The world of tartan is ever evolving. Recently we spoke with Anna White of the Scotland Shop about the history and heritage of the world-renowned fabric.
What is your own background?
I am a Borders lass through and through, hailing from the village of Gordon
(the first home of Clan Gordon and the beast of the Merse!), in Berwickshire which is a very beautiful part of the Scottish Borders often overlooked by tourists as they fly over it into Edinburgh or zoom up the coast on the train. One of 3 daughters to a dairy farmer my entrepreneurial spirit comes from my dad who loved a problem to solve and never gave up. I have a degree in Marketing and French from Stirling University which set me on my business path. I love coming up with new ideas and adding an extra spin to a simple project…yes, I am probably renowned for complicating things, but always with good reason, or so I claim. I can’t even draw a stickman, but I have a creative brain which I don’t think I realized until I started Scotland Shop.
What is the company’s history and mandate?
I started Scotland Shop in 2002 in the spare room of our wee cottage and we have steadily grown from there, driven by requests from customers and the fabulous resource that is the textiles industry in this area. I love colour and the tactile nature of the woolen fabrics we work with, and this was my original inspiration to set up the business. I wanted to bring the history and heritage of tartan to customers all over the world. I am also very passionate about this very rural area, I needed an interesting job myself without commuting into the city, so I created the business and have now been able to offer employment to lots of other local people, as well as supporting the rural economy by using local manufacturers. Today we offer over 500 tartans custom made into all sorts of clothing and interiors products, to customers across the globe.
How has it evolved over time?
We started with just me and now we have 18 employees in the UK and soon a team in the US. I love people and never imagined I would work alone so building a team of multi-skilled people, all with a passion for Scotland and its history, has been one of the most challenging but satisfying sides to the business. The lovely thing about this enterprise is that it doesn’t really have a ceiling. There are people with Celtic connections, Scottish and Scots/Irish heritage all over the world and we just have to work out how best to reach them and meet their needs. We constantly evolve how we do things, how we communicate (video appointments rather than in person is a prime example due to Covid), and how we offer the very best tartan service. My dream is to have a 24-hour customer service team…we are getting there, hour by hour!
What are your roles and responsibilities there?
I am the sole owner, founder, and Managing Director. I started it all, but this is very much a team effort, and everyone contributes to the ideas and growth of the business. Sales and Marketing is my first love, writing and ideas and sharing these with the team and customers, however my role is very diverse and every day very different. One minute I am working on cashflows with Neil in accounts, the next writing a blog post or interviewing a Clan Chief, training a member of staff, resolving a supplier or customer problem, or simply making everyone a cup of tea. I do love a cup of tea!
What are the challenges of the job?
There is never enough time. I have too many ideas and not enough money or resource to implement them all. I want everything to be perfect and life just isn’t like that.
What are the rewards?
Achieving our goals, small ones and big ones, with the team. Customer reviews that remind me what a great job we generally do, and if we mess it up, we always try to fix it. In days gone by and hopefully again soon, great trips to Highland Games and events where we meet some of the nicest people in the world with the best stories of their family connections. Amazing cakes brought in by our lovely staff and even sometimes sent by customers.
What are your core products?
Tartan, tartan, and more tartan! Fabrics, ribbons, clothing, accessories, and soft furnishings. We have a stock range, but our specialty is custom made items in your tartan. As well as the traditional we do more modern items such as sneakers and bomber jackets.
How do you differ from the competition?
We try not to worry about the competition and to focus on just being us, really honest and open with our customers, sharing our unique Scottish personality, listening to what customers say and creating tartan products they really want, even if this isn’t always easy or cheap to do.
How do you reach your potential clients?
Web, email, social media, phone, in person in our Edinburgh shop and soon in the US, pop up shops and Highland Games across Scotland, the US & Canada, video appointments and even Whatsapp!
How has COVID-19 impacted your business?
It made us realize more than ever how much we love to travel and how much we like to see our customers face to face. We have brought in video appointments to combat this and will continue these as they are so much fun, we do clan consultations, measuring appointments and often just end up having a good chat on these calls!
What are your thoughts on the current state of the Celtic marketplace?
Our heritage feels more important than ever, Covid has reminded us about family and the importance of connecting with people, and we hope we can help people celebrate this.
What can be done to improve that?
Genuine stories and strict labelling so customers know they are receiving the real deal, backed by staff who really know what they are talking about and feel genuinely passionate about Scottish heritage.