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Richard Farleigh - "I wanted to invest; I was amazed by Ling's
complete lack of nerves, and also by her business acumen."
Duncan Bannatyne - "I wanted to
invest... but ye turrn'ed me dooon!"
"Harrumph! I'm out!"
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|Hi! I am Ling from Dragons' Den. I lease cheap new cars!|
BANNATYNE MEETS LING
shouted Ling Valentine, as she rolled up to surprise the Scotch Dragon on the Newcastle Quayside in her German-flagged yellow "wasp".
Unsurprisingly, Duncan looked on in sheer disbelief. After all, it had been four years since Ling had arrived in the Den, taunted the Dragons with her outlandishly different marketing techniques. Ling walked away from a deal, turning down Bannatyne and Richard Farleigh.
Since then, business for Ling has been booming! Turning over £35million worth of cars in 2010, it turns out that Ling really didn't seem to need the Dragons' money in the first place.
10 seconds of Deborah Meaden on Ling
Duncan declined the offer of a lift from Ling, but did visit World Headquarters in Gateshead, to see first hand how Ling manages to churn out so many new cars each month.
He was greeted by a pile of cash; £50,000 to be exact, the same amount he and Richard had offered Ling in the first place. After falling victim to his Scotch blood and putting the cash in his suit pocket, Ling showed him around the office and allowed him a brief moment to glaze over the LINGsCARS accounts.
2 minutes of Ling gobbing off
That's when the Dragon began to spit flames. The summary of accounts that Ling had provided was not good enough, Duncan wanted to know EXACTLY what he'd missed out on, and demanded to speak to Ling's accountant.
Ling stood her ground, and a stalemate was reached, with Duncan settling for the Companies House accounts for LINGsCARS, finally realising the goldmine Ling had originally denied him.
Ling showed Bannatyne that his £25,000 investment would now have been worth £100,000 (plus his original £25k back). Bannatyne disputed these figures, though it's unsure what the BBC will show. Since the filming, Ling has completed her April 2011 accounts and can now prove that Bannatyne was utterly wrong to contradict her figures, which are correct.
Profit for LINGsCARS in the year 2010 to 2011 is in excess of £100,000!
Ling's full 11 minute appearance on the programme
A lesson in Sales and Marketing:
Ling Valentine and LINGsCARS.com
You can download this chapter of the book (shown below) as a pdf to print, HERE (2.6 Mb)
You can buy this book (discounted) at Amazon, HERE
The story of Ling's career is facinating: 'I was stuck in China as just another one of the 1.2 billion people competing for a thin slice of a small cake, so, having completed my BSc in Applied Chemistry, in 1996 I went to Finland to continue my studies,' she explains. While in Helsinki, Ling met future husband and business partner Jon through an early version of an internet chat room. Eventually, Ling flew to England for a visit and they drove around Europe together to meet other friends they had met through the same websites. 'Of course,' says Ling, 'we fell in love and that was that!'
Theo was a little more stringent, however, and it was at this point that things began to unravel. Ling explained, a little uncertainly: 'My net profit in 2005 is £70,000. I left it in the business and then in 2006 I used £25,000 of that money for the marketing. I can't do any marketing without the money.' But Theo was still unsure as to the exact details.
'On your audited accounts did you actually show £70,000 before tax and then pay corporation tax on that?'
'I think I paid about £5,000 quarterly on tax. The thing is that I don't do the books.' Theo was distinctly unimpressed and at this answer he exploded in indignation.
'You come here asking for money saying you don't do the books, how do you expect me to give you money if you don't know what you're making?'
This small exchange was almost like setting off a roll of dominos. Ling protested that her business was clearly making money and was still going strong after five years, but Peter was unmoved and was even a mite sarcastic in his response: 'Your lack of business nous is terrifying. You can't even tell me how much you're making over three years. Can you imagine me giving you £50,000 now and asking what you spent the money on? "Oh I dunno, I bought another missile." You haven't got a full understanding and appreciation of your business. That's my problem. I'm out.' Very quickly Theo expressed his admiration for Ling's abilities but admitted that he was not prepared to invest either.
Peter Jones: Your lack of business nous is terrifying
Deborah, frustrated by Ling's ability to present any plausible financial answers, arrived at the same conclusion as her colleagues: 'You have a lot of what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur but I couldn't work with you because you can't give a straight answer,' she explained. 'For me you've absolutely lost credibility. I'm very disappointed.' Deborah, too, withdrew from any possible bidding.
