The CBC Dragon’s Den production crew came to Fredericton on March 14 to see what entrepreneurs the province had to offer. The auditions were part of a cross-country tour to 30 different cities, and New Brunswickers should be hopeful to see some local representation in the next season.
“It’s always such a great turnout and the quality of entrepreneurs in Fredericton is very high, and we usually get about 15 to 25 businesses that come out,” said Jane Chupick, a Dragon’s Den producer.
Chupick has been a producer with the show for eight years. While the representative number of New Brunswick entrepreneurs appearing on Dragon’s Den is smaller compared to other provinces, Chupick has seen successful entrepreneurs like husband-and wife-team Jeff Alpaugh and Emilee Boychuk come out of Fredericton.
Alpaugh and Boychuk are the co-founders of Jeff Alpaugh Custom, “The world’s most dangerous dress shirts.” The life and business partners run the Fredericton business as a custom dress shirt service and typically specialize in shirts that will ensure you “walk out of your house and walk under a waterfall of compliments.”
Boychuk was a project manager at Blackberry for eight years and Alpaugh was in the military as an infantry officer with Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. Although Alpaugh said he “had the coolest government job in the country,” he actually enjoys working on this project more.
Owning a small business anywhere is “like being on the Amazing Race 24/7 with constant problems to solve,” Alpaugh said.
Just like being in the military, a career as a business owner means taking on a lot of personal responsibility and working in uncertain conditions. Alpaugh became passionate about making custom shirts because of his experience as a young business student in an ill-fitting suit.
Alpaugh never learned to pay much attention to his clothing until he had a hard time getting a job in a co-op program and couldn’t figure out why. Through perseverance he went to Moores and finally got hired. More importantly, they gave him a well-fitting suit.
“I finally felt like James Bond,” Alpaugh said.
One thing Alpaugh noticed during his time at Moores was wealthy clients would come into the store looking for unique dress shirts, but the only available options were blue and white.
“So I thought why don’t we let people design their own shirts? What’s cooler, finding a shirt in the mall, or saying you designed it yourself? Obviously designing it yourself,” Alpaugh said.
Alpaugh appeared on CBC Dragon’s Den in Nov. 2017. Business has been going well for Alpaugh since then, and even though the deal he made with Dragons Michael Wekerle and Michele Romanow fell through, the exposure of doing well on the show helped tremendously.
“At the time our episode aired, people who are really in the know about Fredericton business and fashion knew about the company, but a lot of people had no idea,” Alpaugh said. “Then, suddenly we have 400 people at our viewing party and we were turning people away it was so packed.”
Alpaugh is one example of entrepreneurial success coming from New Brunswick, and he feels that he partly became “a symbol of a New Brunswick victory.”
There are advantages to being an entrepreneur in New Brunswick, no matter how often it is labeled as the “have-not” province. A smaller business community means that entrepreneurs can form more personal relationships than in larger places like Ontario.
“There’s almost a bond between small business owners in New Brunswick, and even while we’re all busy there is really strong informal comradery,” Alpaugh said.
Chupick said the best advice for entrepreneurs auditioning for Dragon’s Den is to remember that while the quality of the business matters, it’s a lot about who’s going to make good television.
“We look for lots of energy, someone who’s really passionate about their business,” she said.
Find Jeff Alpaugh and Emilee Boychuk’s appearance on Dragon’s Den at: https://www.cbc.ca/dragonsden/pitches/jeff-alpaugh-custom