Dragons Den

Dragons Den

Myburgh Designs, in the Dragon’s Den!


I presented my romantic copper swing seats to the Dragons at Pinewood studios recently, and the show went on air on Sunday 28th August; the bank holiday weekend.

I was under no illusions, having seen the programme a few times, and I was not too disappointed to return home without an offer of investment, although it would be nice to have a bigger marketing budget.

I took it as quite a compliment, actually…when they told me I wasn’t a businessman, but an artist. They couldn’t see my work in business terms at all. And you know, they’re probably right.

That may well prove to be a good thing since investment does mean having a dragon to answer to every day which would easily cramp the style of any free thinking artist. I think what I wanted, and probably didn’t communicate well enough was for one of the dragons to help market the swings to a bigger audience so that I can make fuller use of the spare capacity in the workshop. This would lead to being able to reduce the prices a bit, but it can’t be done the other way around.

The exposure on national television could result in all manner of unexpected enquiries including a few additional sales, some galleries or retailers wanting to stock the products, and even perhaps other investors to help us approach overseas markets where we know there is a huge potential. If you fall into one of these categories I’m here waiting for your call.

In preparation for a flood of visitors to www.myburghdesigns.com I set about making some new products to occupy price ranges below that of the swings.

Many people fall in love with the swings but are not ready to part with a four figure sum so I created Copper Poppies, Copper Pots, a Bird Bath and outdoor mirror, and we are busy on a tiered bird house and feeding pagoda to hang from the trees, all of which are illustrated on the products page now.

Here’s my appraisal of how the show goes:

To begin with Hilary Devey appeared to fall instantly in love with the swings, but then claimed she could get them made for (£80) in Morocco, and that every house in Morocco probably has one like it already. Her exact words are below. I thought it best to memain polite, and wasn’t really given a chance to refute this. What she didn’t seem to know, and made her look rather ignorant, is that copper trades on the world market at around $7,000 a tonne regardless of what country you are in. She was unaware of course that I lived and ran this business in Morocco for two years and understand the difficulties of working in that country better than most. Edited out of the show was Theo telling her that the copper was worth more than that!

Perhaps being a venture capital investor she believes that a business can only succeed if you find ever cheaper means of making your product overseas until you get it for as little as possible. For me as a South African defending business in my adopted home country, I told her you can’t just take the manufacture of every product out of the country. Besides, it’s art as much as manufacture.

You can’t outsource art.

Here is what she said; I think they’re fabulous, but I can go to parts of the world and buy that for 2 – 300 Euro. Almost every garden in Morocco will have a chair of some distinction like this in it. If you’re saying £800 is what it’s costing you to make ‘em here you wouldn’t be paying a tenth of that in Morocco.

I replied: But it’s about making things in the UK… etc

Miss Devey ended by saying “Business is about profitability, …bottom line Steve”. And I reluctantly agreed, more out of politeness than real conviction.

It’s this bottom line mentality that’s at issue. This is why our nation eats cheap battery chicken from Thailand in Tesco. If you want everything to be cheap and shoddy, made by exploited labour overseas, follow Hilary Devey’s example. She has so quickly forgotten about the ordinary people she has left behind in British workshops.

To the layman, and to viewers of Dragons Den, she must represent the rich in the UK, as a millionaire entrepreneur, but I have many well off clients who have bought my art over more than ten years. Her attitude is not representative of people who are discerning and appreciative of the art and creativity of places like Britain rather than made cheaply in a backstreet in the third world. I know
you don’t want cheap Chinese furniture, and I am sure most people would understand this.

For centuries British craftsmanship was the best in the world, but we have handed it over to cheaper labour abroad, for Hilary Devey’s bottom line. I have taken young men with no special skills and taught them not only how to weld and fabricate intricate items, but also how to contribute to the design processes. One was straight out of school, one was working in a back street garage fixing cars and the last was a painter and decorator. Two years on they are all artists in their own right and work with very little need for direction. This extends to customer relations as well, helping to secure sales with prospective clients, and spending time at their properties during installation of their swings. I thought the government was all in favour of this, but if British investors were all like her there’d be a lot more of us sitting around on our thumbs.

While in Morocco I found I had lost the connection I had enjoyed with many of my customers, most of whom at that time were in the UK. Unlike making large numbers of small items, which can be shipped back to the UK in bulk, I made small quantities for individuals, one or two at a time. The logistics involved in sourcing or importing suitable copper into Morocco, managing a workforce which was much less connected to the product, the environment or the people the product was for, and transporting the swings back home soon proved unfeasible. The only way Hilary Devey would come close to being correct would be if hundreds of swings were made per week in a custom built factory employing trained workers on low wages, to be shipped back to multiple wholesale points in the UK, to be sold for a small margin so that everyone could afford one. Instead of criticising me for not doing this already, perhaps she might have realised that only with major backing would this be possible, backing perhaps that I was looking for. It is odd that she didn’t make it as a suggestion rather than an attack, as she might have seen an opportunity for herself.

Nonetheless, I has seen at first hand not just in Morocco, but also in his native South Africa, the implications of running factories there. Exploiting labour, poor conditions, and no human connection to anything. The swings are not like mass produced door handles, they are things that their buyers have fallen in love with. They are romantic, it is important that they are hand made; indeed if they were made by anonymous cheap labour they would lose all their reason for being. There is a growing sense of responsibility by small business owners in the UK, and I am a firm believer in PEP; People, Environment, Product (his term). This is not new age mumbo jumbo, but a commitment to values inherent in the finished product that customers buy into, just as ever more consumers want to know that their meat came from humanely managed animals, and their clothes were not made by children in sweat shops.

Britain has craftsmen and workers who share this ethic, including those who work for me at Myburgh Designs. They aspire to more than just a pay cheque. It will be some time before the same can be said of workers in Africa.

Hilary lives in the so-called global market that saw the world shrink during the boom years that made her rich. Nowhere was out of bounds, the world was open for business, and planes and ships circumnavigated it constantly carrying everything from anywhere to everywhere. But it came with a cost. First we had the excesses of rampant consumerism, out of control fuel consumption, obscene resource usage and illogical resource management, where ship-loads of car bodies were transported half way round the world to have their engines fitted before being shipped back again almost to where they’d come from. People began to wake up to the need to bring things back home, and the term ‘Low Food’ Miles among other similar expressions became commonly used. Then we had a global financial crisis, fuel costs soared, ships lay empty, and air-freighters grounded. We still live in that global economy on the internet, in finance and other services that do not involve things. But ‘locally made’, ‘responsibly made’, ‘sustainably made’, ‘not made using exploited labour’, ‘hand made’, have become value adding labels more than ever before.

I could very well be up for a debate about this, perhaps side by side with Hilary on the One Show?

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