Chris Barnardo and Richard Blakesley of The Wand Company
With a £200,000 Dragon’s Den investment and interest from major retailers, one UK company is going from strength to strength. Chris Barnardo, co-founder of The Wand Company,
talks exclusively to inspiresme.co.uk about the magical idea that started it all, and how the company came to be where it is today.
Chris has a history of creating unique products. One of his recent successes was ‘Plop Trumps,’ a quirky take on the popular trading card game, which became a Christmas bestseller on Firebox.com. Chris and his partner used the profits from Plop Trumps to set up The Wand Company, which manufactures and markets the world’s first button-less, gesture based remote control.
According to Chris, developing the wand remote control came down to product evolution. It all started on his website, dadcando.com, which features fun and practical projects for parents to undertake with their children.
Following a successful initial launch, they were invited onto the BBC show Dragon’s Den and left with a considerable £200,000 investment.
“I wanted to get more traffic for my site, so I thought of all the things that kids enjoy and that have substantial market potential. Harry Potter is a massive phenomenon, so I decided to put up some magic-themed projects.”
Chris soon uploaded a wand-making guide, which was downloaded over 250,000 times. Seeing the idea’s potential, he teamed up with Richard Blakesley, who he’d worked with previously designing remote controls for one of the world’s largest remote control companies.
“I thought a remote control wand would just be incredible. At first I envisaged it to have hidden areas of buttons, but Richard suggested a gesture-based system and we immediately saw the attraction.”
When the product first arrived from China, the pair were keen to get it onto the market. Following a successful initial launch, they were invited onto the BBC show Dragon’s Den and left with a considerable £200,000 investment. Their appearance was followed with phone calls from major retailers including Harrods and Amazon.
In setting up and running The Wand Company, Chris admits there have been hurdles. The first challenge was raising money; since the wand is quite expensive to manufacture they required tooling from the start.
“We approached banks and venture capitalists but they were initially sceptical due to the uniqueness of the product, and because it was unproven. We eventually raised our initial capital from friends and family in return for royalty payments.”
The second challenge for The Wand Company was ensuring the product’s design was as polished and marketable as possible. The founders’ considerable experience helped ensure the wand was made to the right specification and at the right price.
Finding customers and getting the product in shops was perhaps the biggest challenge.
“It’s quite a shock when people don’t return your phone calls or don’t get back to you. It’s a huge challenge to get anybody. You have to remember that it’s a risky proposition for buyers; they’ve already got their own suppliers and customers. Why would they want to go with someone completely new and unproven?”
It’s quite a shock when people don’t return your phone calls or don’t get back to you. It’s a huge challenge to get anybody.
Chris used existing relationships to reach out to customers. His relationship with Firebox.com – forged through the success of a previous product – allowed him to push the wand through their website, and he also set up his own website which sold the wand directly.
The Wand Company has now sold over 70,000 wands in 76 countries. And they’re not planning to stop any time soon.
“We’re currently looking to expand into new markets and have just signed new Spanish and Japanese distribution deals. We’d also like to get the wand into traditional UK high-street retailers, which has proven difficult so far. A dedicated retail distributor has just come on board, which is really exciting for us.”
Chris’ top tips for entrepreneurs:
- Don't give up: “It takes a lot of time and effort to get things going but if you really believe in what you’re doing you should do it”
- Be realistic: “Look at your product and try to work out why someone would like it and if there’s a market for it. Just because you think there’s a market for it doesn’t mean others will.”
- Financial prudence: “Try to spend as little money as possible getting going. Every penny you spend on start-up costs has to be made back later – do as much as you can yourself.”