An Ontario company reveals an inside look at Canada’s most popular show, and makes a little history
By Carolanne Doig
Most people lucky enough to make their way on to CBC’s hit show Dragons’ Den seek to sell off a percentage of their company to one or more of the five business tycoons critiquing each pitch. Seaforth Rain Gear ended up taking a different tack. Its president, Carolanne Doig, sold the entire firm to Dragon Arlene Dickinson.
Although the 15-year-old company, based in the Southwestern Ontario town of Seaforth (approximately 75 kilometres due west of Kitchener), boasts the most popular golf bag rain covers on the PGA and LPGA Tours, it hasn’t been able to market prominent players’ names due to those players’ contractual arrangements with competing manufacturers. Further bogged down with work at Seaforth Golf Club and its annual preparations for the Canadian Tour’s Seaforth Country Classic, Doig came looking for assistance from CBC’s leading entrepreneurs—asking $100,000 for 40 percent—but accepted a buyout in the end for $200,000, plus five percent royalties for five years.
It was a long and intriguing adventure for Doig, who takes us behind the scenes at a process that began in earnest 14 months ago but has yet to achieve a final resolution.
I started Seaforth Rain Gear in the mid 1990s, and today the company’s products are used by golfers worldwide. If you watch professional golf on TV, you’ve probably seen the Seaforth Rain Hood, a product actually used by over 90 percent of Tour professionals. The complete line of accessories is designed for golfers who want to extend their golf season. Any golfer in Canada can appreciate this strategy, and the good news is that many golfers around the world consider it essential to have our products in their golf bags.
I continue to operate from the main office adjacent to the Seaforth Golf Course, taking advantage of modern technology to manage the business.
I have been watching Dragons’ Den since it began, partly because I am a CBC watcher and partly because, as an entrepreneur, I found it very intriguing. However, until recently, I had no idea exactly how many people watched the show and from what varied ages and backgrounds it attracts.
My long-time assistant always wanted me to go on the show, as she thought it would be a good commercial if nothing else. I kept putting her off, but when she passed away after a long battle with cancer in May of 2009, our mutual friend, Maureen Agar, took up the torch. “What have you got to lose? Even if you don’t make a deal, it’s great publicity!”
Last March, the whole thing began to take shape while I was in Florida promoting the rain hoods at two PGA Tour events. Maureen sent me the online contact info. They ask about your company, what you are pitching, how much you want, what you’re willing to give up—the basics. They list a number of cities and dates where you can sign up to “audition” for the real show.
As luck would have it, even though there were auditions as close as London, Kitchener, Barrie and Toronto, the only free date I had was in mid- April in Kingston. It was actually the last audition for the 2010-2011 season. I watched the show weekly and worked on my pitch. I remember repackaging silkscreened rain hoods for a tournament order in my office and rehearsing my pitch with a glass of wine—probably one of my smoothest performances. I also did several rehearsals in front of my brothers Cam and Todd, as well as my niece Robyn as the date approached.
On a Thursday night in mid-April, I took my sidekick Maureen with me and headed down to Kingston. The location for the audition was right near the penitentiary. We arrived so early that no one was there, and there were no signs to indicate a time and place for the day’s auditions. So, like true Canadians, we went to Timmy’s for breakfast. By the time we returned there were others milling about and asking if this was the right place for Dragons’ Den. We bided our time and the numbers grew. Finally, someone hustled us down a short hallway and into a large room where chairs were arranged around the perimeter and a TV on a stand had Dragons’ Den reruns playing.
Eventually, in came two young women who introduced themselves as Dragons’ Den producers. You know you’re getting old when everyone looks like they’re 12! They placed a yellow lined notepad on a table and told everyone to sign their name and that the audition process would start in about 15 minutes. People randomly rushed the table to sign up. There were about 40 or 50 people there, which, I heard, was a relatively small number compared to other venues.
When we were called in, there were four women including the two young producers sitting at a table and a reporter from the Kingston Whig Standard in the back of the room. The producers asked me who Maureen was and then told me to do my pitch. They listened and were not afraid to interrupt, ask questions and even make some suggestions, such as advising me that it might be better to ask for less to be sure we got a deal, because if you don’t get everything you ask for, you get nothing. They viewed my other products, tried on the hat and generally seemed impressed with the pitch. After about 15 minutes they told me that if I had a chance to appear on the show, they’d let me know in a couple of days. I thanked them and Maureen and I grabbed the products and left.
The following Tuesday, I got a call from CBC advising me that I was going to be able to go in front of the real Dragons and that taping would take place the first two weeks of May in Toronto. I asked if I had any choice of dates, since the PGA Tour’s Players Championship takes place during the time I was scheduled to attend. CBC was able to accommodate.
I had no idea what to expect but it certainly was a unique experience from that day on. I received several emails from CBC with all manner of information: directions to CBC in Toronto, suggestions of where to park, what door to come in, as well as suggestions to bring food since it might be a long day, to perhaps get a room the night before in case it was an early taping, and to not wear summer clothes since the show would be aired during the fall and winter. There were forms to fill in about whom you were bringing, what props you would use, and on and on it went. Then there were phone calls from my producer. Each segment is given a specific producer. Mine was an enthusiastic young woman with very little knowledge of golf or its related products. She called me nearly every single day for the next month and we went over the pitch from beginning to end. She often tried to play the devil’s advocate, doubting many of the highlights of my pitch. She wanted to know how I could prove the Tour pros used Seaforth Rain Hoods. I told her how the well-respected Darrell Survey was proof of the numbers, but she said the survey wouldn’t show well on TV, and asked why not have one of the pros come on the show, such as the No. 1 player in the world? I told her that if I could get him to come on the show for me, I wouldn’t need to be on the show to begin with.
