When they first met at 8am over a drink during University Fresher’s week 1989, they should have guessed this was the start of a life-long friendship.
12 years, 2 husbands (one each that is) and 3 children later – Helen and her family were staying at Polly’s after a party and all the children were in the bath. They found themselves discussing how useless all baby towels seemed to be, and how there HAD to be a better way than struggling to hold slippery baby and towel at the same time, with just one pair of hands!
A couple of weeks later, Helen sent an e-mail saying that if Polly was serious about looking into making a product to aid in bathtime safety, then so was she.
After a few days cutting up sheets and putting various designs to members of an Independent Assessment Board (Rosie age 3, Maddy and Jake aged 1), there followed months of market research, “but most was learnt as we went along – and we’re still learning every day” laughs Polly.
“Our aim was to create a baby bath towel to give parents a sense of confidence, safety and ease, and make bathtime stress-free”, says Helen. “We ensured it was organic, eco-friendly, and very high quality, in response to what today’s parents want” added Polly. “There was nothing out there that met all these requirements and we knew there was a market for it” says Helen. “We pulled in every favour from friends who worked in magazines, photographers and designers, as well as journalists and sports stars!”
The Cuddledry was only officially launched in October 2006 and less than a month later was signed up by Mothercare and its first 10 independent shops. Since then, the learning curve has been almost vertical. “We’ve changed the country of manufacture, improved the design and now added new baby-friendly wonder fibre bamboo.” Polly says.
They’ve won national awards, and according to national charity Child Accident Prevention Trust the Cuddledry “contributes to safer parenting”. The number of retailers across the country is increasing all the time, and now includes the National Childbirth Trust and BabiesRus. They have launched new products and the Cuddledry range is now being sold all over the world.
Hardly surprising then, that the researchers at Dragons Den found out about them and called up asking them to apply for the new series. Following a rigorous selection process including an audition back in Manchester where the duo spend their student days, Polly and Helen beat thousands of hopefuls to a slot in front of ‘those’ dragons!
By the time the summons for filming came, Polly was over 8 months pregnant with her second child and they filmed the show just 10 days before Polly’s due date (with doctors note and nurse on hand!).
“We knew our stuff, but when you’re faced with The Dragons, it’s hard not to let your mind go into panic-mode and even forget your name! However the pitch went perfectly and gave us a great confidence boost. What you see on TV is 10 minutes of edited highlights from a 2 hour grilling in the Den. They just keep digging until they find something you can’t answer!” recalls Polly.
“It was when Peter Jones said “I can’t believe you’ve got 5 dragons interested in a towel” that we grinned for the first time” said Helen. “Not having the financials in front of us let us down” Polly admits, “We knew the figures parrot fashion, but Theo came up with different numbers to what we knew we had in our projections, and under the spotlight we couldn’t work out why. It was very frustrating” says Polly. It wasn’t until the journey home they realised his figures hadn’t accounted for direct sales, so the number he had was significantly less than the reality, so wholly unrealistic. They just wished it had dawned on them in the Den!
They were thrilled to receive two offers for the full £100,000, as well as an offer from Duncan to help reduce costs, and an offer of employment from Theo! As Helen says, “It was VERY tempting to take up the offers on the table, but we had discussed it and agreed on it beforehand, and knew in our hearts that we did not want to give that much equity away. We drove home after the show with adrenalin pumping, not least because we still owned the company we had worked so hard to build!”
Cuddledry has since secured private investment. They continue to work every minute of each day (and night) expanding the business and are seeing dramatic results.
Oh yes – and Polly had a little girl called Sarah who LOVES her Cuddledry!