Leeds emoji entrepreneur captures Dragons’ hearts
12 September 2017 - Carrie Braithwaite
A Leeds Beckett University Business Centre entrepreneur is celebrating after winning an investment from the BBC’s Dragons’ Den.
Sarah Agar-Brennan, founder and managing director of Love Bomb Cushions, runs her booming business from Leeds Beckett’s Creative Hub, based at AW Hainsworth & Sons Ltd in Stanningley.
Love Bomb Cushions hold the UK license of the emoji® company, ethically manufacturing and selling products including cushions, foot cushions, beanies and key chains. Sarah and her husband established the business a year ago after struggling to find an extra little gift for her teenage daughter’s birthday.
Sarah explained: “My 14-year-old daughter puts emojis in every text so I was looking for an emoji-related gift for her. I found a place in China selling emoji cushions so I ordered a couple, thinking there was a high chance of them getting lost in the post. One of them turned up and it was utter tat! But I had nothing else so had to give it to her. She absolutely loved it and all of her friends were going mad for it! So I thought there is something in this.”
After spending 20 years running her own businesses, Sarah was looking for a new opportunity. Sarah began her career by running a Star Wars collectibles company and, at the height of the business’s success, she had six shops and two websites. However, she sold the company when her son died when he was only six days old.
For the last 10 years, Sarah has run a skateboarding business and she is now the lead coach educator for the national governing body for skateboarding.
Sarah said: “After my son died, I lost my confidence, self-belief and self-worth. However, 18 months ago I was ready to get back into work and looking for a change of direction. I spent a month looking for a factory to ethically manufacture our cushions and I found one based in China, run by someone originally from Britain. Just before we launched, my husband lost his job so we just decided to jump off the cliff and go for it together! My husband now handles the procurement and logistics whilst I manage the marketing. We’ve not looked back.
“We love working together and working from the Creative Hub at AW Hainsworth is the cherry on top. They are a family business just like us and there is a real community spirit here. Everyone has your back and they can’t do enough to help you. Basing ourselves here has been the best thing we’ve ever done.”
Pitching to the Dragons, Sarah explained that Love Bomb Cushions turned over in excess of £500,000 in its first year of trading. Dragon Tej Lavani commented on the good quality of the toys, saying that he could imagine his kids having fun with them. He took a chance on Sarah, offering £40,000 for a 17% share in the business. Banking entrepreneur, Jenny Campbell, felt that Sarah deserved somebody behind her and offered the other half of Sarah’s target investment of £80,000, for another 17% share.
Peter Jones offered Sarah the full £80,000 investment for 40% of her business, saying: “You are a tenacious, strong person with a heart.” However, Sarah managed to barter Tej and Jenny with their offers and reduced their shares to 15% each, taking away her £80,000 investment with the two Dragons. Afterwards, Tej commented: “There’s something about her that’s really remarkable.”
Speaking about her experience of facing the Dragons, Sarah said: “I really opened up on the show and they were all very kind to me, especially Peter Jones. It is really intense – you are in there for one and a half to two hours, although they only show about 10 minutes. When you go in, you have to go with the mentality that you can win, like going into a race. I had to believe it was possible, but I had to pinch myself when I got it!
“It has been a wonderful opportunity – around four million viewers have got to find out about our business! We have had lots of orders overnight and so we are now filling those orders and building the brand. We have got new ranges coming out soon and new licenses – not just emojis. I have also received hundreds of messages since the show has aired, saying that I have inspired people and this means so much.”
Sarah is now planning to start a new ‘Made in Britain’ range and a new personalisation service, using seamstresses on site at AW Hainsworth. Love Bomb Cushions have also just signed a contract with Debenhams which will see their products available to purchase from 161 Debenhams stores throughout the UK. This will include bespoke cushions and be the company’s biggest contract to date.
Sarah said: “I feel blessed that Debenhams has believed in our range, even before I went on Dragons’ Den. They will have the exclusive on our foot cushions and it is very exciting indeed! I will be very proud when I walk in Debenhams in Leeds and see our cushions on display.”
In addition to working with the Leeds Creative Hub, Love Bomb Cushions have been supporting Leeds Beckett Events Management students in their professional events solutions (PES) modules this summer, helping students with their social media marketing for their charity events and providing products for raffles. They have now employed a Leeds Beckett Music Production graduate, Tammy Wong, as a graduate intern.
For more information about Leeds Beckett’s University Business Centre – Leeds Creative Hub, please click here.