Blind ambition

Posted by Greg Jacobs on 18/02/2014

Arriving at Simeone  Salik’s  beautiful home in Mill Hill, which she and her husband designed, I count and impressive 22 windows, and that is just from the back. Once inside and experiencing the light flooding in it is easy to imagine how the idea for her Dragon’s Den – backed business, Blindsinabox, developed. And taking me into her study while we wait for for her two partners, Janice Dalton and Dominic Lawrence, I am pleased to see that she practices what she preaches, with four of the concertina-style paper blinds (which are attached by a simple adhesive strip) hanging up to keep the glare of the low winter winter sun off the computer screen.

Speaking about the birth of the company, the grandmother-of-eight reveals: “Janice is an interior designer and she was helping me do this house. The curtains didn’t come immediately because there was a flaw in the first lot and I remembered about 15 years ago seeing this idea for temporary window coverings in America. So I researched it, but I couldn’t find any in England, so i got some sent over from America, which cost quite a lot of money.

“Lot’s of people said, ‘Oh they are fantastic where did you get them’, so I spoke to Janice and said, ‘Wouldn’t it be a good idea if we started a business and made these curtains over here’, and that was three years ago.”

Simeon, 67, and Janice were later joined by businessman Dominic and in December 2007 they launched their website http://www.blindsinabox.co.uk. Then last September, the trio made their TV debut on to the hit BBC 2 show Dragons’ Den. They managed to secure £40,000 for a 50% stake in their business, with an option to regain ten per cent if they reached certain targets, after working two of the Den’s most ferocious dragons, James Caan and Duncan Bannatyne, with their professional pitch.

Recalling the moment when she sat down to watch her television appearance Simeone, who grew up in St Albans, tells me: “There were more nerves of that day than when we actually went in front of the dragons. We were petrified, as it was the first time we had seen ourselves on television.

“I went over to my granddaughter’s house, there were about 20 of us, all the grandchildren were there, they were all cheering. It was so funny.

But it wasn’t all plain sailing, the group locked horns with Peter Jones earlier on when he cut them down saying his “kids could have made these”.

However, Janice, whose shop Imagine Interior Designs is in Mill Hill, rebuffs his complaint, saying: “He just didn’t get the simplicity of it. Yes we have all made fans, but we didn’t think about putting the sticky on, it’s the simplest idea but was not available in Europe, so we introduced it.”

Since their appearance, things have gone from strength to strength, with the website getting more hits than ever before, orders flooding in and exciting projects afoot, including plans to release different patterned Blindsinabox. They are now available in black and white. There is also hope that the blinds could be used in the Olympic village in east London in 2012.

Simeone, who previously worked in public relations before going on to work as practice manager at her husbands opticians, tells me: “It’s going very well over the internet, and in this recessionary period I think it’s actually helping people deal with the credit crunch as they don’t have to fork out for expensive curtains.”

Thankfully, the trio has also found that the dragons aren’t half as fiery away from the television cameras.

Speaking about James Caan, Simeone enthuses: “James has been a great help, he is very charming and very nice and they have a good team and they don’t mind if we phone and ask questions.

“We have access to the whole Hamilton Bradshaw team (James’ private equity firm) which has been invaluable,” Janice adds. “Asides from the money, that has been the big benefit.”

Hinting at some big developments in the new year, Dominic excitedly tells me: “Certainly it also helps open doors, if you are ringing up Asda or Tesco and say that you have the support of James and Duncan, they will take you seriously. It has made a big difference. We are talking with people and it’s highly likely you will see the product in one of the big chains in the next few months.”

In fact, the last six months have been so busy for the Blindsinabox team, Simeone’s three daughters now have to schedule in time with her.

“It’s quite nice that now my children, instead of thinking they can phone up and I will be at the end of the line waiting for them, they know to ask if it is convenient or they ask ‘have you got a moment’,” the entrepreneurial grandmother chuckles.