What 10 Years in Business Has Taught Me

We recently celebrated our 10th year in business. Apparently the whole team went out and had a great time – unfortunately I couldn’t make it due to a schedule conflict – I was away in Italy getting married at the time!

Sometimes it’s hard to imagine that we’ve been going for a whole 10 years – that’s a third of my life!

Over that time, the business has changed massively. We’ve seen phenomenal growth and our team has expanded to 6 full time staff. I’ve also spent over half of that time living away from Edinburgh, in Asia and latterly in London.

With our recent property purchase, my new wife and I are heading back up to Edinburgh to settle down for the long term so we’re entering a new decade with a new phase in our history.

What Have I Learned

Summing up 10 years in 1 blog post isn’t easy. However, I think the most important things I’ve learned are fairly simple.

Happiness

Ultimately – it all boils down to happiness. You want a promotion, so that you can earn more money, so that you can buy a bigger house, so that you can go on better holidays, so that you can wear more expensive clothes, so that you can be happier. We spend most of our lives working towards goals that we subconsciously think will make us happy, but very little time working on what actually makes us happy.

We’re making happiness a core value of the business and we’re working hard to make our company better, bring a little happiness to our customers and lead happier lives.

Stressing and toiling over hitting sales targets, or getting that report finished for the boss that doesn’t like you in a job you don’t like sounds like a nightmare that’s all too common. By realising what actually makes you happy, you can spend more time working on those aspects of your life, and forgetting about all the other nonsense.

What does this mean in practice? That supplier we work with who is constantly dishonest, ships late, has low quality products – well, we’re not going to work with them any more. That cheap product that we can sell at a great price, but will probably break – we’re not going to sell that any more. We’re going to make sure we understand what genuinely makes us a better business, a better member of society and create some positivity and goodness in the world. (I like to think we’ve done this for the last 10 years already, but now it’s written in stone in our company values, we can try harder).

Big Picture

In line with the above, keep an eye on the big picture and be the company you want to be, not the company you are. It’s easy to see another year slip by without achieving those goals you set out at the start of the year, or even the ones that rolled over from last year. Keep an eye on those – they don’t go away and if you don’t achieve them, you can easily find your business or your life leading you down a path you didn’t necessarily want to go down.

Write down some short, medium and long term goals, and spend some time every week working out how to achieve them now. Start achieving the long term ones today, and they will materialise.

People

I love a system, and a process. I love to automate things. But ultimately, our business is still run by people. The better the people, the better the business. Never compromise on that.

Never hire someone who you think could learn to fit in. Hire people on their talents not their skills*, and hire them on their values of who they are. If they’re dishonest, you can’t teach them not to steal. If they’re compassionate, they’ll be kind to your customers.

Firing someone can be painful, but your job as a business owner is to make the best business for everyone, and sometimes you need to root out a bad egg to make the salad taste better.

*Talents are qualities that people have developed their whole lives, skills are things which can be easily taught. I have a talent for technology. I’ve never used an iPhone, but give me one and I’ll work it out pretty quickly. I don’t have a talent for design. I know what I like and what I don’t like, but I’m not great at putting pen to paper and coming up with new designs. I can learn to be good, great even, but I’ll never be as good as someone who’s thought about design for their whole life.

Numbers

Make sure the numbers are good. I tend not to spend money I can’t lose – I don’t like debt, I don’t like credit. You need to be comfortable that you understand your accounts, that you know your break-even point and that you don’t forget to pay yourself.

Customers

Last, but definitely not least. Your job as a business owner is to serve your customers. Delight them and they’ll tell their friends and they’ll come back. When you’re not sure how to make a decision, make it based on what is better for customers.

We recently put all our stock information onto our website, effectively showing our competitors how many of each item we have in stock. Scary. Why? Because it’s much better for customers to know that we have their product, in our warehouse and are ready to ship it. If it’s better for customers – do it.

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The Big Move

We began moving into our new premises last week and we’re planning to be finished by this Sunday. From Monday 18th August, we’ll be fully operational from our new premises.

The last time we moved we did most of the heavy lifting over a single weekend. We’d made preparations during the week leading up to it, building new shelves etc in the warehouse, but the main move was over a weekend.

This time, I’m not confident we can do that much in 2 days. We’ve got 4 times the stock, and all together there’s about 5 tonnes of it. That doesn’t include all the shelving, desks, chairs, computers, engraving machines and all the rest of it.

