Having impressed in the latest series of BBC’s Dragons’ Den, Radlett-raised teeth-whitening entrepreneur Natalie Quail is proving a smile is worth a thousand words, writes Rebecca Pitcairn
Tax lawyer turned teeth-whitening entrepreneur Natalie Quail is not the easiest woman to get hold of. It takes some time to pin her down for an interview but when we do manage to speak, slap bang in the middle of National Smile Month, she is cool, calm and collected – it’s exactly how she came across during her appearance on Dragons’ Den.
It’s been an incredibly busy few months for the 31-year-old, ever since she appeared on the latest series of the of BBC show in February and secured investment from two of the multi-millionaire dragons.
Natalie was already running a successful business when she was filmed for the show, back in June 2021, but wasn’t quite prepared for how far her episode would propel the company.
“The business has grown exponentially,” she says. “When the episode aired, we did just over a month’s sales overnight and our customer base has more than doubled.”
While entrepreneurs who enter the den get a chance to pitch in front of the five dragons –Deborah Meaden, Peter Jones, Sara Davies, Stephen Bartlett and Touker Suleyman – they aren’t told in advance if they have made the cut.
“Even when you are called to pitch, there’s no guarantee you will be shown, although if you do secure offers from the dragons it is more likely,” Natalie tells me. “I literally found out I was going to be featured on the night of the show, along with everyone else watching!”
Natalie entered the den looking for £50,000 investment in return for 2 per cent of her business, SmileTime, which sells oral care products. While she captivated the dragons with her smile and business acumen, her valuation did not go down so well, with Touker declaring he ‘wouldn’t get out of bed for 2 per cent’.
However, the retail magnate, who has already invested in a number of dentistry-based business on the show, did make an offer, along with social media mogul Steven, who was equally impressed with Natalie’s pitch. After some negotiation, she secured both dragons, who agreed to split the investment in return for 10 per cent of the business each, although that deal, she admits, has still not yet been finalised.
“It’s quite a stressful environment but I think they were quite nice to me – nicer than I expected anyway,” she admits. “Negotiations can continue after the show so we’re still in talks and having meetings about what will be the final agreement.”
Natalie, who grew up in Radlett and attended Haberdashers’ School in Elstree, set up SmileTime towards the end of 2019, while living in London. However, when lockdown hit the following year, she moved back to her family home in the village, and together with her parents –– themselves dentists who run The Maltings Dental Surgery in St Albans –built the brand.
“We literally built the business from the basement of their house, packing and sending out orders while we were locked down and right through the pandemic,” Natalie says.
Formerly an international tax lawyer, Natalie had the idea for SmileTime after struggling to find affordable results-driven oral care products that fit as easily into her self-care routine as skin care does.
“As a teenager, growing up in Hertfordshire, I felt very insecure and definitely lacked confidence,” Natalie explains. “I started working summers in my parents’ dental practice and so became very interested in my smile from an early age and, when I got my teeth whitened for the first time, started to get compliments about my smile, which gave me a massive confidence boost. When I felt confident about my smile, I felt confident about going on a date, doing a presentation or acing an interview.
“Fast forward a few years and, as an international tax lawyer working really long hours, I had zero time to fit in trips to the dentist to get my teeth whitened. So, I started to look online to see what I could do at home as part of my self-care routine. I found that even though there were a lot of teeth whitening products out there, it was really difficult to determine which were safe, good quality and not cause sensitivity so I set about developing a brand that reflected all those things.”
With hundreds, if not thousands of cosmetic whitening brands on the market, it wasn’t an easy task. However, thanks to her family’s background in dentistry, she has been able to offer products backed with over 30 years of dental expertise.
SmileTime is now the fastest growing premium oral cosmetics and at-home teeth whitening brand based in UK, is set to make £2.5 million in revenue this year and is the only UK online care brand that is partnered with a nationwide dental chain.
Stocked online by Boots and in Queen’s pharmacy in Marylebone, as well as through the business’ own website and Smileright dental practices, the product line also includes bamboo toothbrushes, charcoal toothpaste and, soon, a complementary line of lip care products.
“Moving forward, we want SmileTime to be a holistic one-stop shop for all things smile-care,” she adds. And, while negotiations with Touker and Stephen are still ongoing, Natalie believes the whole Dragons’ Den experience has been well worth it.
“I would encourage any entrepreneur, if they are at the right stage in their business to apply for the show,” she says. “It’s quite a hostile environment to go into, in terms of defending your business, and you need to know your business inside out but it helps focus your mind and it certainly makes any conversation you might have with future investors a hell of a lot easier!”
NATALIE’S TOP TIPS
…for a great smile:
- Oral hygiene is really important. It starts with having a really healthy mouth, so make sure you visit your dentist every six months.
- To keep your smile bright, incorporate teeth whitening solutions as part of your day-to-day routine.
- Good nutrition. Are you drinking too much coffee, red wine and chocolate? Are your kids drinking enough milk? These things can all help develop a healthy smile longer term.
…for a successful business:
- Due diligence upfront will help counteract any major issues long term. It’s really important to understand if there is true demand for your product or service.
- Understand your customer and create a really good customer persona.
- Don’t expect to be an overnight success. You’re going to have to work hard, harder than everyone else, to succeed.
- The Grove – this was our place of sanctuary during lockdown, we’d spend hours walking around the grounds and adjoining countryside.
- Va Pensiero in Radlett – I love Italian food and me and my family have been going there for years.
- In my teens and early 20s I used to like going to get my nails done at what was called Apricot Beauty Studio (now Beauty Secrets) in the village.
And I have to give a shout out to my parent’s first dental practice, the Maltings in St Albans – it’s been around for 25 years or so now.