Theo Paphitis searches for 'Britain's Next Big Thing'

Paphitis will help budding entrepreneurs pitch their wares to the buying teams at Britain's retail giants Liberty, Boots and Habitat - the people who truly have the power to create trends, make or break careers and decide exactly what the public buys.

A retailing veteran with the likes of Ryman, La Senza and recently launched Boux Avenue, Paphitis looks to demystify shop talk and reveal the competitive inner workings of retail, from prototype and product development to the finished article on the shop floor.

"The open days held by Liberty, Boots and Habitat are a fantastic opportunity for the untried, hopeful buyers to meet the suppliers," he says.  "It really is an opportunity of a lifetime - a real fast track into retail."

In episode one, iconic department store Liberty opens its doors to the public for an exclusive open day. From 6am around 600 people queue around the block for the opportunity to pitch their product to the buying team, led by buying director, Ed Burstell.

Burstell expects that the day will 'run the full gown'. "We're going to see products that we know right away should be for us, something that has a little twist to it, and then we're going to see some god-awful junk!"

The commercially inexperienced artisans are given just three minutes to pitch their wares to the buying team and only a handful are given a special ticket taking them through to a second round with Burstell, whose decision is final.

Alexandra Stylianidis, head of buying for Liberty's women's and accessories department, explains the world of buying isn't just about scouring the globe shopping all day: "Buying is tough. It's hard. There's a lot of negotiating going on. We really have to protect our image and protect the consumer."

We know, your hearts bleed! So back to the fledgling suppliers. Among them are former carpenter Tom Hopkins-Gibson, who has travelled down from Scotland with his porcelain and wooden bowls; Professor of Architecture, Richard Weston, who dazzles the buyers with his unique silk scarves; and glass-blower Charlotte Sale.

Maria and Sophie Law are sisters-in-law with six daughters between them. The pair were unable to find appropriate and pretty lingerie when purchasing their girls' all-important first bras, so set about designing something themselves.

Having already spent £20,000 manufacturing the bras, they bring them to the open day, in the hope Liberty will open up its lingerie department to a younger market. It's a huge gamble for the buyers to stock a range of teenage bras for the first time so the sisters are left hanging in the balance while they await a decision.

For glass-blower Sale, this is a test of her commercial prowess, fuelling apprehension: "It's almost like standing in your birthday suit, on a pedestal and saying, what do I look like?"

She's one of the lucky few who get through to see Burstell, but he's concerned "how many different variations" of Charlotte's glassware there would be to make a suitable collection for Liberty.

Meanwhile at Boots HQ in Nottingham, the buying team get ready for their open day, vetting hundreds of applications to shortlist just 10 potential suppliers to fill the gaps in the £26 billion health and beauty market.

Tune in to Britain's Next Big Thing on BBC2 tonight at 8pm.

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