High Street Dreams
We were lucky enough to be involved with the recent BBC program, featuring Jo Malone (cosmetics and toiletries queen) and her business partner Nick Leslau. Our website designers Channel Digital sent us the initial contact information which they had received from Cornwall Chamber of Commerce. The production company wanted to hear from new and innovative companies to feature in their new production. We sent of our details, not necessarily expecting to hear any more, especially as I was my usual dry witted self. Just goes to prove production companies do have a sense of humour!
The Call Up
To our surprise we got a call from Sarah one of the production team at the end of November, telling us that they were keen to see us for an initial interview the next weekend, a whole 2 days time. Bearing in mind that we live in Cornwall, a mere 300 miles away, run 3 businesses and have 4 kids and 2 dogs we panicked slightly but with much planning and help from great friends both in Cornwall and Essex we were able to make the meeting, with all 4 kids in tow.
Top Gear Challenge
Even the journey to London turned into a mini adventure. My husband and our 3 boys were driving up whilst our 6 year old daughter and myself where going by train (we planned to stay a few days longer to visit her “fairy” godmothers) so we had ourselves our very own Top Gear challenge! We made great time on the train and got to make some amazing jewelry to boot and we kept checking in with the boys to try to gauge who would make it to our London destination first. Our trouble began with the London underground. Having been a commuter for 8 years I know my way around a tube map but I didn’t reckon on weekend closures. The boys were catching up, they had made it to the outskirts of London, all I had to rely on now was Barry’s poor sense of direction and unhelpful Londoners (believe it or not I am the female who can read a map and I wasn’t in the car to help!)
Call me strange but as I’m typing this I’ve suddenly gone all Jeremy Clarkson, my voice has deepened to the level of a film trailer and every 3 or 4 words I have to pause to make a dramatic effect, thank God my hair hasn’t gone out of control!
As Arianne and I surfaced from the underground at Moorgate I got the call. They had parked the car and were heading for the office. In all fairness I think we could call it a tie as we met in the middle and proceeded to the office together.
The First Interview
What is it they say – never work with children and animals – I can see why.
We walked into the waiting area with 4 very excited and journey weary children and I became increasingly aware of the please be quiet signs. Despite that the production team were lovely and made us feel very welcome. We were soon ushered into another room set out with a white photographer’s background, bright studio lights and a very large and intimidating camera. I was kindly volunteered by my family as the spokes person (can’t think why that is?) so I was miked up and now felt completely lost for words. I’m not a great fan of photos and videos and my worst nightmare was gradually unfurling in front of my eyes.
We were given the usual spiel of “relax, don’t worry, pretend the cameras not there” while Amy fired questions at us and Matt filmed us. It wasn’t long before I was back in my stride, telling them why people should be more responsible for the dogs, that hanging bags in trees as a protest was childish and that leaving it to break down “naturally” meant the water table will get poisoned and people and other animals could get seriously ill. At times they must have wondered why they had started this conversation. As the process went on the kids started to get more and more fidgety under the baking lights. What had started out as an exciting experience was rapidly becoming some adult induced boredom hell. Why were they still talking!
Arianne wanted to have her own conversation with me and was repeatedly tugging at my top, Craig was transfixed on the camera and despite being told every 2 minutes not to stare down the camera, couldn’t resist the temptation, Guy was trying his best to look and act cool, didn’t want to appear to be like an over excited child so he went for the sullen, “not another day in the studio” look. When they asked him some questions he gave the obligatory grunt which in short meant; “what, why are we here, who are you and why are you asking me these questions? I live with my head in a computer most of the time, how am I supposed to know the answers, ask the grown ups!” Patrick was trying his best to stay focused and present a united front oblivious to the rebellious tendencies of his siblings. He volunteered some helpful hints and tips and remained at knife point like the good air cadet he is, as he bravely melted under the studio lights. Frankly it was like an episode of Out Numbered, now I know why I find that program stressful!
Call Back to the Final 15
4 days later we got a phone call at 6.30pm from Sarah at Two Four productions. They had really liked our product and our presentation (kids and all) and we had made it to the final 15. We now had to go to their studios in Kent for a whole day of filming with Jo and Nick where we would present our product and ideas to them, and the winners would be chosen. To our surprise they requested that we bring some of our kids with us (gluttons for punishment or what).
So new clothes were purchased, the car was loaded and we made another 300 mile journey to Kent. We arrived at the studio at 9am, twice! The first time they hadn’t caught on camera so we had to go back and do it again, acting as natural as possible. This is the first time we had got to meet any of the other contestants and we were all intrigued to find out about each others products. We were taken into a large studio where there were 15 podiums of different sizes and we were each given an area to set up our products. Next we had to do the entrance scene, over and over and over again. It was great to finally meet the stars of the show but all I wanted to do was sit down and have a good chat with them and pick their brains about branding and strategy not stand stock still staring into the middle distance as directed whilst they inspected the podiums like the Queen at the trouping of the colour.
