Backed By Dragons: The Story of the Universal Manhole Key

Backed By Dragons: The Story of the Universal Manhole Key

An unshakeable faith in his invention has now seen Andy Doris win the considerable backing of Dragons’ Den’s Deborah Meadon for his Universal Manhole Cover Lifting Key Kit.

If your mind is of a problem-solving disposition then a chance remark or innocent conversation is often enough to set the mental cogs in motion, and so it was with Dragon’s Den candidate, Andy Doris.

“It all started from a simple job I was asked to do,” recalls the Northumberland-based owner of Dad Machining. “I was working in London as a mechanical engineer when a company next door to us who specialised in drain maintenance asked me to repair one of their hydraulic manhole cover lifters.

“Once I’d got it back into working order, I took it outside to check it on a nearby cover only to discover that the key that I had repaired didn’t fit. In that instance I simply made an alternative that would, but the guys at the drain company told me that this was a real problem for them – the number of different eyelets to be found on covers. That’s when I thought that there had to be a market for a universal drain hole cover key.”

It’s a lightbulb moment that is common to many a budding inventor but the journey that it set in motion is equally as likely to be a minefield of pitfalls and unexpected costs. In fact, Andrew’s experience stands as a salutary lesson to all those who have dreamed of converting that long-held germ of an idea into the money tree that could finance their retirement.

“In its first incarnation the device was in truth over engineered for its requirements and I just didn’t account for the financial outlay that would entail and its impact on margins,” explains Andrew.

“By the time I’d invested in the tooling and the patents I found myself in some considerable financial difficulty, and that was then compounded by a price point that proved to be far too high for the market.”

That was nearly 13 years ago, and Andrew now freely admits that his naivety  in business would nearly be the death of his Universal Manhole Cover Lifting Key concept, but, as his recent Dragons’ Den appearance demonstrates, the Northumberland-based inventor and his product are now back from the brink.

“The reception from drainage companies was always a great comfort, even in the dark days when it was clear that I couldn’t make it financially viable,” continues Andrew.

“I always knew there was a market for it, and with the help of my brother we’ve been able to start again, making the first prototypes far more cost effectively, and sourcing the manufacturing in the Far East. We’re in control of the whole process now and the product has been available to buy for the last three years.”

The Universal Manhole Cover Lifting Key kit is supplied with 14 quick-release interchangeable end tips, and is designed to eliminate the problem of the multiple eyelets found on manhole covers and access chambers. You may need to lift a road cover with a 33mm t-slot, for instance, or a driveway with a 22mm t-slot.

All of the parts are destruction tested and certificated independently by “Lloyds British Testing” whilst the tips are also available in Nylon to eliminate the sparking effect that can be caused whilst inserting steel tips into the steel manhole cover.

Dad Machining has been selling the product in the UK and Ireland for over two and half years now, and in that time has recorded sales in excess of 10,000 units. The objective now is to see more outlets stocking the device, and take the company to the next level in the process, which is why Andy has sought out capital investment on Dragons’ Den, a move that was to be rewarded with the endorsement and financial backing of Deborah Meadon.

A £40K deal in return for 35 per cent of the business now brings on board an individual who is in possession of what is fast developing into a considerable portfolio of building products start-ups in her stable of going concerns.

“It’s been a long road to where we are now and there’s been plenty of false starts,” concludes Andy. “I always knew that the product itself worked, and Deborah’s support, together with the sales we’ve accrued thus far, do demonstrate that there’s a market there.”

The Universal Manhole Cover Lifting Key kit includes:
2 x interchangeable Handles 440mm long
2 x 33mm t-tips2 x 22mm t-tips
2 x 10mm side entry hooks
2 x M10mm screw tips
2 x M12mm screw tips
2 x M16mm screw adaptors
1 x short stopcock tip
1 x free long stopcock tip

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