There were also calls from CBC financial folks, who went over numbers with me to make sure I knew what I was talking about. To be honest, they were really keen to make sure that my pitch went well. They did suggest that I limit the number of people I brought on the show.
We were fortunate to have an afternoon taping, so did not have to spend the previous night in Toronto. Our posse—Cam, his son Paul, Maureen, and I—arrived about 11 a.m. and were met and escorted into the vestibule area of the CBC building. Other Dragons’ Den hopefuls were arriving and there were several CBC staff there to get our names, check our props and give us updates. We were told to go for lunch and come back in an hour.
One interesting revelation was that they tape several segments each day for a two-week period. As a consequence, the Dragons always wear the same clothes so that the segments can be cut and pasted into a single episode, even though they may have been filmed several days apart.
Finally, we went through security, up an elevator and set up our props on a specified table area in a large warehouse-type room. Then along came the big guns, who stopped and asked a few questions. My producer kept taking me aside and made me rehearse my opening pitch over and over again. We all had to sign confidentiality forms so that results of the show would remain secret until the show aired. The entire group was then taken on a walkthrough of the show: “Here’s where you start, then you’ll get the go-ahead, you’ll go down the stairs, you’ll walk out to the Dragons and stop at the light shining on the floor.” They showed us where Cam and Paul would come in and where Maureen would be waiting to consult, should a deal be offered. Then they showed us where to exit and where host Dianne Buckner would be waiting to interview participants.
Then it was back to the warehouse holding room before we were escorted into another holding room, and then into makeup, where they looked at us all, said we looked like golfers and didn’t bother to touch any of us up except for my shiny forehead. We were led into another holding room with some old coffee and doughnuts, and then we waited for the call. I have to say it was the most nerve-wracking day of my life.
My pitch actually lasted between 30 and 45 minutes. The Dragons were all very kind to me and their comments were quite positive. They asked Cam and Paul questions too, although when the show is cut for airing, it’s cut to about six minutes, so much of what was said and demonstrated was eliminated. We spent several minutes discussing the deal with Maureen before agreeing to Arlene Dickinson’s offer of $200,000 plus royalites, although it was cut to make it look like the decision was made in 10 seconds. Jim actually told me he had bought a Seaforth Rain Hood. Kevin was quite pleasant. Although we were told that not all segments make it to air, we thought we had a good chance when, as we were leaving the Den, we heard one of them say, “Well, that’s the first time anyone ever sold their whole business on the show!”
Dianne Buckner asked me some questions about what an unusual deal it was, and then we were taken into a room to have our picture taken with a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label. They had to take Paul out of the photo because he was underage, so Cam and I had our picture taken, as all those who made a deal were to get a bottle of the best. Being a Scotch drinker, I was disappointed when several months later I inquired to CBC to fi nd out when I would get my Scotch and learned that only deals aired in the fi rst half of the season would get a bottle.
Before leaving the building, Arlene’s business analyst had me read and sign a document regarding our deal. Then off we went down the elevator, out to the car, and headed back home to Seaforth feeling pretty good about our accomplishments.
After that I received a long list of “due diligence” requirements via email. Communication was mainly with the business analyst. We had to keep everything quiet from mid-May to mid- February the following year, when the show fi nally aired, and it wasn’t easy. Only my attorney and accountant were told, as we worked on the deal requirements.
I received an email indicating that CBC would notify me about two weeks in advance of the airing whether my segment would be aired at all. Once they notifi ed me of the Feb. 16 airing, I let my friends know. (CBC sends lots of emails with photos and press releases to help promote the show prior to the airing). We had a party at the golf club and there were several friends there to support me.
They say that many deals made on the show never actually reach fruition. I don’t know what the percentage is. At this time, nearly a year later, we are still in discussion. I am not counting my chickens. However, it was a great experience and, as my friends always suggested it would be, a great commercial for the products. And if we do complete the deal to each other’s satisfaction, that will be the icing on the cake. In the meantime, it’s business as usual for me at Seaforth Rain Gear.
HAMILTON AND HALTON COMPANIES ON DRAGONS’ DEN
Shari Petro of Wrinkles, Milton (Season 3, Episode 1) A reality photo book starring her dog, Wrinkles.
Result: Deal declined
Allan, Patrician, Melissa, Jordan and Amanda Kotac of Cosy Soles, Milton (Season 4, Episode 11)
A family business of microwaveable indoor slippers.
Result: Deal made
Tal Dehitar of Oliberte, Oakville (Season 4, Episode 12, and Season 5, Episode 11, on the second-chance show)
He had a line of shoes made entirely in Africa.
Result: Deal declined
Dale Barker of The Movie Palace, Hamilton (Season 4, Episode 17)
An authentic 1920s-styled movie theatre.
Result: Deal declined
John Vellinga of Slava Vodka, Oakville (Season 4, Episode 19)
A new line of premium vodka.
Result: Deal declined
Kreso Gotovac of Ballbra, Burlington (Season 4, Episode 19)
A line of the ultimate sex underwear. He returned in Season 5, Episode 11, on the secondchance show
Result: Deal declined
Gordon Green of Hope Rocks, Ancaster (Season 5, Episode 8)
Boxes of limestone rocks with a meaning behind them.
Result: Deal declined