Dog loving entrepreneur building success after ruff reception from Dragons
A CO Antrim entrepreneur endorsed by the Queen, but rebuffed by the Dragons, is forging a successful dog grooming business without the support of their considerable millions.
Trevor Graham from Randalstown appeared on the RTÉ version of Dragons' Den last March, but didn't receive a cent for his innovative 'Happy Pet Mats', with one even describing it as the worst pitch they had ever encountered.
"They didn't actually look at my product and my dog was sitting on the product and they didn't actually look at my dog," he explained.
"They said they couldn't understand the product, didn't think it would work, who was I coming in asking for part of the business. One of them actually said it was the worst pitch they had ever seen."
Undeterred, the mobile dog groomer of 18 years has persevered and now has had more than 1,000 dogs on his innovative dog mats and has high hopes for the future.
The Happy Pet Mat was developed four years ago with the help from Invest NI's £5,000 Innovation Voucher scheme.
Along with knowledge partner the University of Ulster, a working product was developed, designed to keep dogs happy, safe and healthy while being groomed.
The mats, which Mr Graham has been using for the past three years, consist of multiple peel-off layers, which provide grip for the dog's feet preventing the need for the animal to be chained up by the neck and contain lavender to help calm the dog. Crucially the sticky polyethylene surface also helps prevent the spread of disease and limits clean-up with hair sticking to the removable layer.
"I know my product works, I know it makes dogs happy. We've had over 1,000 dogs on our mats, you name it Pitbulls, Alsatians, Dobermanns, we've had them all.
"My customers aren't idiots, they aren't going to pay for their dogs to get groomed if the product doesn't work. Some of my customers' dogs have been banned from other grooming parlours, but I have no issues with them."
Since the development of his product Mr Graham has attracted considerable attention, appearing on Stephen Nolan's BBC show Made in Northern Ireland and travelling to San Francisco as part of the Winston Churchill Memorial. Through the involvement in the latter he was invited to Buckingham Palace two years ago, where he met the Queen.
"It was all good stuff on Nolan (Made in Northern Ireland), going to Buckingham Palace and then I turned up on Dragon's Den with my dog and I literally couldn't believe it.
"It didn't deter me though, if anything it has given me more belief in my product."
Looking to the future, Mr Graham hopes his hygienic pet mats become commonplace with dog groomers throughout the UK and Ireland and already has had strong interest from the Dublin School of Grooming for his product.
"The RSPCA are also now saying that a dog has to be happy while being groomed and I genuinely believe they're on the verge of saying neck chaining (whilst grooming) has to go. My product ticks all the boxes and 1,000 dogs is a significant number.
"Number one for me is the fact it helps the dogs being groomed, number two it helps the groomers who are grooming.
"If I can make some finance out of it, well and good, but it's not the main thing," he added.