Belfast Telegraph

Paul's dogged efforts fail to impress TV's Dragons

By Clare Weir

A Carrickfergus man has told how he braved the Dragons' Den - and has branded the multi-millionaires as barking mad for not investing in his product for dogs.

Paul Blair, who now lives in Wiltshire, is achieving runaway success with his Safestix - a rubber toy which replicates a wooden stick but which does not splinter or hurt the dog.

The 40-year-old former Army major set up the company in 2009 utilising help and advice from vets after his own Jack Russell terrier was injured playing with a piece of wood.

Since launching in November 2010 the business has grown steadily with each new shipment of products from his factory in China doubling in size. He is now selling to seven countries.

Undaunted by his knock-back from the Dragons - screened last night - Mr Blair, who was decorated by the Queen for his leadership in Afghanistan and is getting ready to leave the Parachute Regiment after a 17-year career, has now announced that a large American pet product company has also signed a deal that is potentially worth millions.

The first production run for 100,000 units is now underway.

Mr Blair has struggled to source funding from banks and sank his own savings into the company, as well as borrowing from family and taking out personal loans and credit cards.

He said that realising that four out of the five Dragons on the hit BBC production are dog owners, he decided to apply for the show.

"At the time my profit margins were slim because of the business start up costs and the number of players in the supply chain; although I explained that this would improve it didn't really matter as none of the Dragons liked the product. In fact, Hilary Devey said the product was stupid.

"It would appear that she's in a minority. It was the best selling dog toy at the world famous Crufts dog show this year and Safestix is selling by the truck load in seven countries.

"When I went into the Den I'd sold 5,000 units in my first six months of trading, in the last three months alone I've sold another 11,000, added two more countries to the growing list of foreign markets and improved my profitability.

"After leaving the Den I looked at my other options. To move forward I badly needed a cash injection so I decided to go with a US investor, who is planning to relaunch Safestix on a massive global scale with new sizes and colours, to increase our range to nine products. The first production run for 100,000 units is underway."

He continued: "It was a great experience if a bit nerve wracking but I'd recommend it to any entrepreneur who needs the money and the Dragons' know-how.

"I found them all to be very professional, they gave me some invaluable advice but they missed an opportunity. If I have one regret though it's not putting the new Dragon Hilary in her place when she criticised my products. After I've sold my millionth Safestix maybe I'll send her a free one."