So, this time, we’ve spread the move out over a few weeks. Last week we got a delivery of our new shelves:

IMG_20140731_132248And set about building them:

IMG_20140731_151430

IMG_20140805_145017Over the next few days, we started moving all of our bulk stock – things we don’t need very often, or overflow stock that we have lots of – so our new shelves started to fill up:

IMG_20140805_165601 IMG_20140805_165614 IMG_20140807_125149All the stock we’ve moved so far used to sit on shelves, so those ones have come down and can now be built ready for the next batch of products:

IMG_20140807_125213We’re lucky with this move that our old and new locations are less than 5 minutes walk apart. From today onwards we’re starting to move products that we’ll need to ship to customers. Unfortunately there’s no real way around this. However, we’ll have the van going back and forth between the warehouses, so our warehouse guys will need to walk round the corner to pick the products for a few days. We’re anticipating no alteration to deliveries going out throughout the whole move! I know some companies that shut down for stock checks, never mind warehouse moves.

We’ll leave the technical stuff until the weekend as that will involve down time while we switch all the computer systems off and set them up at the new place. Busy week and weekend in store for us all!

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We’re On the Ladder

Almost exactly 10 years after starting this business from my bedroom in my mum’s house, I’m thrilled to announce that we’ve just bought our first property.

It’s a great opportunity to look back at our fantastic growth over the last 10 years.

We started out in my bedroom wrapping orders in the only paper I had (pink flowery paper!) and I piled up the different kinds of sporrans around the floor and under my bed:

Then we moved to a tiny 75 square foot unit. The photo is basically all there was in it – 2 sets of shelves! However, it sure felt huge at the time.

When we started to outgrow that, we moved into a 125 square foot unit:

Then into our first office at about 350 square foot. We started off having it split between warehouse and office:

Then we got a a second 200 square foot office (total 550), so we moved the warehouse to the new unit and had our first solo office! Mind you, those warehouse aisles were a pretty tight squeeze!

Then into another 200 square foot office (total 750) to take some of our bigger bulk products:

At our last move, we took a bigger step that we hoped would last us for a few years and moved to a 2,500 square foot unit, a huge 4 times bigger. We suddenly had more space than we’d ever thought about. You can see that our aisles got a little bigger as well!

However, as is the way, after less than 2 years, we’d started to find ourselves short of space again….

So, we began looking for a larger space to help us continue our growth into the future. Finding a big space in Edinburgh isn’t easy, unless you want to be slightly out of town in an industrial estate. We were very keen to find a space in Leith as we love it here – there’s a real buzz around the area right now and lots of cool bars and shops are opening up.

On Friday 25th July (10 years and 1 month sine we were founded) we completed the purchase on a 15,000 square foot shop. A whopping 6 times bigger than our current premises and wee bit bigger than my bedroom!

It’s part of a beautiful grade B listed building and used to be a Co-Operative superstore back in the day. The property also has 2 shop fronts so stay tuned for exciting news on what we’re going to do with them.

Here’s some photos before we got in to tidy up!

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Birthday Wishes From Local MP

We’re proud to be a Leith based business and it was great to receive an email from our local MP Mark Lazarowicz, (MP for Edinburgh North and Leith) in reply to our birthday celebrations.

Mr Lazarowicz writes, “My congratulations to you on your success, and it is indeed good to hear positive news from businesses in Leith.”

Continue to watch this space for more exciting updates about Macdonald Sporrans and our 10th birthday celebrations.

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Happy Birthday Macdonald Sporrans

10 years ago this week, Fergus sold his first sporran and Macdonald Sporrans was born. To celebrate we’ve created a short video to show you how things have changed over the last 10 years for Macdonald Sporrans. You can view this on our YouTube channel.

Happy birthday Macdonald Sporrans

Thanks to all of our customers over the last 10 years. We look forward to the next 10.

Watch this space for more birthday news and celebrations.

 

 

 

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Competition: Design A Hip Flask

As a company, Macdonald Sporrans is celebrating it’s 10th Anniversary this year. To celebrate we’re looking for your help in creating an exclusive hipflask to be sold across our sites which include buyahipflask.com. For all sites and company history, browse the blog and get to know us a little better.

Brief

We’re looking for a stunning new design to feature on an exclusive range of hip flasks. We’re open to new and fresh designs, so feel free to wow us with your artwork. Always bear in mind the design guidelines (below) and examples of existing designs. Simple designs usually engrave well.

See here for examples and inspiration. 

Design Guidelines

Artwork should be:

  • Black and white images with white backgrounds
  • Clear, crisp lines with smooth edges
  • As large as possible (preferably greater than 500 pixels in height and width) – the image may be scaled down to fit appropriately on the item.
  • Should be supplied as a .gif, .jpg or .pdf

Prize

One lucky winner will have their design engraved onto a limited edition run of hipflasks.  They will also win two of these flasks, one for themselves and another for a friend.

How To Enter

Submit your design by email to hello@macdonald-sporrans.com.  The subject line should be Hip Flask Design 2014 followed by your name. Entries must be received by midday (BST) on 31st July 2014.

