JC Dragons Den 2009
Aspiring entrepreneurs faced the judges in a Dragons’ Den-style event this week. We introduce the winner: Steven Kanter and his clothes repairs and alterations service, Sew and Go
Winner Steven Kanter’s business has “unlimited potential” say judges
A grandfather from Middlesex has won the Dragons’ Den-style competition run by the JC and the London Jewish Cultural Centre with his clothes alterations and repairs business.
Steven Kanter’s company, Sew and Go, which provides all the services offered by a traditional alterations tailor with the addition of an express same-day pick-up option, was the majority favourite among the judges.
The judging panel comprised Simon Bentley, chairman Sports Direct International plc; Patsy Bloom, founder of Pet Plan; Bernie Myers, former managing director of N M Rothschild Sons Ltd; Marc Worth, founder of Worth Global Style Network; Bernard Howard, founder of totallylegal.com and totallyfinancial.com; and JC business editor Candice Krieger.
Co-founded in 2006 with business partner Richard Tweg, there are now seven Sew shops across north and central London and Mr Kanter, 64, plans to expand into the West End , the City and nationally. “The business has unlimited potential in terms of roll-out,” said Patsy Bloom. “But first I think you need to improve your website. I had a look and the opening hours were not on there.” Simon Bentley said: “The principle of what you are doing sounds very good but it needs to be managed in a much better way.”
Candice Krieger was impressed by the company’s branding: “I think that is very strong. My reservation would be how you compare cost-wise to other repairs and alterations services on the market.” Bernard Howard added: “I am completely undomesticated, so in theory I think this service is great.” Marc Worth, however, was not so convinced. He felt Mr Kanter’s presentation was “too thorough. Short and to-the-point works much better.”
Northwood-based Mr Kanter, who by his own admission cannot sew, had spent close to 30 years in wholesale retail before establishing Sew and Go. Mr Kanter said: “It’s a niche market. I am not knocking dry cleaners as there is as market for them, but they don’t do 85 per cent of the alterations we do. There isn’t anything we can’t do with a needle and thread.” Mr Kanter, who, with his business partner, has invested £300,000 in the firm, is now seeking an extra £300,000 to improve its management and staff training, and enable the expansion. Potential new London locations include Holborn, Canary Wharf and Liverpool Street; and, outside London, Mr Kanter is looking at St Albans, Guildford and Chelmsford. He also plans to open a chain of franchises in shopping centres across the UK.
The firm made a loss last year but he is confident it will be profitable by the end of 2010. By then he intends to open another five shops, at an estimated cost of £30,000 each, and believes his firm can become the leading brand in its market within three years.
Dragon Candice Krieger puts a question to one of the finalists
Mr Kanter, who says he has no plans to retire, has been in business since the age of 18. His first job was as a sales rep for a British fancy goods manufacturer in the East End. He has spent the past three decades running his own fashion accessory distribution business.
“Many people are living at a faster pace than previously and do not have the time or expertise to alter their clothes. Today, many women who would previously have done the repairs, do not have the time or inclination. And the skills passed down generations are diluting.
“I came into the competition with an open mind. It was great to get such positive feedback from the judges, which I will take on board. The comments Patsy Bloom made about improving our website were particularly useful and will be seen to as soon as possible.
“The Dragons’ Den has been great exposure for the business. I will definitely use the opportunity to have follow-up conversations with the judges.”
Mr Kanter is married with four children and five grandchildren. He fought off competition from the four other finalist firms: Frameology, a specialist art design service; Everyday Models, a company that enables you to rent out personal space to advertisers; Bio-Pen, a writing tool that recognises your signature; and Strap-Ice, an adjustable icepack pouch to ease muscle injuries.
Event organiser Louise Jacobs, a director at the LJCC, said: “We are delighted that the JC/LJCC Dragons’ Den proved another success. At a time when so much focus is on economic hardship, it’s important to recognise initiative. We wish all the finalists success and look forward to discovering more talent next year.”
From the dragons’ mouths
“It is a business that is up and running. It has already got some financials in place and there is some substance there.”
“Sew and Go is the absolute winner for me. There is unlimited roll-out potential and I can see how it could be developed.”
“Sew and Go is way ahead of the other finalists, although it needs to be managed better. There is so much more that can be done with it.”
“You may call me ‘Mr Nasty’ and boo me down but I wasn’t actually that excited by any of them — they all had their flaws.”
“The Sew and Go branding is very strong and impressive. It is an established business and there is genuine potential there.”
“In terms of roll-out possibility, Sew and Go gets my vote. I wouldn’t have thought of Sew and Go before, but I will now.”