STU graduate gets deal in Dragon’s Den

St. Thomas University alumnus Sawyer Hannay appeared on Dragon's Den to market his clothing business, Country Liberty. (Submitted: CBC)

Sawyer Hannay walks onto the set of CBC’s Dragon’s Den. He wears a red and black plaid shirt with his company logo of Country Liberty on the bottom left, next to his hip. Standing in front of some of the world’s richest entrepreneurs, he makes his pitch — $150,000 for 10 per cent of his company. Country Liberty was worth $1.5 million at the time of the show’s recording, August 2020.

“It’s something I really wanted to do,” Hannay, 28, said. “I really look up to those [entrepreneurs.]”

Hannay shares his backstory with the audience and the Rexton, New Brunswick entrepreneur mentions he left professional hockey in 2010 to pursue business. Then, negations begin. Some Dragons believe Hannay isn’t focused enough, having two other projects on the go, his Liberty Village and starting up a potential line of wine. Two Dragons pull out of the deal but after negotiating, Hannay settles on a deal with Jim Treliving and Lane Merrifield for $150,000 for 20 per cent of his business.

“The business was doing well without an investor,” said Hannay. “I wanted to work with them, so I needed to structure a deal in a way where they could negotiate.”

Hannay said he’s watched the show plenty of times and knew he wasn’t going to get lucky on his original offer. He had prepared for a counteroffer, saying it was his motivation between the dollar amount and percentage.

Hannay was 19 when he started his company. After he was sent to Salzburg, Austria at 19 in 2012 by the Canucks to develop his hockey skills, Hannay said he started to take a lot of pride in where he was from. He wanted to represent the feeling of small-town life that Salzburg was lacking after his hockey days were over.

While attending St. Thomas University from 2013 to 2017, Hannay began his business by putting his logo on 12 shirts, hoping for some sort of profit. Since then, he’s built up his business to be worth over a million dollars, including sponsors from alcohol companies and deals with music festivals.

Now, Hannay is expanding his business from apparel to more. He started his own brand camp, known as Liberty Village, which services as an Air BNB. Building his own cabins and a campground environment, Hannay has made $40,000 off the addition to his business. He said he wants to give his customers the feeling of living in a rural area.

“A lot of them, for economic reasons, are living in the city. So I wanted to create a physical space for our customers to come and enjoy that Country Liberty lifestyle,” said Hannay.

He said after watching himself on air, he wouldn’t change his approach and was happy with the outcome.

“I was just honest and put myself out there and explained my business for what is what,” he said. “There was no embellishment.”