Terms And Conditions

  • Any logo submitted that does not follow the design guidelines cannot be considered.
  • You are not allowed to submit a design that is for sale or has been sold to another party and it must be your own original work.
  • By entering this competition you are granting Macdonald Sporrans the right to use of your image including for production, use on the websites and social media.
  • Prize cannot be substituted or transferred.
  • Macdonald Sporrans will credit the winner with the design.
  • If design is suitable for print on tankard we reserve the right to also engrave on a tankard.
  • All entries should be received no later than 31st July. The winner will be chosen and contacted within 1 week. If you have not heard from us before 8th August unfortunately your design has not been chosen.

We look forward to seeing your entry. Good Luck!

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Edinburgh Trams: 10 years in the waiting

On Saturday,  (31st May) the long wait for the Edinburgh trams to start public operation ends. It’s been a 10 year wait for this, as the contract was first awarded in May 2004.

Another far more important project started in 2004; Fergus took steps to start his own business. This year sees the company celebrate it’s 10th anniversary. You can read here the achievements and changes of Macdonald Sporrans over the same time frame as the building of the trams. I like to think we’ve been quite productive over the last 10 years.

Back in March this year, I took a sneak peak on the trams and was one of the lucky few who got to ride them ahead of the launch as part of Exercise Salvador. I’ve posted a few pictures below for you to enjoy.

 

 

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2nd Fastest Growing Company in Scotland!

Last year we were the 2nd fastest growing technology company in Scotland!

But we didn’t win an award… because we didn’t know about the competition.

I recently found out about the Deloitte Fast 50 Awards. It’s an annual award for fast growing technology based companies. We didn’t enter last year because we didn’t know about it.

I’ve never really had the personality for self-promotion and the business has developed around that. We’ve never really had a marketing department or a press department. We’ve never really gone out to look at things like awards to see what we could enter or win. We work hard and we innovate in our own way, and we don’t really shout about it.

It came as a bit of a surprise to find out about this award, and presumably there must be others like it. It came as a bigger surprise when I realised that if we had known about it, and if we’d have entered, we would’ve been ranked 15th in the UK and 2nd in Scotland!

FreeAgent top the Scottish list at position 8 with 2128% growth, while second in Scotland is Skyscanner at position 22 with 1033% growth.

In the 5 years up to 2013 we had 1343% growth. Imagine having higher growth over the last 5 years than the behemoth that is Skyscanner. I went to a talk by a couple of the founders of Skyscanner a few years ago and they had over 100 development staff if I remember correctly.

In the 5 years to 2013, 3 of them was just me, or I had a friend helping me out, 2 of them I started to take on staff, and today, there’s only 6 full time members of staff.

We’re definitely proud of what we’ve achieved and I like to think that we’re doing something bigger than just selling products. We’re building a company that does things a little differently, and we work a little differently. I’ll probably write some posts about that soon, but some examples are that we’re nearly entirely cloud based (we prefer to save the trees than use paper if possible), we offer generous pensions and profit shares to staff, we have flexible working arrangements, we give all team members the ability to have input into the way the business is run, we’re entirely open about our financials within the team…. and lots more.

Perhaps this year we’ll start entering some of these awards so that we can get the badges to reflect our smiles.

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Tuesday’s Special Request

On Tuesday we had a lovely customer, Kade. He livened up a cold day by asking us for a special request. Along with his kilt order, he added a little note saying: ‘Please include drawing of a dinosaur fighting a giant baby alongside the kilt. Thank you greatly for this.’ Our artist in house, Gary, couldn’t pass up such a tempting opportunity to get involved. Here’s what he came up with:

Baby Fighting Dinosaur

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Great Customer Service

I bought an expensive Logitech mouse about 5 years ago. It was the top of the line mouse at the time and it was pretty good.

About 2 years after having it, it started double clicking when I single clicked. I read around some forums, and it turned out to be a common problem. I called Logitech, and they promptly shipped me a new mouse, the updated version.

3 years and 6 days after receiving it, it’s doing exactly the same thing. Although it only has a 3 year warranty, Logitech is going to replace it again for a new one, which will come with a new 3 year warranty.

Great customer service. Although, not feeling great about the fact that they keep breaking. Although they’ve definitely got good systems in place to deal with the problems that are arising, including making a special case for someone just outside the warranty period, I can’t help but think that they should spend more time on making the product perform better.

I’ve been thinking a lot over the last few weeks about what our company stands for, what our vision and mission are, and what type of company we want to be in 5 years time. Creating great products definitely feels like a key part of that, alongside a constant desire to make those products better over time.

I firmly believe in change, and the process of constant re-evaluation and improvement. Nothing in our company is written in stone, it’s constantly challenged to see if it can be improved.

While I’m happy to buy a Logitech product because I know I’ll get great service, I have less confidence that they’re focussed on making better products, or even making their existing products better. Perhaps with a little of that strategy, they’d be pushing forward new ways of interacting with computers that will help to ensure their place in the market in 10 years.

Hopefully that strategy will help to cement ours, and hopefully we’ll create some great new products along the way, while also providing fantastic customer service.

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