A decorated army officer whose business idea was rejected as “stupid” by the Dragons’ Den millionaires has had the last laugh by selling his product globally.
Major Paul Blair DSO appealed to the Dragons to help fund his novel idea of a safe dog stick after his beloved Jack Russell was injured by a splinter.
He was subjected to scathing criticism from the wealthy investors with Scot Duncan Bannatyne calling the product worthless.
But Paul, 41, from Amesbury, Wilts, ignored advice from the Dragons to give up the venture which is now going from strength-to-strength.
He has sold more than 145,000 Safestix over the past 12 months and recently signed a global deal – potentially worth millions – with American pet product giant KONG.
Inspiration for the toy came to him after he threw a stick for Razzle, his Jack Russell, to chase in his local park.
A piece broke off and cut the dog’s mouth but thankfully he was not seriously injured.
After online research showed that thousands of dogs in the UK are seriously injured every year by well-intentioned owners, Paul vowed to do something to reduce stick injuries by creating a safe alternative.
The Safestix are designed to be long-lasting and are made from tough rubber, which has twists in it to make it ”more interesting” for dogs to chew and catch.
They have been approved by the Royal Veterinary College and The Dogs Trust and were the biggest selling new toy at last year’s Crufts Dog Show.
Paul said: “We struggled to get investment from day one so I thought the Dragons might be interested.
“Four out of the five are dog owners so one might expect them to sit up and take notice of a new toy with a growing sales pedigree.
“At the time my profit margins were slim because of the business start up costs and the number of players in the supply chain.
“Although I explained that this would improve it didn’t really matter as none of the Dragons liked the product. Theo Paphitis told me not to invest any more of my own money.
“Duncan Bannatyne told me I wouldn’t sell many and Hilary Devey said it was stupid.
“When I went into the Den I’d sold 5,000 units in my first six months of trading, in the last twelve months I’ve sold over 145,000 in eleven countries.”
Paul, who was decorated by HM The Queen for his leadership in Afghanistan recently left the Parachute Regiment after a 17-year career.
He spent every spare moment during evenings and weekends creating the toy but it has not been easy.
Paul added: “After working beyond midnight seven days a week for months on end the few hours I did get in bed were spent worrying about how I could finance the next stage. I knew if it all went wrong we would go bankrupt.
“While the Dragons are all famed for their business acumen I still think they missed an opportunity, my business growth bears this out.
“To show there are no hard feelings, when I’ve sold my millionth Safestix, maybe I’ll send them all a free one.”