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Flowing steadily

Flowing steadily

When I returned from South East Asia in September 2006, I was faced with new challenges. I was experiencing culture shock for the first time since leaving the UK in July 2005. I had spent 15 months travelling, the last 2 months of which I had spent in Burma and remote areas of China that used to be part of Tibet. I knew things were going to be different every time I went somewhere new, I didn’t expect that I’d be so used to different that it would be strange to come back home again!

I was also entering my fourth year of University, and I had made my mind up that I wanted a First. I had a lot of hard work ahead.

As a result, the business flowed along at a steady pace for most of 2006.

Expansion and Escapades

Expansion and Escapades

At then end of 2004, I had talks with a number of new suppliers and by the start of 2005 we branched out into a number of new products. We introduced kilt accessories including kilt hose, flashes and sgian dubhs. Later in the year, we also started adding some core Highland Dress products including kilts, ghillie shirts and jackets. We also made a big step by combining individual products together, and selling them as kilt outfits.

Along with the developments in Highland Dress, we started trading in pewter goods. On the 7th of February we sold our first hip flask, a few months later on the 13th of July we sold our first tankard. I certainly didn’t expect that less than 5 years later we would have the biggest hip flask store and tankard store on the internet.

However, all the extra products meant that my bedroom started to become filled up with inventory. Products were stacked up underneath the window, under the bed, along the walls…virtually everywhere there was space. Each pile was a different product so I could quite easily do a visual stock-check to see what was running out, and order more.

Towards the end of July I flew out to Singapore to spend a year studying at the National University of Singapore on a student exchange programme. The opportunity was the chance of a lifetime, and that year changed my life.

I had spent 12 months selling Scottish products online, but was now leaving everything behind to live on the other side of the world. In a way the business and my travels were competing with each other for my time, in another way they needed each other to survive.

The money I had made during the previous year funded my 15 months in South East Asia. If I hadn’t been selling sporrans, I couldn’t have gone. However, I spent the next 15 months having to work from the other side of the world. This period taught me a lot about working with others, and about standardising the work flow. The whole business was in my head – how could anyone else take over without having access to my brain?

Thankfully, my family looked after things in Scotland while I was away, and they had privileged access to my head if they needed it!

Where it all began…

Where it all began…

On the 3rd of July, we sold our first sporran!

I was a student, so business was very much a part-time affair. I started selling sporrans because I saw the demand, and knew a supplier, not because I wanted to start a business. I downloaded all my sales data so kept good accounts (very important), but was much more casual on other aspects.

Everything was run from my bedroom. I would come back from university and check my emails, print out the orders and wrap them up to be taken to the post office. The only material I had lying around to wrap parcels was pink, flowery paper, so the packages looked like little pink presents for the first few months.

I wanted to keep the money separate from my personal bank account, so I used a Cadbury tin that I owned as the current account! I used the profit from my first sale to fund my next stock purchase, and the profit from those sales for the next, larger order and so on. The whole business started with a very small personal investment (1 sporran) and grew organically from there. To this day, we’ve never borrowed any money to fuel growth – it’s all come from our own hard work.

In the beginning, I was sticking with accessories as there were no sizes involved. I had sporran chain straps and belts that could fit a 30″ waist right up to a 48″. That meant I could buy 5 of the same product at once, rather than 5 different sizes of one product, and only have 1 of each size.

However, as we were very small, we carried very little stock and I was very dependent on my supplier. Unfortunately my supplier was not reliable, and a few months after starting trading, I couldn’t buy any more stock. This taught me an extremely valuable lesson, very early in my career. The customer is the most important thing. If they are going to trust us with their money, we need to deliver the product. A weak link anywhere in the supply chain will make the customer lose trust in us, not the supplier.

Before selling any more products, I needed to find a new supplier. At the turn of 2005, I did just that.