Time To Pitch
When the director was finally satisfied that every possible shot and angle had been filmed we moved on to the pitching. Because there were 15 pitches to be done they decided to break them down into groups of 3 and we were in the first group. Yet again we were miked up, not a very glamorous procedure threading a cable under your dress and hoisting up your frock to attach the battery pack. We listened to the first pitch from the Swiss and Aussie girls who had a colour changing umbrella. A very natty invention but they did upset the set manager by spraying water on their brollies which then ran down onto the floor causing the paint to come off, so we then had to stop and wait whilst the floor was repainted.
Finally it was our chance. My heart was pumping fast but I tried to compose myself I knew we only had 15 minutes to really sell the product, our ideas and ourselves so first impressions would need to count. I opened with an attempted handshake, although there seemed to be a strict no touching policy, only to reveal a hand already occupied with a bag of dog waste. It had the desired affect. Jo immediately and physically retracted from the bag, so I knew I had her attention. The rest of the pitch went well, we confidently answered all their questions and we felt good about our explanations why we invented this product and why we felt it would sell well and should be available in more shops. I liked their attitude and approach, they didn’t appear to try to catch you out or humiliate you like they do on Dragons Den and even Patrick and Guy who had made the trip with us added their own piece to the proceedings. 15 minutes just didn’t seem enough time, as I mentioned before I wanted to get their ideas on how we could move forward but they were very complimentary about how much we had already achieved.
From there on in the day became a little more slow and dull. We now had to wait for everyone else to do their pitches.
We didn’t have a clue who they would chose. We were in the gift category which meant it was a very varied selection of products. There were clocks designed to be an original piece of artwork, hand made shoes, bags and belts made from springbok skin, scarves, various types of jewelry and bags, 1950’s clothing, wrapping paper, shelves, the aforementioned umbrellas, place mats for writing notes on, and a breastfeeding cushion which doubles as a bag.
Finally at approx 9pm we were all called back into the studio for the verdict. We had now spent 12 hours together and we had formed some good friendships. Obviously we all wanted to make it through but equally we didn’t want to see our new friends hurt – talk about mixed feelings. Jo and Nick were already on the set and had to walk to and stand behind our respective podiums. In my life I have had very few surprises, not because people don’t try to surprise me but I have the unfortunate talent of being particularly astute, I notice little changes that others don’t. As we stood behind our podium I noticed someone had place a tiny microphone in amongst our dicky bags. I took a sneaky peak at the other podiums in my range and noticed they didn’t have any such microphones. At this point I tried to subtly nudge Barry to get his attention and nodding towards the microphone. All I got from Barry was a smile and slight concern that I’d suddenly developed a twitch, I think he thought the stress was getting to me.
My suspicions where confirmed when we were announced as one of the 4 winners. Jo spoke about us and our product in such a complimentary way that it took all I could do to not break down in tears of pride and joy, I’d promised myself I wouldn’t do the overwhelmed actress impression from Oscars night, though I will admit to a stray tear escaping down my cheek. It turns out I was too good at the composer bit because we got asked to do the reaction again, now I’m no actress so I can only imagine how that looked on film! Off camera it was all congratulations and hugs and then shock.
From 4 to 2
The next process we could do nothing about.
Only 2 of the 4 would get the 12 weeks of mentoring to make a pitch to a major high street shop. This involved CRB checks (not a problem) a home visit by the camera crew and producer (not a problem) and then the BBC to decide what products would make the best TV (problem). We all know there is nothing glamorous about dog poo but it’s about time we were all grown up enough to acknowledge that it’s a big problem and we need to do something about it. We come across prejudice everyday with our product, retailers don’t know where to put it and it’s not a nice subject so it’s easier to say no. We don’t want to be in pet shops alone. I’ve owned dogs for most of my life and I can count on 1 hand the amount of times I’ve been into pet shops. Our product is for everyone who owns a dog and these people shop in supermarkets, department stores and outdoor stores. Lots of our customers buy the dicky bag as a present for a dog owning friend, they look great and they help make a nasty chore more pleasant – so who’s going to be brave enough to start talking poo!
On December the 30th we got the phone call telling us we hadn’t made it to the final 2, I wasn’t going to get my long chat with Jo and Nick, we weren’t going to be able to change peoples attitudes to dog poo and help create a cleaner society we were back to doing it all by ourselves.
Thank you for the opportunity Two Four, shame it had to end this way!