Could locally made ice cream cool the fiery Dragons on CBC’s Dragons’ Den? Shelley Westgarth, owner of Huntsville-based Belly Ice Cream Company, decided on a whim to put her product to the ultimate business test.
She was doing a demo at the Google office in Waterloo on the same day the Dragons’ Den was holding auditions.
“It was spur of the moment. I was there anyway so I thought, I’m going to go. There was nothing rehearsed. I just talked it up, what the background of the company is. I got an email saying I wasn’t actually on the show but I was on call as a back up in the event somebody didn’t show up or somebody pulled out.”
Westgarth did get a call, mere hours before the show’s taping on May 2. “They called me and said, ‘we have an opening, can you come?’ And I said, ‘you realize where I am, right?'”
Local businesses Portage Promotionals and Staples stepped up to provide materials at the last minute, and Westgarth had an emergency hair appointment at the Hudson. “I was out the door in an hour. All these companies rushed like lunatics to get stuff done for me and I got down there. It was a community effort. I was touched by the number of people who jumped in to help.”
Not wanting to sound scripted, and not believing she would actually get on the show anyhow, Westgarth hadn’t planned what she was going to say. “I’m far better talking it up. I’ve been talking about my company for years, I know what it’s about. So I purposely didn’t script myself. I just got in the car and went.”
Westgarth says her goal was promotion, so she went into the show with a small ask: five per cent for $50,000 for a return of $75,000. “So they would see a 50 per cent interest rate and I figured it would be a full payback in two years. The drawback to not scripting myself was I didn’t say the return part.”
I think I’m the only pitcher in the history of the Dragons’ Den to ask the Dragons for free money.
The Dragons, understandably, were incredulous at the non-deal she offered them despite loving the product. “So while they were saying, ‘Oh, just come in and ask for free money’, I thought they were being sarcastic because they thought the deal was too small,” says Westgarth. “I couldn’t figure it out. As soon as I got outside and had a chance to decompress and calm down, I realized what had gone wrong and I emailed the producer, but at that point it was too late.”
But still, they loved her ice cream. “The thing I wanted was to have five Dragons say ‘this is really good ice cream’. They never had a single bad thing to say about the product so that’s the key. I got exactly what I wanted out of it, I just looked like a bit of an idiot to get it.”
The show’s producers have already asked Westgarth if she’d be interested in returning for a redemption show if they decide to film one. “I said, ‘Yes!’ There’s no way I’m going to let that stand.”
After the episode aired on November 30, Westgarth posted a humorous photo of herself on Belly’s Facebook page to remind herself not to forget that most crucial of details the next time.
Regardless of whether or not she appears on the Dragons’ Den again, it’s not the end of Westgarth’s TV career. Another show – Food Factory on the Food Network – filmed Belly’s production of its Muskoka S’mores flavour for a Canada Day Treats episode to air in 2017.
So while she awaits another call to go before the Dragons, it’s business as usual. Westgarth and team are prepping for weekly gift basket deliveries for the holidays and getting ready for next year’s busy summer season, including a plan to bring in other ‘best of the best’ products like coffee, artisan chocolate, dairy and cheese.
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