Rachel Lowe and her board games you'll be playing this Christmas
PUBLISHED: 11:14 14 December 2015 | UPDATED: 11:14 14 December 2015
Portsmouth local Rachel Lowe changed her whole life with the roll of a dice, and for many, Christmas wouldn't be the same without the family crowded around one of her board games says Peter White
Christmas is fast approaching, and there are already reports coming in that Santa Claus might have a few difficulties while delivering presents around Hampshire this year.
But don’t despair! Portsmouth business entrepreneur Rachel Lowe has reliably informed us that despite a few hitches, Santa and his little helpers will get the job done on time, and predicts a ‘magical’ festive season in store.
Rachel should know, because the Christmas scene she describes has already been set in the latest of her widely-acclaimed ‘Destination’ board game series, appropriately entitled ‘Destination Christmas’.
Over the last decade Rachel has developed an idea that she thought up while driving fares around the streets of Portsmouth in her taxi, into one of the most successful board games series of all time – at one point having even outsold Monopoly.
Her success, that subsequently earned her an MBE in 2009 for Services to Business, is a far cry from the day she entered TV’s infamous Dragons’ Den, seeking financial backing, and left with nothing more than a soggy tissue from tears of disappointment and frustration.
Since that dark day back in 2004, Rachel’s single-minded determination has taken her to heights she never thought possible, not only with her board game, but also with a range of ladies’ fragrances and accessories. No wonder she is surrounded by the sweet smell of success!
Born in Portsmouth, Rachel attended St Edmunds School in the city, followed by spells at South Downs College and Portsmouth University. She said: “Owning my own company was something that never occurred to me. I was studying Law and music at College, and my intention was to go to University to do Law and be a barrister – get paid to argue!
“Although music is my passion, I never really felt I was good enough to compete with everyone else, and was not confident I could make a career out of it. I had my eldest daughter when I was 18 so I didn’t go straight to University.
“I did some contract work in banks and building societies, and also started my own delivery driving. I had some business cards printed, put them in all the takeaways in Southsea, and was charging £2 per delivery in my little Datsun car.
“In between jobs I would sit in a little kebab house which was open late. Opposite the kebab house there was a taxi rank, and the drivers would also come in for a cup of tea. From talking to them I realised I could earn more money taxi driving than delivering, so after doing my knowledge test, I acquired my badge from the council, and became a cabbie. That is how it all started.”
She continued: “I had this idea for the board game but didn’t really do anything with it. Then one night while I was out driving I stopped at some traffic lights and my thought was ‘red light, miss a turn’, and that is where the idea came from.
“When I was out on other shifts I would write down things that happened, and they all became part of the game. On another shift a few months later I picked up a lecturer from Portsmouth University. I don’t remember his name, or even what he looked like. But he said I looked too intelligent to be a cab driver - I told him why I hadn’t gone to Uni, and he told me to apply as a mature student. So he will never know that he changed the direction of my life.”
It was while she was at university that she noticed an Enterprise Challenge poster displaying the chance to win £1,000 for an innovative idea. She explained: “I had this board game thing in my head, but didn’t know if it was a business. But I was told to enter the idea. I won my category, then researched board games, and realised mine was something that had a good tourist market because it featured 45 top attractions, and with 30million visitors coming to London every year. It was something I could sell not just at Christmas but all year round.”
Rachel also won the second stage of the competition, and with the £2,000 prize money decided to set up her own business. She sent her business plan and concept of the game to a lot of companies, but they all said ‘no’.
Undeterred, she said: “I decided to have a go myself, but realised the money I won wasn’t much in the whole scheme of things, and needed to raise more funding to produce the game. Because my first game was Portsmouth–based I contacted a number of local businesses for sponsorship. Wightlink offered £2,000, and other sponsors included Gunwharf Quays and Portsmouth FC. I raised around £12,000 and had it match-funded by a local company who were doing small business lending.”
So having raised £24,000, the first game was born. Along the way Rachel was told about a new TV programme that was coming out called Dragons’ Den. She fancied her chances, so phoned the producers, but little did she know what she was letting herself in for!
She featured on the first series of the programme, screened in 2004, and recalls: “It was horrible. I got a tremendous grilling, and cried all the way home. It really knocked my confidence, but I had support from family and friends. I had faith in my product, and my kids kept me going. Everything I have done and continue to do is with them in mind, while building a future for us. So despite the Dragons’ Den saga we went ahead with the board game launch in Hamleys Toy Shop.
“By 5pm on the launch day Hamleys had sold out of the stock they anticipated would last them the whole of the Christmas period. Local TV covered the launch, and I rang the studios to reveal the good news of the opening day ‘sell out’, which was included as a late news flash when it went out on TV,” she smiled.
“The stock was doubled the following day and again sold out, and it soon became Hamleys best selling product, in store and on line, outselling everything else, including the likes of Monopoly.”
Destination Portsmouth, launched on December 4, 2004, also sold out quickly. Rachel said: “I even had a signing session that was a sell-out. No one can take that away from me because it is something I worked really hard to achieve. I will always hold on to those memories, whatever happens in the future.”
Rachel has subsequently produced many Destination regional and big city editions, as well as one for the London Olympics of 2012. Appropriately, there is a Destination Downton Abbey version, which has proved hugely successful.
Now Destination Christmas has joined the list, which Rachel enthusiastically describes as ‘magical’. She explained: “It is a beautiful game, with Santa stranded on the village green - his reindeers have broken free, and Santa’s elves are called in to deliver presents in their snow taxis. When players finally get to the pretty fictional villages, covered in snow, they collect Santa vouchers, but you have to make sure you don’t get caught in snow drifts. It’s a fun game, but also very pretty.
“We are making a plan for the next three years, which will see the Destination brand going to lots of different countries, because it is a model that works, but takes a lot of hard work and dedication.”
Alongside her successful board game business, Rachel has diversified with her She Who Dares fragrance and accessories range, which has already been trademarked in countries across the world. She Who Dares’ first fragrance was called Eminence, followed up with Dalliance.
She said: “It is a completely different industry, but has been an amazing journey. With She Who Dares it has taken us four years to get a complete range of products that we consider perfect, and hopefully the next chapter will be to achieve a place in the market place alongside established brands.
“I came from nothing, and now here I am continuing to build my portfolio. I have big ambitions for the perfumes because I believe nothing is impossible. I also accept it won’t happen overnight, but Destination took me 10 years to get where I am with it, so I have to believe in it, and have a fabulous team behind me. I am proud of everything that has been achieved.”
Rachel describes her Destination brand, which has a website destinationboardgames.com, as a traditional board game company, even though there have been approaches to develop a digital version for games consoles and PCs. She remains somewhat guarded about the prospect, but revealed: “The idea is now being explored, so watch this space!”
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