Some fake rocks, a cardboard sign, an old rope and a short skit was all it took to captivate the members of the Dragons' Den. But it was Guy Courchesne's niche product and sales figures that impressed the panel of the popular CBC program.
The Sturgeon Falls owner of Great Nipissing Tent along with his daughter, Janelle Courchesne, and her fiance, David Lalancette, pitched the company's portable barricade – Barrier 2 Go – Feb. 1. They were seeking $275,000 for 15 per cent of the company. The funds were to be used to increase the market, and sales, for the product.
“The exposure has been great and we really do expect sales to go up,” said Guy Courchesne. “It was a great experience.”
The Barrier 2 Go kit is housed in a portable bag which contains polyester signs with printed warnings and reflective tape, a rope, fasteners and a rope ratchet to keep the barricade taut. There are more than 100 slogans which can be displayed on the signs, and most have been sold to mining companies.
Although the concept is simple, it was Courchesne's annual sales of $650,000 to two mining companies that piqued the interest of the dragons.
Both Kevin O'Leary and Robert Herjavec appeared surprised and Courchesne told them he needed the money for salespeople.
Each dragon complimented the owner on building the business with the intent of eventually handing it over to his daughter.
“You are a fortunate woman. Your father is willing to pass this on to you . . . a legacy to carry on. I'm out but pay attention to the deal,” said Arlene Dickinson.
“I very much respect what you have built and you should be proud,” said Bruce Croxon.
Jim Treliving offered the amount the company was seeking but asked for a 25 per cent stake in the company. O'Leary offered the same deal, meaning Courchesne would be giving up 50 per cent ownership.
“You have a fantastic business that you have built that is profitable. I would not sell any of it so I am not making an offer,” Herjavec said.
Courchesne agreed to make a deal with Treliving. As the three left the 'den,' Dickinson said, “What a great business. That's a Canadian dream right there.”
The episode was filmed last spring and since the original deal was made, it has fallen through.
“I wasn't prepared to give up 25 per cent of the company and I think it is better if we go on our own,” Courchesne said. “We are looking at going through distributors instead of having our own sales people.”
Courchesne wasn't destined to become a manufacturer but the contacts he made throughout his 20-year career as a commercial fisherman on Lake Nipissing allowed some doors to open for opportunities.
His company began when he was asked to develop some ground tents for Bell Canada in the 1980s. It took five years to become a supplier for the company and he added small wooden products such as ladder wedges, splicers and foot stools to the mix.
The tents were eventually secured elsewhere and the wooden products were replaced with plastic ones.
“I knew a purchaser at Inco who I had taken out on a fishing charter so I met with him and I became an official supplier of some of my wood products. I really wouldn't consider myself a woodworker but I was on their list and it took all of 15 minutes,” Courchesne said. “It took me five years to become one for Bell.”
The first time he went underground, he noticed crude barricades with a rope and a sign cordoning off an open hole and a loaded face.
“I put something together that could be attached to the mesh underground and I used shock cords to allow a soft stretch on drift openings which were about 18 feet wide,” he said.
Sales were good for five years until Inco's Sudbury operations declared that no shock cords could be used underground.
Its operations at Thompson, Man. still purchased the original barricade but it took about a year-and-a-half to come up with a new system, which currently includes the rope and ratchet.
At the workshop, shop manager Mike Patry and employee Melissa Jackson produce about 150 kits a week.
“We have clients across Canada and it is a green product,” Patry said. “It's reusable, washable and more durable than caution tape. And those who use it love it. We cater to other industries too like those in construction.”
Although the company did not secure a deal with a dragon, the phone hasn't stopped ringing. Inquiries from customers, distributors and others interested in the company are on the rise.
Courchesne has been asked to attend a summit in the fall in Winnipeg focused on francophone businesses.
“I am not used to being in the spotlight,” he said. “And besides, the summit is right during hunting season.”
Organizers promised a hunting trip in Manitoba to entice him to attend.
“I'll see,” he said with a smile. “It might be fun hunting there.”