One entrepreneur, living with autism and other disabilities, seized the opportunity to impress the Dragons with his clothing company. Ben Pearson founded Big Clothing 4 U back in 2015, after struggling to find clothes on the high street in his size.
The mogul said he had previously spent time in care, young offenders’ institutes, and homeless, but turned his life around to overcome these barriers.
The business was started from his bedroom, where Mr Pearson sold clothes on eBay and Amazon, but he was keen for investment to take the company global and get to the next stage of its development.
As such, he pitched for £150,000 for a 10 percent stake in his business.
Immediately, Mr Pearson caught the eye of Touker Suleyman, an entrepreneur with 40 years of retail and manufacturing experience.
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Mr Suleyman said: “I’m very impressed. But the funny thing is, this is a market which has been ignored.”
When asked about the price of one of his shirts, Mr Pearson explained they were being sold for £29.99, while only costing him £6.80. The business also sells suits for around £150.
Mr Suleyman added: “Wow. That’s great value. No wonder you’re cleaning up over here on that turnover! To me, there’s a big opening here.”
Peter Jones was keen to crunch the numbers with Mr Pearson, asking him how the business had been funded.
He explained he had been left a trust fund by his grandfather to the value of hundreds of thousands of pounds, which was released in his teens.
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Mr Pearson claimed he had turned over £2.9million last year, with a 69 percent gross profit, and net of £200,000, with the potential to make £3.5million in 2022.
However, he felt “stuck” as he was not able to sell internationally, and was determined to grow the business.
Mr Jones responded: “This could be quite interesting, as I happen to own one of the world’s leading e-commerce software companies that takes brands to global markets.”
New Dragon Steve Bartlett was immediately impressed, stating he was “really inspired” by Mr Pearson’s journey from a young offenders’ institute to a successful business owner.
He added: “You’re one of the best pitches I’ve seen since I’ve been in the Den. How has your life shifted in such an astounding way?”
Mr Pearson explained he had hit rock bottom due to falling out of the care system and into homelessness, but was determined to pick himself up again.
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He now has the support of Katie Price’s son Harvey Price, who is a brand ambassador.
Sara Davies was keen to understand more about the numbers, but it was here where Mr Pearson encountered a stumbling block.
After Ms Davies and Mr Jones questioned the business owner, they found his numbers didn’t quite add up – especially as Mr Pearson was not taking a salary from the business
Mr Jones responded: “When you come in and say you have £2.3million of stock, you think ‘Wow, this guy has some serious amounts of cash behind him!’.
“But when you deduct the reality of life, you’ve put such a large amount of capital in and you’re not taking any salary. Any money you do take out, you’re taking and reducing your director’s loan.”
At this point, both Mr Jones and Ms Davies said they were “out”, as they believed the business was not as financially strong as they had hoped.
Deborah Meaden was also impressed, but it wasn’t enough, as she added: “You’re brilliant. It’s a real pleasure to speak to someone where you can ask a question, they answer it, and you believe it. I can work with that any day of the week. I’ve been battling with the balance sheet. That side of me has won, so I’m out.”
Steven Bartlett subsequently withdrew himself as he believed he was not passionate enough about the industry.
The final Dragon left was Mr Suleyman, who Mr Pearson had been most keen to impress.
The fashion boss said: “I am sitting on that fence. I felt deflated by the balance sheet, and it’s not in the same healthy state you made it to be. I am going to make you an offer. All the money – £150,000 – but I want £30,000.”
A delighted Mr Pearson accepted the offer, and was delighted with the final result.
He said: “Having Touker on board is going to be a fantastic addition to our business. It’s just what we need.
“If anyone else out there has autism, what I would say is never give up and don’t let anybody stand in your way!”
Dragons’ Den returns Thursday at 8pm on BBC One.