ScotlandShop was founded back in 2002 by Anna White and despite being a relatively young family business is a business that is steeped in the history of Scotland and the tartans for which the nation is known globally. Over the past 20 years so much has happened. Paul Andrews caught up with founder Anna White in their new head office in Duns in the Scottish Borders to find out more.
This is a story of entrepreneurship, dedication to a business and a desire to succeed but underpinned by a desire to remain loyal to the community in which the business was founded and remains today. Anna married a farmer and the two businesses run side by side, with both Anna and her husband driving change and innovation, aspiring to be the best they can be whilst dealing with all the challenges of running businesses in the 21st century.
As Anna explains, “I was born into a farming family and was a dairy farmers daughter and knew early on that farming was not the career for me personally. I am a creative individual and always have been and wanted to use that creativity positively in my life, so I took a job in sales and marketing in a business that was all about textiles. It was a real insight into the sector with staff, manufacturing processes, textiles and relationships with both agents and distributors. This was very much a sales role and something that I enjoyed but it was also at a time when the internet had not been created.”
It was the internet that provided Anna with the opportunity to build her own business as she realised that there was no limit to the market potential and the business was founded in 2002 with a registered domain name and the plan to sell online in the UK and overseas, initially selling Scottish crafts, gifts, food & textiles.
As Anna continues, “The business was founded on not only a love of fashion, fabric and Scottish culture but also a desire to contribute to the development of the local rural economy here in the Scottish Borders. Since we started all those years ago, we have become a truly international organisation delivering all over the world on a daily basis and offering our products and service in 6 languages.”
The vision for the business was focused. “Our collection is inspired and influenced by the multitude of colour to be found in our Scottish tartans, steeped in history yet still a fundamental part of the fashion industry. Combining the talents of the many fabulous designers and manufacturers we work with across Scotland, we are spoilt for choice with all these beautiful fabrics woven on our doorstep,” adds Anna.
“So much has happened since we began our journey and the connection with the land, our community and farming remains. I married a farmer and although he continues to run the farm, for which he has just been named Arable Farmer of the Year in 2023, he is a key part of the business. In fact, our first physical presence was a shed on the farm from which the business was built.”
Anna worked tirelessly to build the business, juggling roles as a wife to a farmer, business founder and mother. “Everyone knows that building a business is not easy and we certainly put the hours in at the start, as we do today, but the family saw how hard we worked, and to be honest I am not sure that my daughter wants to have to work like I did!” continues Anna.
The business grew although maybe not a quickly as Anna would have liked. “I thought things would happen much more quickly than they did,” adds Anna. “I needed to be patient and for an entrepreneur with a creative spirit it is not easy. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but looking back patience was a good thing as it enabled us to stick to the original plan, our core values and to build the business we wanted, a business that creates jobs locally, makes more of locally manufactured products and boosts opportunities for the next generation in an area which historically has not provided many opportunities to them.”
Anna put her building skills to the test as they moved into a newly renovated old granary in 2004 and this is where it all started to feel more real. “We had our own building and the team felt more together and this was when the business really started to grow and it was in 2006 that Ali, our longest serving ScotlandShop employee first started working for us."
"In 2016, after 10 years of tartan service we awarded Ali a trophy and her crown for the day,” explains Anna.
The plan was always to build a global presence and to incorporate the opportunity afforded by the internet and in 2008 they re-launched their French & German sites to bring them in line with the UK site before re-launching all 5 of their websites in 2010 based on extensive research with existing customers and the experience that the team had gathered to date.
“We used a new agency, new photographer and incorporated lots of new ideas and inspiration,” adds Anna, “as we still do today as the sites need to continue to evolve and offer the experience that the customer wants.”
Anna has built a business on strong family values, a sense of purpose and a business that is entrenched in the local community.
As she continues, “Many of our suppliers are family businesses with the same underlying values as ours and share our desire to do business the right way and to make a positive impact, to offer opportunities and to make a difference. Of course we want to make a profit but we are not in business just for the money. Family businesses like ours really care and that underpins some of the decisions that we make too,” she adds.
Anna and the team have just moved into their new head office on an industrial estate in Duns in the Borders, a place that means a lot to Anna and the family.
“This is where the business was founded and we are delighted to maintain the local connection. It is probably not the ideal location for a business that now has a number of retail outlets across Scotland, a flagship store in Edinburgh and making an impact on the global stage but we are loyal to the community that has supported us over the years, our staff have helped us get to where we are today and local employment is important to keep people in the community, to support local schools and other businesses too.”
As a business the services continue to evolve, assisting customers in finding the right tartan and helping design and create the final product. For Anna the business is what she wanted.
“I love what I do and I am lucky to have created something special, something that is doing what I set out to do. But it isn’t always easy and it can be lonely at the top, making decisions and having to consider all the implications too. The pandemic was not an easy time but We have a fantastic team which all pulled together and we got through it together.”
There is a string allegiance to rugby in the Borders, the home of legendary Scottish rugby player Doddie Weir and home of Melrose, the birthplace of Rugby Sevens. As Anna adds, “Scots are proud people and love to wear their tartan. We had been making suits for our favourite Scottish Rugby player Doddie Weir for many years and then we designed Doddie’s tartan, which was our first in house Tartan Design too.”
Time moved on and in March 2022 they celebrated the Grand Opening of their first International store in New York. “In celebration of our new home, we launched the Albany tartan featuring colours found within the County Seal & City flag to highlight the Scottish heritage found throughout Albany County,” continues Anna.
This is a business with a strong creative edge, directly linking back to the core strengths of the founder. “I love to get involved with all aspects of the business and it helps me appreciate what the business needs as it continues to evolve and grow. I pack with the team when its needed to meet demand and sort any issues immediately to make things better."
"For me this is one of the strengths of running your own business as you can make instant decisions that have a direct and immediate impact too. Getting involved is also a great way to find inspiration that comes from staff, customers and the broader community around us."
“We are also lucky because very day is different and we never quite know what turn the business will take next. It’s exciting as we work with some brilliant suppliers who make incredible fabrics and also have some incredible customers who call us up and ask us to do all manor of things, showcasing the beautiful fabrics from Scotland in so many different ways.”
Anna is an inspirational leader and provides great opportunities to all the people in her team, many of them long-standing employees who have evolved with the business into different roles over the years. “People is what I love about business the most,” continues Anna.
“It is great to see members of the team flourish, to grow into new opportunities, to learn and evolve and we have a lovely culture that is the basis of our recruitment policy too."
In fact, when we are looking to recruit, our staff do the first step in the process for us, helping us find the people with the right skills but that will fit into our culture, people that want to learn and grow and have a passion for Scotland and the fabulous fabrics that we have to work with too.”
Like many family business owners Anna cares and takes the responsibility of running the business seriously. “We have a responsibility to the business but also to the team, their families and the community too. In the area where we are located we have a big impact and we take that seriously. The business is based on family values and community is important so I do spend a lot of time looking after the staff and planning for the future, theirs and mine,” she continues.
Anna and her husband Neil have come a long way, independently and collectively since ScotlandShop was first conceived. Both run fantastic businesses that are recognised as exemplars in their own sector.
Anna has created an incredible retail operation that shines a real spotlight on Scotland, is a fantastic export ambassador as well as being a great example of someone with a passion that has realised her dream.
Anna, and the business, are a beacon of positivity and entrepreneurship, not just for family business and Scotland but as a business one that celebrates Scottish heritage and all that it represents as they have done for over 20 years.
We look forward to the next stages in the journey.
Find out more by visiting their website here