Stepping into the Dragons Den

TopLine Boss Nick Gallagher-Hughes describes his moment in the spotlight.

Who would have thought that three little words could make such a difference… but when five people say them to you it can be quite soul destroying.
What three little words? “I am out” or as the Dragons prefer to say them – “I’m out.”

Back in May 2012 I had the ‘pleasure’ of being invited to participate in Series 10 of Dragons Den. The star struck part of me said YES YES YES but the pragmatist said “Hold on now. Do you really need the money?”

Much inner turmoil followed as I weighed up the pros and cons of getting involved. To the viewing publics’ eyes, it’s simply a matter of individuals pitching their idea to the Dragons for three minutes, being questioned and that’s it. In reality it’s a month of writing and re-writing business plans, sales projections, application forms, disclaimers, screen tests in Manchester and then several weeks in between before you get the call to say – yes, we want you on the show… possibly.

I say possibly because the BBC film far more ‘pitches’ than they actually use, so there is no guarantee that your pitch will even make it to screen.

So it was, that on a sunny Spring day at 7am, myself, Graham Dixon and Robyn Price (the wonderful dancers) plus a myriad of other hopefuls were bundled into a flotilla of taxis from the local hotel to the BBC Salford studios to start the day.

First up are “walk-ons” where we all line up to take our turn walking over a mock-up of the raised walkway – which is actually only 3 feet off the ground – and then its upstairs to the Green Room to wait our turn to be called to set.

Things are a bit ‘tense’ between ‘pitchers’ to start with, but eventually people began to talk to each other, discussing their products, backgrounds and how they got to be on the show and the mood lightens, laughter rings out and Robyn even helps out with make-up as only one make-up artist has been assigned to the show – and there are about 30 of us there.

This long wait was the worst bit of the whole day. There are only so many times you can rehearse your lines (not that it made a lot of difference when the time came!!), how many Haribos you can eat or how much tea you can drink. That said, lunch was really great – but eaten out of a plastic tray with plastic cutlery – courtesy of a local outside caterers.

Keeping everything crossed

Weirdest bit was not being allowed to go to the loo on your own. “Security” was vital (apparently) so we had to be accompanied down the corridor whenever we need to spend a penny. The novelty of that soon wore off – for BBC staff and ‘pitchers’ so that we found our own way there… I am a grown up after all!!

Finally the time came – Robyn, Graham and I were taken down to the set… well, almost. Apparently the Dragons must not see any of the ‘pitchers’ before they are on set, so we are held off set whilst they are taken to their “private space” and then the stage is re-set for our presentation.

We go through a few ‘run’throughs’ – the sound-guys getting the timing right of the musical intro, being shown our ‘marks’ of where to stand, practicing walking down the stairs to our marks, checking camera angles and lighting… and then the decision is made. “OK, let’s do this.”

We are taken off the floor and up to the top of the stairs of the set that will be seen by the viewing public. On cue, we proceed down and get our first glimpse of the Dragons. Very intimidating it has to be said. Not a smile from one of them…
We take our marks; the music starts. Graham and Robyn go into hold and perform a magical but oh too brief Tango to the intro of Michael Buble’s version of Cry Me a River. Then it’s my turn.

Despite all the hours of rehearsal and planning, nothing can prepare you for this. I feel like the proverbial swan – trying to appear calm outwardly whilst inside my heart is beating 20 to the dozen and the words I want, and know I need to say, just don’t come out as planned. OK, I get the message across about core body rotation, posture, how the frame is modular but I forget the key phrase – muscle memory. Thankfully, Graham and Robyn are asked a question during the presentation and Robyn brings that point up – so all is not lost.

Info is provided about how many dancers there are across the world, how big it is in the Far East, how just 1% of that number would equate to about 600,000 frames – but the Dragons facial expressions don’t change… I guess they have had plenty of practice.

Try it for size

I invite the Dragons to try on the frame – obviously targeting Duncan and Peter as they had both appeared on a Children in Need Strictly Special – but Duncan refuses… and I mean strongly refuses ~ I think the memory of that Strictly event has scarred him for life!! Thankfully Peter Jones says he will give the frame a try – thank goodness for that (or something similar) I think to myself.

Suddenly this man-mountain is stood in front of me. I hadn’t realised just how tall he is – 6ft 7inches – so he towers over me. A medium frame is too small so a large one is set on to his shoulders and he calls Robyn in for a dance. This is going well!! Then disaster almost strikes. They are merrily waltzing around the floor when I notice they are about to crash into the frames stand. I make a quick grab for it, but too late. One of the frames is sent flying ~ but no real harm done and the dancers are still on their feet!! A round of applause for Peter and then he returns to his seat – to Theo’s good humoured jibe of “Don’t give up the day job.”

Questioning from the Dragons follows – and now the real work will begin – or so I thought. I can’t believe what is happening. One after another Hilary, Theo, Peter and Deborah ask questions but seem pleased with the replies. Duncan has his turn and, if you’ve seen the programme, you will know we didn’t quite see eye-to-eye. He seems to have decided already that he isn’t going to invest so tries his hardest to catch me out, deride our business plan and pour scorn on sales to date. I stand my ground and in the end I come out with the classic line “That’s your opinion Mr Bannatyne” and then turn my attention back to the other Dragons. Amazingly the other Dragons seem to have turned on Duncan – even supporting me… this just can’t be happening.

But then reality bites… or rather nips at my ego a little. One by one the Dragons say those dreaded words – “I’m out” but not before offering praise for both the pitch and for the product… well, all except Duncan that is, but you can’t have everything.

Over and out

So, our time in the Den is over – no investment, slightly downhearted but with a sense of pride in the fact that we did a good job in front of them
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. If only I hadn’t asked for that amount; if only we had more sales; if only, if only, if only. But the past is littered with ‘if onlys’ – it’s time to move on and the experience has given me the determination to make this work – to spread the gospel according to TopLine Dance Frame.

Since the show we have continued to take our trade stand to major dance events, have agreed distribution deals in Germany, Poland, America, Asia and the UK and have recently expanded our range of products into jewellery and accessories for dancers with Topline Xtraz.

Earlier this month we also branched out into the bridal market, attending the National Bridal Show at the NEC. Only time will tell if these new opportunities will work – but we will give them our complete commitment, you can be sure of that.

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