Business

Dragons’ Den: company praised after refusing to manufacture in China

A Bristol engineer who walked away from Dragons’ Den empty handed because he refused to move production of his bike gadget from Britain to China, said he has been inundated with support.

Mark Palmer and his son Hugo set up their company, RevolutionWorks, in 2016 and have developed a gizmo – called Revos – that turns a regular push bike into an e-bike in under 10 minutes.

The entrepreneur, who is based at Filwood Business Park in Hengrove, said despite positive comments from all the dragons he failed to get funding because he was told his product was “too expensive” to produce in the UK.

RevolutionWorks currently carries out all its manufacturing in Bristol and employs people locally.

Mr Palmer asked the dragons for £100,000 for 8% of his company – but could not persuade any of them to part with their cash.

He said he was disappointed not to receive investment, as the BBC had invited him to appear on the show, but going to China was “the opposite” of what the company wanted to do.

“We like making things and we want to employ people in this country and we don’t think it’s sustainable to drag everything across to China,” he told BusinessLive.

“[The dragons] were very positive towards us, especially Peter Jones. Tej Lelvani suggested we make it internationally and we said no. But I think they all thought it was too expensive.

“We tried to secure Deborah Meadon at the end; every time we sell a product we plant a number of trees, and we told her that, and it went down very well but didn’t quite sway her.”

Mr Palmer said his engineering firm was “not a gimmick” and was not able to manufacture its products “for nothing” as the components cost too much.

The company is part of Made in Britain – a not-for-profit organisation that supports British manufacturers under a single, registered collective mark. RevolutionWorks uses the logo on its packaging – and, according to Mr Palmer, it has a positive impact on the business.

“A lot of customers are very pleased we manufacture in the UK. They like the idea that if something goes wrong we are here and can fix it.

RevolutionWorks is a Bristol company that makes a gadget that can turn a push bike into an e-bike

“People also like us employing local people and the sustainability of not importing bits across the planet.

“We have had a lot of people, including complete strangers, saying well done and that they really liked the way we stood up to the dragons and didn’t go to China,” he said.

RevolutionWorks is now planning to look for investment elsewhere. The business recently launched a light e-bike, called the Whippet, and is considering opening a store in Bristol.

“We are growing extremely fast and if you’re growing you need investment,” said Mr Palmer. “We have a few investors – acquaintances and friends and family – from a funding round we did a couple of years ago.”

But Brexit has been a challenge for the business, which was established just before the referendum. Before the UK left the EU, the business had about 40% of its customers in the bloc – now it’s just 20%.

“It has been pretty horrible for us. Every time you send stuff abroad it is so complicated and slow. It costs money and time. You wonder whether it’s worth even sending products abroad.

“We are having to set up a company in the EU otherwise we can’t export easily. That’s annoying as that is an expense and we are only a small company.”

When the pandemic hit in 2020, like many businesses RevolutionWorks was forced to send its staff home. But the silver lining, said Mr Palmer, has been an uptick in demand for cycling products in the UK.

“We have managed to meet that demand,” he added. “Now we have employed more people and we are moving on with that. The pandemic was inconvenient but in some ways there have been positives for the business too.”

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