So we had only 30 – 40 seconds left to get in all the important stuff. It was hard!

It doesn’t take long to eat up forty seconds talking about my business. I’m passionate about it, so that part is easy. But both Doug and I had to leave all that verbosity at the door of the studio, and make brevity our new best friend.

I wrote, we practised, I rewrote, and we practised some more. I could fill volumes with all the different variations we tried on and discarded as we got closer and closer to our scheduled taping date of April 8, 2014. We likely tried the patience of family and friends as we pitched for them again and again. We even organized a “mock Dragons’ Den” with a live audience and 5 volunteers gracious enough to play the role of the Dragons.

It wasn’t until two days before the taping after we had arrived in Toronto that our UVP showed up. That was the first time we were able to say it in three simple words.

SERVICE. QUALITY. CHOICE. What we want to focus on providing our customers is exactly what we were unable to find in the market. (Read our personal story here.) It always boils down to SERVICE, QUALITY, and CHOICE for who we want to be, and for what we want our customers to enjoy.

We realized how powerful this was when we started to rehearse our responses to the anticipated questions, comments and objections from the dragons (which are the same that we receive day to day). No matter what type of ‘why don’t you’ or ‘you should’ comment that comes our way, our UVP helps to immediately illuminate why our model makes sense.

For each question posed to us, we ask ourselves two questions:

  1. Does the consumer receive the UVP benefits?
  2. Does the distribution channel value these same benefits?

Here are some of those common questions, and how the answer is supported by our simple UVP litmus test.

Why don’t you license your product to distributors?

Does the customer realize the UVP benefits, and does the distribution channel value Service? NO. Quality? YES. Choice? Maybe.

Why don’t you sell your product through big box stores?

Does the customer realize the UVP benefits, and do the big box store channels value Service? NO. Quality? NO*. Choice? NO.

Why don’t you sell your product to developers/new construction projects?

Does the customer realize the UVP benefits, and does the developer channel value KANDY’s Service? NO. Quality? MAYBE*. Choice? NO.

Why have you decided on a franchise system for your brand?

Does the customer realize the UVP benefits, and does the franchise channel value Service? YES. Quality? YES. Choice? YES.

If you don’t target developers, why would you target restaurant patios?

Does the customer realize the UVP benefits, and does the restaurant channel value Service? YES. Quality? YES. Choice? YES.

* We would need to reduce product cost and therefore quality would suffer.

This clarification is incredibly valuable for us as an organization. Since the taping of the Dragons’ Den we have incorporated this UVP into our marketing materials and our daily language. The UVP aligns to our core values, which I guess is not surprising. Our emphasis has always been on service, quality, and choice; we simply were not articulating it in this clear and concise way.

Back to the Dragons’ Den. We are trying to keep our enthusiastic anticipation down to a dull roar. We won’t know, one way or another, whether our pitch will air on television until 1-2 weeks before it actually does. And this could be anytime during season 9 of the Dragons’ Den, which I presume starts in October 2014 and runs through to the spring of 2015. It could be a long wait; especially because we had to sign non-disclosure agreeing that we will tell no one what the outcome was in the Den. We can talk about our experience in general, but we cannot disclose whether or not we ‘struck a deal’.

People are often surprised that, even though we covered all of our own transportation and accommodation costs to fly from Vancouver to Toronto, there is no guarantee that our segment will air. As exciting as it will be if it airs, I am not concerned one way or another. Even if our pitch ends up in the edit system’s trash bin, I am grateful for the opportunity. The process that we went through to rehearse, prepare, and finally pitch to the real Dragons was an incredibly powerful experience for us, and for our brand.

We have enjoyed so many perks from our Dragons Den experience; the fun and exhilaration of the day, the interest expressed by others (it’s always a conversation-starter), and hey! We got a T-shirt! However, if the only benefit that had come of it was our unique value proposition of SERVICE, QUALITY, AND CHOICE, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

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