Nicola and John Sugden of Campbell's of Beauly
Campbell’s of Beauly director John Sugden explains how the brand’s heritage and history makes it a perfect fit for exporting across the globe.
This 'Around the World in 80 Trades' feature coincides with the annual HSBC Scottish Export Awards in association with Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, which is being held on 22 March in Glasgow. For information on the event, to nominate or to buy tickets, click here.
Located on Beauly high street in Inverness-shire, Campbell’s of Beauly is a real Highland success story.
Known as the ‘Highland Tweed House’, the store specialises in stocking sought after knitwear which is knitted specifically in the Scottish borders and Aberdeenshire.
Opening its doors in 1858, the company has since established itself as a firm favourite among tweed fans from across the globe, including the Royal Family.
Having been a favourite of the royals for many years, the company has held Royal Warrants for Her Majesty the Queen, the late Queen Mother and the Prince of Wales.
It wasn’t until mid-2014 however when the fourth generation of the family-run firm announced their intention to exit the business and began searching for a buyer.
Keen to find someone who was a perfect fit the business (excuse the pun), they caught the eye of John and Nic Sugden, a couple who were looking to escape London life and return home to Scotland.
John recalls: “I had lived in London 12 years, Nicola for 7. We'd basically had enough of London and working for other people.
“I'd seen the fruits of our labours in our roles and thought it would be nice if I was putting all of this effort into my own business!
“We also wanted to start a family and did not want our children to grow up in London.
“So, we wracked our brains to think of a business we could either start, or if we generated enough capital, a business we could buy.
“Nic is from Easter-Ross, 40 minutes from Beauly, and knew of Campbell's, as did my father who made the suggestion that we approach them.
“So, we approached the Campbell family as to whether they were interested to sell their business to us.
“Luckily the answer was yes! So, we re-mortgaged our flat, moved up north and have been running the company since.
“Nicola grew up in this area so we were not alien to the surroundings, and I have always worked in menswear. The fit was a good one, but we really needed to re-energise the company.”
One of the ways in which the couple ‘re-energised’ the company was by addressing its export business.
Although the business had a rich heritage of attracting customers from across the globe into its store, the couple knew there was scope to expand on this.
John’s background working in the City saw him working with Scottish heritage brands for over a decade managing and increasing their export activity.
As soon as they took over Campbell’s, they knew they could use his experience to really push the business into new markets.
He added: “The company has always exported. However, my background over the last 10 years has been in export, and therefore I saw this as an opportunity to expand Campbell’s sales and outreach.
“We have a very unique business, and while history and heritage of companies can be rather contrived these days, Campbell’s does not need to “fake it”. It’s in our DNA.
“So, all of this experience in tailoring and in knitwear, gives the customer reassurance that the products we make and sell are of the highest quality.
“Therefore, when promoting our products and services abroad, I knew that there would be a demand. Of course, it’s taken a while to develop, but we’re slowly getting there.”
Campbell’s now exports all of its products sold online through its revamped website, as well as their tailored orders when they are required to do so.
John explains: “On the tailoring side, a customer might come into the shop and have measurements taken, and then we will make the garments and post them out to them.
“Our main markets outside of the UK tend to be the USA, Scandinavia, Germany, Italy and Spain.”
Looking forward however, with the drafting up of a new export strategy, the duo are looking to broaden their horizons and expand their reach even further.
He concluded: “The Far East, in particular Japan and Korea will be on the radar in the next five years. I’d like to develop our sales in those markets, and in order to do so I’ll have to research our route to market and whether we need to work with a trading partner.
“I think the Campbell’s brand, with the history and heritage that we have, in particular a Royal Warrant, is very marketable in the Far East. So, wholesale must be a consideration in the future. If we can grow another 40% in the next five years then we will have reached our 7 year plan.”
John’s advice for budding exporters: “Take your time, don’t rush into it. Ensure that you get the important things right from the start!”