What’s in ‘your bag’?
“The Art File, Canns Down Press, James Ellis Stevens, Lagom Design, Lola Designs, Louise Tiler, Pulp and Thomas St Candle Company.
My main product line is greeting cards though I am also doing well with Thomas St Candles, a successful new brand whose products are going down a storm so far.
The Art File is my largest agency. I love the people and the products, they are certainly in my opinion leading the way in the greeting card industry.”
Your life before becoming an agent?
“I opened my first gift shop, in Haddington in East Lothian, in October 1996 with my Dad that we imaginatively called Gibsons. I was only 19 at the time. I worked there for a couple of years but had an urge to go and see a bit of the world and so headed for Australia and spent an amazing year there. When I came back to the UK I wasn’t sure what to do so took a few sales jobs until I decided to open my own shop in the Stockbridge area of Edinburgh that I called Gifted – slightly more imaginative!
The business was very successful, so much so that in 2013 we decided to sell the business to help towards the cost of purchasing my family’s business Gibsons in Haddington. We then gutted this shop, gave it a new look by adding lots of new products, and it has been a big success ever since. My wife Joanna joined the business in 2009, which is what cleared the way for me to do something else – and become an agent.”
What gave you the idea to become an agent?
“I had always fancied getting ‘out and about’ and was confident that our retail business was where we wanted it to be and heading in the right direction, so in 2014 I took the plunge to become an agent.
What gave me the idea was that I was dealing with agents daily in the shop and I recognised that a lot of them were nearing retirement age. It struck me that there are so many great companies out there and as time went on there would be opportunities arising with some leading companies for me to become their agent. I think a lot of people are put off becoming agents as they probably think that with more and more companies using websites etc that the future role for agents is not guaranteed. However, I believe that retail customers still want to see and feel the products (that agents bring into their shops), and also if companies are looking to grow their business then using an agent is the best way to open new accounts.
My suggestion to companies looking to find an agent would be for them to ask their existing customers what agent they like seeing. They are the best people to speak to as they see them all the time.”
Take us on a tour of your territory
“I cover Scotland, which is a challenge as it is a country with a small population spread out over a huge land mass, meaning there’s a lot of ground to cover, often with four hour drives to get to a customer. As that can often be your only appointment of the day you have to try and make the most of each call.
At the moment there is a big contrast between areas within Scotland. Edinburgh for example is booming; the visitor numbers are through the roof this year, probably due to the weak £pound, while in many other areas business can be much more challenging.
Lows for me are when I see or hear of shops closing down; shops that were once thriving but for one reason or another sales have dwindled. It’s very sad. However there are still a lot of new shops opening though, so it’s not all doom and gloom.”
How is the year panning out?
“This year has been very good for me from an agency point of view, but also as a retailer our business has been well up on last year and hopefully that growth in sales will continue in the final quarter. So, in general I see this year being a success, but nowadays you have to work extra hard to get people into your shop: lots of advertising, use of social media, loyalty schemes, and most importantly, great customer service. The business is still out there.
At the moment I am doing lots of Christmas orders as an agent and as we move ever closer to Christmas it will be time to focus on Spring Seasons.”
What do you love about your job?
“I really love my job as it’s in the industry that I’ve known all my working life, and at the ripe old age of 40 I feel that I’ve got plenty of years ahead to really build up a successful business. It was tough to begin with, and still is, but it has been worth persevering.
My customer base is growing all the time and this has without doubt been my best year yet, but I feel there is room for further growth.”
How do you switch off?
“I switch off by spending time with my wife, kids and my boxer dog Floyd. We are pretty active and enjoy taking him on big walks. I do try and keep fit and I go to the gym as much as I can, although my son is a keen footballer so I seem to spend most of my time standing on the sidelines watching him training and generally being his taxi driver! He and I both have a season ticket at Hibernian FC in Edinburgh so we go to all the home games together.”
What do you listen to when you are on the road?
“While driving I listen to the radio all the time. I tune in to Radio 1 first then, when I’m bored with that, I like to listen to chat so I flick through the stations until I find something that I’m interested in. I am considering buying a ‘learn Spanish CD’ to teach myself a new language for when I get that villa in the sun that we would love to have!”