Did you see The Hand Dyed Shoe Company on Dragons' Den last night?
We've been tight lipped for so long, we're now all ecstatic it's finally aired and this exciting time is upon us here at HDSCo. We wanted to share with you what it means to us so I sat down with our Founder and Creative Director, Simon Bourne to get all his thoughts for you.
Q. Why you applied to Dragons’ Den?
A. I applied to be on the show in December 2017. It was one of those moments. I had just left my full-time job and gone all in on the business. I was officially self-employed, living the high life under my own stewardship and without the constraints of the corporate world. After watching the show one night with my wife, Lauren, and going through the usual speculation about what I would or wouldn’t have done had I been on it, I decided there and then to apply.
The next day, I filled in the paperwork, offering an extensive insight into HDSCo and me as an entrepreneur, only to receive the automatic bounce back to say that applications were now closes for 2018.
Fast forward a year, January 2019, and I received a call from a researcher who had picked up my application. And from there, the story picked up pace and before I knew it, I was offered a place on the show.
Q. How you found the process?
A. Arduous at exhausting at times, but overall just very exciting. It’s a bit like that feeling you get when you apply for a job, and you think it’s gone well… but on repeat. I had a telephone call, I thought it went well so was excited to hear if I’d passed the test. I’d wait, and then receive the news that I was indeed on to the next stage.
The thing for me was that I never expected to get that far. I’m always feel confident in HDSCo as a business and I back myself when it comes to building relationships - passion is quite infection - but when you’re up against thousands and thousands of other applicants, I didn’t expect to get all the way to the show.
Q. What you wanted to get out of the show?
A. I would have loved to have a Dragon on board of HDSCo. I can’t lie. I was very interested in the prospect of working with Peter Jones or Sara Davies - who is from the north-east. I think that having a Dragon as a mentor could have been invaluable and I would have seriously considered it had I received an offer from any Dragon. But, it wasn’t ever really about the investment in truth. It was about ambition. It was about pride. And it became about marketing and exposure. The investment would have been a bonus.
I’d watched the show for years. I’d been that guy sitting on the sofa, critiquing the pitch and speculating their success. I’ve questioned whether the Dragon’s are making a sound investment and I’ve been envious of those who have succeeded. This, for me, was me putting myself out of my comfort zone, which weirdly is where I like to be. I satisfy myself by doing things that others would question their sanity. I was comfortable, and still am, with a Dragon - or a human being - dissecting me and my business. For me, I was proud to be there, proud of how far this wacky idea from a furniture showroom had taken me. Here I was, on a BBC2 prime time television programme, talking about this mad idea I conceived. How could I not be proud of that, beyond all other emotions?
Q. How did you find the Dragons’ Feedback?
A. It was fierce, but fair. I took so much from it and I learnt a lot from their thoughts. If anything it reaffirmed things I already thought, which is actually in some ways very complimentary. I agree that my marketing collateral was telling a different story to the reality of the business, so I’ve changed it. I agreed that our own workshops and Made in Britain was a much more marketable and attractive proposition, so I’ve changed it.
I am sensitive, I openly admit that, but I’m also quit a tough cookie when it comes to critique and I can take it. It might sting a bit initially, but I usually find the positives in it after a couple of night’s sleep and a little bit of dwelling. But I won’t lie, the 3 hour drive home after the filming was a long, emotional one…
Q. Did you get investment?
A. Financially, no, sadly I didn’t get an offer from a Dragon, but if you look at this slightly differently. I did get an investment of knowledge. I got an investment from 5 strangers, looking at my business beyond nothing more than what was in front of them. You learn a lot of powerful things from that kind of scenario.
I also got an investment in me. I learn a lot about myself. Getting to that point has truly given me belief that actually, I can do anything I want. I believe anybody can. And that’s the message I’m keen to promote from this experience. When you fill an application form in as a one-man-band business fresh out of the corporate world, you don’t expect to get as far as BBC2… but I did, and aside from that I won local and national awards as well as creating 4 jobs in 2019. All of this; this is the investment I’ve got from this process. Anything and everything is possible when you’re working from your heart and soul.
Q. What does that mean for HDSCo?
A. Who knows? I have speculated about the future many times since I filmed. It could be incredible, it could be ok, it could be nothing. I just don’t know. I’ve done my research, spoke to many companies who have had the pleasure or displeasure of being on the show before, and the feedback is varied. But what I can guarantee is this. The experience can only be positive because I got what I went for. I got on the show, and I had a go at it. I proved to my children, my wife, my friends, family, customers and the audience all following HDSCo that you can do incredible things when you put your mind to it and you give it your best shot. That’s all I have done, nothing extraordinary. I have just spoken from my heart and given it my absolute best shot.
Q. What changes have you already made since Dragons’ Den?
A. The biggest one - and it’s a change that was happening prior to going on the show - is that we’ve moved our production from Portugal to the UK. We now have a control of our production and supply chain, rather than buying into an already functioning setup. This is a wonderful step for us because having control means that we can develop quicker, as we want to rather than when the workshop wants to, and that is a major coup for HDSCo. Being British made will open us up to export more, and it will mean we can share the craft story so much more consistently going forward. Without doubt, without Dragon’s Den, we may not have made this happen but because of it, we made sure it did.
Q. What are your plans for the future and HDSCo?
A. HDSCo is more than a shoe shop in County Durham. It’s an experience that I know is special - it’s way beyond shopping or buying shoes. It’s emotional. It’s something unique that you own, you created in a unique and exciting retail experience. And because of these modern, 21stC USPs, I cannot see any other future other than a bright and exciting one for the company. I am ambitious for growth. I am ambitious to create more jobs and to make the brand more accessible throughout the UK and beyond that, throughout the world.
HDSCo is special; it’s a treat. It’s footwear beyond a platform for your feet. It’s a little piece of you and it’s something that inevitably makes you feel good about yourself when you wear them. HDSCo is confidence. HDSCo is expressing yourself and being whoever you want to be, in any situation. So, why would I not want to grow. Why would I not want more people to enjoy that feeling in a world where we’re conditioned to clone our behaviours, style and purpose from the mainstream?