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David Garneau of 1MiniMe.com. Photo: CBC

Almost a decade in, Dragons’ Den continues to inspire and amuse Canadian TV audiences. But the CBC’s hit show isn’t just meant to be entertaining. It’s a televised school for entrepreneurs. For each episode of Season 10 (which airs Wednesdays at 8 pm ET), we’ll be talking to one of the Dragons to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of their decision-making process and hear what they hope viewers learned. Episode 9, the show’s Holiday Special, featured an entrepreneur with a fun product and solid financials, and an unsuccessful attempt to cross the border.

1MiniMe.com

Entrepreneur: David Garneau | From: Lac St. Jean, Que. | Ask: $100,000 for 15%

Customized bobble-heads

For David Garneau, vanity is worth a lot of money. Not his own vanity, mind—Garneau’s company, 1MiniMe, lets buyers order custom bobble-heads created from pictures of themselves and one of over 500 body options.

“Dedicated” is a far better description for Garneau himself than “vain.” The Lac St. Jean entrepreneur sold his house and moved to China to oversee production of his company’s hand-made desk ornaments. His commitment and impressive results paid off in the Den, with two pairs of Dragons competing to do the deal. Garneau ultimately chose to work with Joe Mimran and Michele Romanow, who offered $100,000 for a 15% equity stake and a two-year, 10% royalty. The duo beat out Michael Wekerle and Jim Treliving, who put up the same amount for a 20% stake.

Garneau’s pitch was part of the Dragons’ Den Holiday Special, and in an exclusive interview before the episode aired Joe Mimran admitted that filming the yuletide season in April was an odd experience. “You’ve got to get into the Christmas spirit—you’ve got to almost project yourself into December,” he says. But if the calendar didn’t exactly say “holiday season,” 1MiniMe’s bobble-heads certainly did. “It’s a great novelty gift item,” Mimran says.

Each bobble-head is the result of some eight hours of craftsmanship, with buyers sent pictures during the sculpting process to ensure they’re satisfied. Garneau brought one for each of the Dragons, and while the resemblance was strong in some cases, others didn’t hit the mark. “I found the workmanship, while very good, was not very accurate,” Mimran says. “None of them really looked like any of the Dragons—they kept defaulting to a very similar face structure.”

But the facial faux-pas was outweighed by 1MiniMe’s financials. Garneau reported revenues of $800,00–900,000 for the previous year, with net profit of 30%, figures that wowed the Dragons. “I loved the fact that he was making real money,” says Mimran. Having achieved stellar sales and margins on his own, Garneau’s Den appearance wasn’t financially motivated. “It’s mostly what people will bring to the table that will help me push it to that next level,” he told the Dragons. That explains why he was so keen on Romanow’s e-commerce expertise (“This is a great product for Groupon,” she told him) and Mimran’s offer to design the outfits for the bobbleheads.

In his first season on the show, Mimran has largely steered clear of niche-y businesses, frequently bowing out of the bidding with some variation on “It’s just too small for me.” 1MiniMe would seem to fit that description. “Bobble-heads would fall into the very, very niche category,” he admits. “How do you grow that business in a substantial way when it’s really one product?”

Mimran thinks the answer lies in Garneau’s Internet-enabled direct-to-consumer distribution model, which allows 1MiniMe to attract orders from anywhere in the world. Plus, the product has universal appeal. “There’s no language barriers, everybody would understand it,” Mimran notes. “People are vain [and love] to see themselves and their image captured in three-dimensional form.”

Prim Pickins

Entrepreneur: Jamie-Lee Higginson | From: Shelburne, Ont. | Ask: $150,000 for 20%

Hand-crafted and Canadian-made furniture and decorations

A local speciality: Prim Pickins had a wide range of products and a dedicated workforce of Shelburne locals (Michele Romanow joked that Higginson had “a scalable Mennonite community” on hand). But Michael Wekerle disagreed with the wholesale business model. “You’ve got to start retaining your margins,” he told Higginson. “I would kind of re-style your whole business and make it more of a direct-to-sales business place.” And the entrepreneur herself saw the benefits of getting into retail. “I opened up a little pop-up shop at Christmas time in town, and the first month was crazy,” she recalled. “People were waiting outside literally hours before.” Wekerle offered her $150,000 for a 50% equity stake, plus the means to purchase a property for a new store—a deal Higginson was happy to take.

Lucky Lotto Scratcher

Entrepreneur: David Chettle | From: Fort Erie, Ont. | Ask: $100,000 for 20%

Lottery card scratcher

Simple products sell: When it comes to paying for things, there are plenty of alternatives to carrying around loose change. But Chettle’s product aims to replace a secondary use for coins: lottery card scratching. And there’s clearly a demand for it. “My first order that I brought in to sell, I bought 20,000 of them, and I sold those out,” the entrepreneur said. Sales of $65,000 and the big return on Chettle’s $8,000 in patenting costs impressed the Dragons. “The fact that you’ve gone out and done this, single-item, [with] your own ingenuity [is] a great story,” Joe Mimran said on the show. But Chettle’s business proved too small to attract the Dragons’ attention, and he received no offers.

Bio-Energy Firewood Log

Entrepreneurs: Maurizio & Giovanni Bruno | From: Mississauga | Ask: $100,000 for 20%

Chemical-free firewood brick

Waste has value: Bio-Energy’s firewood is made from sawdust, a material the Bruno brothers are very familiar with. “This is a family-owned and -operated business, and we produce doors, mouldings and columns, and from that this is our byproduct of shavings,” Giovanni Bruno explained. “So our raw material costs zero.” While the economics of the deal proved attractive, the product failed Joe Mimran’s drop test and produced quite a mess in the Den. “You gotta rethink your packaging,” Mimran told them. The self-confessed gas burner didn’t make an offer, but Michael Wekerle did, proposing $100,00 for a 20% royalty for 10 years. Jim Treliving dropped his equity ask to split the deal with Wekerle, and the brothers walked out of the Den with the backing of two Dragons, plus a promise of distribution help.

Jive Turkey

Entrepreneurs: Aricka Westbrooks & Anthony Anderson | From: Chicago, IL | Ask: $150,000 for 30%

Deep-fried turkeys

An unnecessary export: Jive Turkey head chef Anderson’s twist on the traditional holiday food may have delighted the Dragons’ tastebuds, but the company’s geographical ambitions proved less appetizing. CEO Westbrooks explained that the company had relocated from New York to Chicago and was looking to enter the Canadian market—hence the Den appearance. “To have $100,000 in sales in the United States [and] come up to Canada to try and sell deep-fried turkeys—it was a little bit weird,” Joe Mimran said in an interview before the episode aired. “You’ve got the biggest market in the world, and there’s not enough business there [so] you’ve got to come up to Canada? It usually works in reverse.” And though Westrbooks explained that fried turkeys is only slightly fattier than the roasted version, the description proved an unsurmountable challenge. “The word ‘fried’ kills everybody here,” noted Jim Treliving on the show. Jive Turkey received no offers.

MEET THE DRAGONS THEMSELVES:

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