Debbie Greaves from Barking Bags wowed Sara Davies on Dragon’s Den and secured a £35,000 investment in her dog walking bags.
She held her own in the Den, even when newbie Steven Bartlett scoffed at her bags for being ‘unfashionable’ and ‘not for millennials.’
Debbie hit back, and even suggested the social media guru met up with her daughter after the show.
Being on the BBC1 show is an amazing way to raise your profile and put your pet business out there – and boost your finances too.
After the show Debbie chatted to me about her experience in the Den, what it means for Barking Bags and her advice for anyone thinking of taking part.
In this episode she lifts the lid on what it’s really like in the Den and her advice for any petpreneur considering it.
You can listen to this episode on the player link below or carry on reading as a blog post.
Hi Debbie, please can you tell me a bit about yourself?
“Me and my husband are both teachers by trade. I stopped working to care for my dad who was in his 90s and that’s when I decided to get a dog.
“When we got Maisie, I realised there was a huge gap in the market for a bag that I could carry all her paraphernalia in with me when we were out on walks.
“And that’s how the business started.”
Can you tell me about your product?
“I was trying to figure out how to carry all her treats, toys, poo bags and other doggy stuff so I bought a second hand bag from Oxfam charity shop and customised it for dog walking.
“One day on a walk I was talking to a woman and she saw me pick up my dog waste and put it in my bag. She looked horrified and I explained it was a dog walking bag.
“When I got home I said to my husband Rob, ‘I need to design a bag with paw prints all over it so people don’t think I’m a crazy dog poo collector!’ This was the idea behind it.”
So how did you go about making your own?
“I went back to the university I worked at, Nottingham Trent University, and asked if students wanted to work with me and I commissioned their lecturer to develop the prototype.
“Over time it’s been amended but the basic idea is still as it was.
“You can carry your water bottle, there’s a small pocket at the front for recall treats, mesh pockets for sandy dog toys and an option to put full poo bags in a side pocket.
“Plus poo bags on a roll and a place for hand sanitiser and there’s room for personal items like keys, mobile phones, so you always have everything you need.”
How did you get the word out at the beginning?
“We first started out going to one or two shows and the bags sold out.
“Then we took a leap from tiny shows to the big show, Discover Dogs at London Excel Centre and we sold out again.
“So we knew then we had a product, and we joined the Pet Industry Federation which is where we found you, Rachel, and we learnt how to sell ourselves.”
So you went from making your bags to being on the telly?
“We went to Crufts in 2020 and in the middle of it we got a call asking if we’d be interested in being on Dragon’s Den. But we were so busy, I had to say that I’d get back to them.
“Of course then the pandemic really took over it and we didn’t even really know if we’d have a business after all of it.
“But then a year later, after having a call with you where you told me I had to get back in touch, I did.”
How did you react when you found out you were going to be on Dragon’s Den?
“It’s been a rollercoaster throughout because I thought ‘I’ll give it a go’ and then you do the forms and you have to prove everything and it’s a slog!
“It’s exciting and then there’s a lot of work and a waiting game, then there’s the next hurdle and more work!
“When we found out it was going to go ahead we were jumping up screaming and so happy.
“Even when we knew we had an investment which we were joyous about we were anxious about how we were going to be presented on the programme.
“Rob was really worried they were going to present us as ‘the old couple who’ve used their retirement money for a new venture’.”
What’s it like when you get out of the lift? What was going through your mind?
“It sounds crazy but standing there was the easiest part. We lost sleep over things like, ‘have we got enough stock’ ‘Will our website hold out?’ ‘Have we got enough bandwidth so that we can take calls?’
“We were actually both okay, it helps that we’re teachers, nothing beats a Friday afternoon where you’ve been asked to cover a year 10 lesson with no work and you have to wing it!
“I was excited for the exposure. We were in there for an hour and a half, which gets edited down so there’s a lot that’s missed.
“We’d done so much to prepare so I was quite calm. Rob had all his figures nailed – he’d been reciting them in the middle of the night!”
Did you have a Dragon in mind that you wanted to go for your product?
“I think Deborah Meaden was our first thought because she’s a dog owner. Ironically they are all dog owners apart from Sara who invested in us.”
When Sara said ‘I’m in’ how did you feel?
“An immense sense of relief because they started dropping out!
“What tends to happen is if the first Dragon is negative it sets the tone, and that’s what happened to us – I thought we were going down a black hole.
“I felt I had to fight to keep the rest on board so when we got the offer I was thrilled.
“She did ask for more equity than we had originally wanted but her connections and what she can bring to the table is worth it.”
What happens after you’ve been told you have the investment?
“We met up with Sara immediately afterwards and had a chat, she took some photos on her mobile phone of us all together.
“Sara’s team are now in touch with us and they support us in the background, her PA is lovely and she’s a dog owner herself so she absolutely gets it.”
Any advice for anyone wanting to go on Dragon’s Den?
“Be prepared for a lot of work and a financial investment. We spent a lot of money improving our branding but if you want to accelerate your business it absolutely works.
“The night we were on Dragon’s Den we took more sales in one night than we had over three months!
“Also do your research and if you can talk to someone who’s been on it to get prepared.
“And don’t drink a bottle of champagne on the night it airs… or your head will pay for it the next day!”
Want to find out more about Debbie
Visit www.barkingbags.co.uk or call 01908 1049 77
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If you enjoyed this post, you might like Jack and Aneisha from Scrumbles share what it’s like on Dragons Den or How to work with influencers and journalists with Vicky Gunn.