The Truncator - Lake District invention defies the Dragons' Den
PUBLISHED: 00:00 07 January 2014
Two men who had their business plan torn to shreds in television's Dragons' Den look like having the last laugh, writes Mike Glover
Two businessmen are using a car crash of an appearance on TV’s Dragons’ Den as a springboard to success. Not only did Richard Bowness and his colleague Steve Tonkin get rejected by each of the Dragons, they also traded insults during and after the show. One Dragon, Peter Jones, told the men: ‘That was a great demonstration of how not to get investment.’
What former farmer Richard, inventor and owner of Truncator – a saw-horse designed to make chopping logs easier and safer– said after he left the Den was neither transmittable on television nor publishable in a family magazine.
But the screening of the show back in September led to their website crashing and the phones ringing incessantly because of interest in the product. And now the Lakes entrepreneurs are going international with the unique saw-horse, with orders coming in from all over Europe.
They are determined to show the television venture capitalists how wrong they were to be so rude and reject their invention. ‘The Dragons missed an absolutely amazing opportunity,’ said Richard.
The initial ask was for £125,000 for a 30 per cent stake in the company. Mr Bowness said he was aiming for sales of 1,300 in the first year, producing a £65,000 gross profit and Steve Tonkin, who sold his web design business to become Richard’s project manager in November 2012, said: ‘The presentation went quite well, showing them the device which worked well and we got all our facts in order.’
But then the Dragons asked for net profit for two years and began to question the viability of the business plan and its place in the mass market. Richard says he noticed that the facial expressions of the five Dragons was unmoved and their body language was all negative.
‘I wouldn’t treat anyone the way they treated us. They were so aggressive. What was shown was five minutes out of an interview that went on for an hour and twenty minutes.
Steve said: ‘We told them there were 200,000 chainsaws sold in the UK last year and more than one million wood burning stoves. Peter Jones just said ‘I don’t believe you’.’
And that was the trigger for a barrage of insults from the panel, summed up by new Dragon Piers Linney, who said: ‘The biggest issue, I think, is yourself. I can’t imagine working with you and having a straight conversation because you think you know better. Perhaps you do when it comes to logging, but this is about building a business.’
Hostilities got worse when Mr Bowness told the famous five: ‘I’m quite impressed with the pluck of you all, telling somebody who has cut logs for 50 years how to do it.’
After the show, he added: ‘I would help the three older Dragons out in a life and death situation, but I wouldn’t put slate on their roof for a tenner.’
And Steve said: ‘I have never presented to a group who were all so aggressive, usually at least one person will nod their head. After three-quarters of an hour we knew we had no chance of a deal and in a normal situation we would have shaken hands and walked away, but they kept filming.
‘Then when we met the other entrepreneurs they said they suffered the same experience. We realised it was all geared to making good TV rather than finding entrepreneurs. So we just thought ‘We’ll show them’. They missed the essence of the product. Anyone who chops wood knows what a pain it is to cut them up one at a time and pick each one up off the floor.’
When the show was transmitted – to an audience of more than two million – Richard held a party at his home and his friends and relatives all cheered his performance. That was when he and Steve realised that appearing on Dragons’ Den was worth all the pain and humiliation.
Steve said: ‘The programme has proved a fantastic springboard. We had two months of sales in the week after the show was transmitted. Our website had 4,500 hits in one minute! Our data centre in the Netherlands wanted to shut us down as they thought we were under cyber attack.’
Richard, who for more than 30 years ran a successful building company, is a compulsive inventor of labour-saving devices. The Truncator is the fourth patent he has lodged, but the first he has taken to production. Following two years of development the Truncator saw horse, version six, is now fully adjustable in height and width of log and can saw up to 60 logs in just 60 seconds.
The Truncator is made at Calworth Orchard, near Skelwith Bridge, where four people work flat out putting together parts made in China, Liverpool and Carlisle. They cannot keep up with demand. It is sold in garden centres and agricultural suppliers throughout the UK, with Ireland, Netherlands, France, Poland and Germany starting to take orders.
So there are no hard feelings. Richard says if he met Deborah Meaden now, he would give her a big kiss as the contacts gained from appearing on Dragons’ Den gave the company an impetus it would otherwise never have had. ‘It was real magic,’ he added.
An award winner
The Truncator won the award for Best Product at last year’s CLA Game Fair held at Ragley Hall in Warwickshire. It also received recognition in the Technical Innovation Awards from the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland
The invention they were promoting was the result of Richard, a retired builder from Langdale, having a back injury. He came up with the initial idea to develop a saw horse which saved time and strenuous effort while log cutting for his own needs.