Duncan Bannatyne has dismissed aspiring entrepreneurs' products or business plans with dubious justification on a regular basis throughout this series of Dragons' Den - but last night's objection to one of P4CK Design's food and drink takeaway carriers topped the lot and left him looking quite foolish.
'How hard can it be to design a piece of cardboard with four holes in it?' asked Bannatyne in an attempt to trivialise Luke Booth and Christopher Eves' device for carrying multiple plastic pint glasses at high-volume events venues. Booth and Eves could quite legitimately have asked Bannatyne why he hadn't done so himself, since there is quite clearly an enormous demand for a product that does the job well.
Admirably, Booth and Eves kept their composure in the face of provocation and explained that there are two existing models that don't carry drinks satisfactorily, which proves that the design of such a product is not actually all that straightforward. One cardboard carrier with handles is too flimsy while the other - a much sturdier cardboard tray - causes a headache for venue management because it's a potentially dangerous projectile.
They're right, by the way. I've seen catastrophic spillages involving the first model during obstacle-laden walks back to seats and the latter used, quite spectacularly, as impromptu airborne accessories to a late-in-the-day Mexican wave. P4CK's design, which is actually made of a strong plastic that suspends up to four liquid-filled cups in a compact bunch, solves both these problems. Furthermore, it is able to carry branding and, in its flat, prior-to-use state, it meets the operational requirements of high turnover bars where assembly line principles apply.
Booth and Eves were not as convincing in getting across the selling points of a bag-in-a-box food carrier - but my personal view is that Theo Paphitis made the most astute decision of the series so far in paying little heed to the know-it-all Dragon on his right and paying £50,000 for 30% of P4CK.
Although there was sketchy information about the value of a new contract for one of P4CK's products, Paphitis invested not only in what Booth and Eves had designed so far, but in what they were likely to design in the future. He was encouraged by the fact that the recent graduates had conceived, produced and trialled their drinks carrier in the space of three-and-a-half months - and it seems his faith was well placed: P4CK's website already shows they have new products and eye-catching new clients.
Paphitis's long game with P4CK contrasted neatly with the short-term gains that Peter Jones promised for the evening's other successful pitchers Emma Jones and Mark Ferguson. Despite having received more generous investment offers from other Dragons for myBunjee - an accessory that attaches to mobile phones and stops them from hitting the ground when dropped by clumsy users - the inventors gave away an extra 25% to secure Peter Jones's input.
This was largely because speed-to-market is all-important for a product whose shelf life is likely to be very short - and Peter Jones claimed that his prominence in the telecoms market meant he would be able to secure major UK retailers for myBunjee within a few weeks. Despite success so far selling to other territories, this was precisely what Emma Jones and Mark Ferguson needed, and it meant their attempts to negotiate with Jones were not successful. I wonder whether they missed an opportunity to go for a famous "Den first" in these unusual circumstances, whereby the initial agreement is for a lower equity stake that is increased if the investor makes good on a promise made at the outset of the deal.
Either way, although UK-wide distribution looks imminent for myBunjee, I think Jones and Ferguson would be wise to not take their eyes off the independent retail market. This is a sector that has had my attention more than usual recently because my company Make It Cheaper is a major sponsor of this year's 'Celebrate an Independent Christmas' campaign.
As part of our activity we have been conceiving a number of tips to help smaller retailers meet the threat posed by powerful multiples. It strikes me that one thing indies can do to give their turnover a boost is look to sell products that don't necessarily fall into their range, but can be easily positioned on the shop counter and lend themselves to impulse purchases. I think a nifty product like myBungee falls into this category: you don't have to have a phone accessory shop to stock it, but at a very reasonable £6.95 a unit, you might just shift a few.