Ling, however, feels their questioning was unfair: 'At the time, Lingscars.com was a partnership. Consequently, I did not have any corporation tax figure or audited accounts. It's quite impossible for a partnership to provide these and it was unfair of Theo to demand them just to make me look like I did not know how much money I was earning.'
Three down and two to go and it appeared that Ling's appealing pitch had perhaps championed style over substance. Richard, not for the first time, was about to buck the trend. 'I think you're a good business person,' he began. 'You've created a good business with great turnover and you have a good reputation. I have an issue with the valuation, but just to get things moving I'd like to offer you half the money, but it's going to be a completely different valuation to what you're talking about. I would like to offer you £25,000 for 20 per cent.' This was well short of the kind of investment to equity ratio that Ling was looking for, but she remained quiet as Duncan weighed in. Clearly charmed, the Scottish millionaire felt that Lingscars.com could grow into a nice business and matched Richard's offer.
Ling had been looking for £50,000 for 5 per cent - here was an offer of £50,000 for a whopping 40 per cent. Ling did not blink as she refused the offer. The effect was immediate. Theo laughed, Peter gasped and Duncan replied, in disbelief: 'You're turning us down?' It was another example of Ling's headstrong belief in herself and the business. Staring Duncan right in the eye she uttered a Line that is now immortalised on her website, where she glories in her encounter in the Den:
'Well, Chinese eat Dragons for breakfast! I would say 5 per cent each, 10 per cent in total.'
Richard was once again measured in his response and between himself and Duncan an improved deal for 30 per cent of the company was tendered. To the incredulity of the Dragons, Ling remained completely unmoved. 'Thank you. I refuse it.' Theo, perhaps surprised that Duncan and Richard had even made such an offer, could contain himself no longer:
'Ling - think about it. It's a fantastic offer. It's an unbelievable offer. Take their money.' Deborah concurred and for a moment it looked as if Ling had a real dilemma on her hands, but she didn't. She thanked them again and she refused them again and retreated back down the stairs.
Explaining her decision, Ling says: 'All I could think about was that I could get that cash in 30 seconds from the bank for no equity stake, and that I could not face giving away a third of my business for that, I had a proven business and they had no risk! After the Den I had some regrets, mainly wondering if I had lost out from not working with Duncan and what I had potentially lost from Richard's end-game expertise, but since my episode aired I have been incredibly busy.' Indeed, her appearance sparked immediate interest; 'Web visits on the night of the broadcast were over 5,000 people, and the next day it was over 10,000. I spent the whole night trying to stop my server crashing!'
Whlle her madcap nature may have stunned and perhaps even put off some of the Dragons, it is easy to see why Duncan Bannatyne and Richard Farleigh were interested in Ling's business. Both of these Dragons place plenty of stock in the people that hey are working with. Clearly both Richard and Duncan could see that with a little more guidance and advice, Ling could take her business to a new level.
Even without such guidance, though, Ling's business has continued to grow. She has plundered her appearance on the show for more positive publicity; her company is being used as a business project for A-Level students; she has bought an old London Routemaster bus which she uses as a kind of mobile promotional tool at large events up and down the country and her website has been voted best non-franchised site by Automotive Management magazine. Turnover has more than doubled and Ling is confident she will exceed £200,000 in commission income at the end of 2007. She has turned down at least ten investment offers and has valiantly fended off advances from large competitors who have taken a distinct interest in her business. 'I don't want to bleed overheads on fancy salaries, perks and overheads. I have remained totally focused on the needs of the customer.'
Business has been booming: 'Since the show I have been working from 6 am to 8 pm and I have been offered more and more cars to sell as my customer base has grown. I have increased the number of premium car brands I rent (at discount prices) and have had offers of other business opportunities.' One deal Ling has completed is an agreement that sees her refer customers to a particular car insurance company in exchange for a monthly fee. In keeping with her commitment to keep costs low, Ling uses this cash to help subsidise the deals on her website.
Ling freely admits that her antics have made her unpopular in some circles, but she refuses to be distracted by abusive e-mails and anti-competitive pressure from within the motor industry: 'Overheads in the new car industry are sickeningly high, and I simply remove these costs for my customers. I ignore complaints from manufacturers and dealers and take all my advice from my customers,' she insists. With her business continuing to bloom and her innovative promotional ideas stretching to offering customers free cash (Chinese Yuan sent in the post), perhaps in time Ling may even force Richard into regretting not caving in to her demands.