Dan Plante is a changed man.
The former longtime Richmond resident flew to Toronto last month to pitch his towel-changing product to the gazillionaire investors on the hit CBC-TV show Dragons’ Den.
And though the White Rock resident can’t say the outcome of his visit, and whether he sold a stake in his business, he did drop a hint: he’s still smiling.
It was about eight years ago, while working as a lifeguard, that Plante came up with the idea for the Chawel, a beach towel that serves as a changing room. No more awkward holding of the towel and performing feats of contortion to slip into swim suits or trunks.
“That’s where the idea came from,” Plante said.
The Chawel is half towel, half sleeping bag, with an extra hole on one end big enough to pop your head through.
His mother, who still lives in Richmond, sewed his first prototype, and since then his product has gone through a few different iterations. It now features a hidden pocket for tucking away valuables, there’s a sports version made from a quick-dry anti-bacterial material, and a loop on one end allows the cotton traveller version to be used as a neck pillow on trips.
Plante has been peddling the Chawel for several years at Lower Mainland farmers markets and folk festivals, learning along the way about sales, marketing and business management.
He had been sewing the Chawels himself for several years, until his orders reached a point that he made the decision to get them made in Shanghai.
And though he’s been selling the Chawel online for some time, his business finally exploded after he landed a deal with Mountain Equipment Co-op to sell the Chawel at its 14 outlets.
Now he’s been offered a segment on The Shopping Channel.
But with an eye toward taking the Chawel to the next level, Plante hopped on the ferry to Victoria in February for a local audition for the Dragons’ Den, pitching to a trio of show producers.
He then learned in late March that he’d made the cut, and paid his own way to get to Toronto to film an appearance after the Easter long weekend with the dragons: Boston Pizza restaurant mogul Jim Treliving, investment fund manager Kevin O’Leary, communications specialist Arlene Dickinson, tech guru Robert Herjavec and new dragon Bruce Croxon, co-founder of the Internet dating service Lavalife.
More important than the cash infusion the dragons could offer was the prospects of the contacts, experience and business savvy they bring to the table during any deal.
The experience of pitching his product to the Dragons was worth the price of admission, he said.
Whether he landed a deal, he won’t say, although he did mention that he was disappointed that energy magnate Brett Wilson, known for his small town charm and philanthropic heart, is no longer on the show.
And he won’t know until this fall whether his appearance made the director’s cut and if the Chawel will be featured on the fall airing of the show and thereby getting national exposure.
In any event, it appears things are changing for the better.