Q&A: American “dragon” on the hunt for UK entrepreneurs
We caught up with US entrepreneur Kevin Harrington as he announces his move this side of the Atlantic.
Infomercial pioneer and star of Shark Tank (the US version of Dragon’s Den), Kevin Harrington, is expanding his latest company, TVGoods, Inc. by opening a European HQ here in London. TvGoods offers entrepreneurs a way to introduce their products to the consumer market by developing, marketing and distributing their goods. The company largely uses the TV infomercial model to get the goods to the wider audience.
With £9.5 million to invest in news product ideas, Harrington hopes to turn our home-grown inventions into global best sellers with his “US-style” marketing platform.
We caught up with Harrington to see how he feels about the UK market and find out what he sees in the future of consumer goods retail.
So Kevin, welcome to London, how is the move going?
Very good! I’ve been coming here for more than 20 years doing business, I launched my first company here back in the early 90’s so I’ve got a lot of fond memories of the UK market place.
I launched the UK office of Quantum International in 1991 in Soho square. It was the same style of business as I do now; we took the bestselling infomercials from the US into international distribution from here. It was the first time infomercials had really appeared into the UK.
The company grew to $500m in annual sales and the UK was one of our largest bases outside the US. I sold that company and launched TVGoods, Inc. a little over a year ago.
So you’ll be hoping to emulate that success this time round! What’s the initial plan?
In the US we launch one product per week and we will bring the best-selling of those to the UK. Right now we are bringing ten products over and every month we will be launching new products.
Will you also be looking to launch products from UK entrepreneurs?
Defintiely! We have started looking at UK-based products. Because I was on Shark Tank last year we had more than 15,000 submissions – unfortunately I’m not as well-known over here so we don’t expect to get that number but we hope to be taking submissions immediately.
Do you think the UK market responds to infomercials in the same way as the American consumer does?
The products we select are global in nature. Fitness, hardware, beauty are big sellers and what works in the US 80-90 per cent of the time will work in global markers mass market. It is a bigger thing in the states but I like to think that if we create a winning product there, there’s a good chance that it will work here too. Channels like QVC are everywhere – we do business with them.
The market certainly is a little different but at the end of the day we have to tailor the product to the market, change the packaging, look at the price, and generally it works.
What are the biggest challenges that you perceive in the launch?
Getting our infrastructure set up here will be the main hurdle. We have certain expertise in the US and that needs to be fed through to the London office. For example, when British entrepreneurs come here they will be meeting with our London team and it will take a certain eye to spot the winners.
So how much do expect to be making in 2012?
Well, we received a fresh round of equity financing to the tune of about $20m. We have a multimillion dollar budget to expand into the UK and so we waited until now to get the capital.
I’m always very optimistic it’s going to take us about 4-6 months to get up and running but we should have a $10m business, it will take time but that is a reasonable target.
What do you think about the future of TV retail given the huge crossover now between TV and the internet?
We are ready. We are a multi-channel marketing company, we utilise internet, mobile, social media, print, Facebook marketing and phone apps.
We have a phone app that we are marketing in the US at the moment. You hold your phone up to the TV, it recognised the product and you can buy it instantly. We will be bring that here to the UK soon.
The tech of the future is multi-platform. Retailers that don’t jump on the bandwagon will be left in the dust.
Indeed! Now, down to the important stuff. What do you think of the UK dragons on Dragon’s Den?
I hadn’t seen it before I went on Shark Tank but then I watched dozens and dozens of the episodes. The one thing people ask me is have I learned anything from them? I have my particular niche but I have learned how to structure deals from the Dragons and the other Sharks.
Various colleges in the US are now using episodes of Shark Tank to teach how to close deals. The University of Florida definitely uses them in their Entrepreneur Masters course. I’m not too proud to say I’ve learned from them too!
Well thanks for the chat Kevin, good luck with the rest of the move!
Thanks! Our new office in Chalfont St. Peter, Buckinghamshire, we’re running all over the landscape, digging in and hoping to meet some UK entrepreneurs.