Northumberland businessman beats the Dragons

Andrew Doris approached the popular BBC TV show Dragons' Den in a bid to take his business, DAD Machining, to the next level.

DAD Machining engineers universal man hole cover lifting keys to fit all of the different manhole covers and access chambers across the UK.

Doris began his engineering career working for a firm which created conducting magnets for the cryogenic industry.

Speaking to BQ, he said: “Lots of people knew I was an engineer and friends usually asked could I repair things or make things for them.

“A company next door called Metro Rod had a hydraulic lifting rig for lifting manhole covers and the lifting tips had broken. They asked if I could repair them for me and gave a sketch

“So I made the new tips and tried to open a manhole cover. Only to find the tips I made never fitted the manhole cover outside of work. So I made another set to fit.

“When they collected the tips, they were over the moon to have two new sets of tips. Then explained they had problems lifting covers on a daily basis with basic lifting handles.”

This was Doris’ “Eureka moment” and he set about making lifting keys with a quick interchangeable tip. 

In 2013 DAD Machining received its first prototypes and Doris decided to take his business to the Dragons.

“I was given a date for an audition. However the audition date fell on the same day my wife was to have her breast cancer removed so I immediately cancelled the audition,” he explained.

“From each year then on I applied and applied and applied again. As each year passed my product was growing so it gave me more confidence to try and sell it to a dragon.

“When I was given a new audition they loved my product even though I was unable to speak on the camera.”

Sunday evening saw Doris finally step up and present his innovative technology. He outlined to the Dragons that he had sold just under 10,000 kits in three years, alongside his full-time job, and has already sold online with Screwfix having sold 1,800 units via the tool retailer.

Speaking on the show, Doris explained some of the tougher times he had faced in business: “I first encountered this product 18 years ago so I quit my job and had equity in the house so borrowed heavily and I lost an absolute fortune.

“When I was down on my luck, my brother stepped in and gave me a job and then three years ago my brother helped me do this again.”

Doris told BQ that his brother, David, and wife, Helen, have been his strongest supporters from the beginning: “With the Universal Drain keys I have had no financial support in getting this product to market. I have had great support from my brother David Doris as we used our company to make the prototypes and to then go on to final production.

“My wife Helen has been an absolute rock and has supported me through everything. I have been very lucky to have these two amazing people in my life.”

Receiving a £40,000 investment offer from Deborah Meaden, in return for 35% equity in the business, was like “Christmas morning” for Doris.

“It is a great feeling when a Dragon makes you an offer,” he said.

“Although in the den my poker face never showed that. It was a very positive experience and now I have done it I would do it again. It gives you more confidence in your product, in yourself and even if I never gained an offer I certainly gained experience.”

Now, the future looks even brighter for Doris, who since filming for the show has been given a grant from UKTI to attend an exhibition in Germany and explore overseas markets.

Despite not wanting to wish away the next few years, Doris told BQ: “I would hope to be in a lot more outlets and be able to make more of the product I have always wanted to within the next five years.”

Now, after years of hard work and pushing forward, Doris has secured the support he needs to see his dream grow.

He offered a nugget of advice for any aspiring entrepreneurs:  “My dad always told me that the hardest word in life to say is the word ‘no’.

“I never knew what he meant when I was younger but now it all makes sense. It is the first and most important word you must learn to say when you first set up a business. And something I use quite often now. I once used it to turn down a six-figure contract when I first started.

“Starting up is very hard, and if you have no financial support you will struggle from the very start and that is a fact.

“My best advice would be to carry out all of your market research to the last letter. Listen to what your potential customers are telling you. Listen to the criticism and embrace it and make the change. Go back to your market again and again until the product or service is right.”

Speaking about his proudest achievement to date, he concluded: “I have lots of proud moments but one of the best has to be the first official order for my manhole cover lifting keys. When someone buys something that you made ……well nothing can beat that feeling!”


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Published: 02 August 2016

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