Whisky Frames

Thinking outside the barrel

Whisky Frames make quintessentially Scottish rustic-looking photo frames out of old whisky barrels. We talk to the couple in charge about their startup journey.

“We have always been entrepreneurially minded, looking for ways to make things better,” says Ross Hunter, who’s background is in mechanical engineering after starting up his own company, Armadilla, which manufactures luxury accommodation pods.

Whisky Frames makes rustic photo frames made from old Scottish single malt whisky barrels. “Every frame is made from American oak barrels and hand crafted in our workshop just outside of Edinburgh,” he adds.

“The frames can be personalised through monogrammed rivets, laser engraved messages or selecting family tartans, and are finished with Harris Tweed from the Outer Hebrides to add a unique element.”

Ross and his wife Kirsten started the business after spotting a gap in the market for photo frames that were meaningful, not mass produced.

“Whilst Kristen was on maternity leave in 2015 our beloved black lab Tess sadly passed away,” Ross says. “Kristen was in America when it happened and wanted to buy a unique, rustic style frame for me with a photo of Tess.

“The search was difficult and most unique frames were cheaply made and overpriced. In the end she decided on a frame made of reclaimed barn wood.  Upon relaying the story of the search we started thinking of solutions to the problem, exploring different concepts of frames which would provide a unique reminder of Scotland.

“We came across an unloved whisky cask at our favourite salvage yard and so, Whisky Frames was born!”

“We have integrated many unique selling points into our product which are hand crafted with the option of personalisation. Our product is very different from others on the market and has been warmly received through a broad section of the market.“

Kristen managed a number of speciality coffee shops in Edinburgh before this venture, with background qualifications in work in interior design and architecture.  “We ran a lean start up,” she says, “and initially used machinery and premises from Ross’s business to gain momentum.

“Once the business was established, moving into a 20-ft container and utilised farm sheds gave us the opportunity to develop the product and ensure it was a viable business before investing any profit.

“We spent very little on the initial start-up, growing organically and being very resourceful. We have only invested personal funds of about £1,000.”

Whisky Frames credit Entrepreneurial Spark with giving them the confidence to grow and scale, and continually strive to be the best. “We feel incredibly fortunate to have been selected for the Entrepreneurial Spark enablement program,” says Ross, “which has really helped launch our business to the next level. We have received tremendous help and support through the program with free access to professionals and advice that would otherwise be very costly or difficult to obtain.

“We have also had amazing support from our family and friends, many of whom are business owners themselves with years of expertise.”

“Being your own boss has its challenges,” Ross admits, “but is very rewarding. You must be very organised and set things up in ways that save time and money. We have to be self- motivated every day to work the late nights and early mornings which is a given when starting your own business, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Having worked as employees for many years, it’s interesting how nothing feels like a chore when working for yourself and the satisfaction of achievements is far more rewarding.

“In Kristen’s case balancing a family life and starting a business proved challenging, but is still achievable with certain disciplines (and late nights).”

In five years time, they hope that Whisky Frames will be exporting to whisky lovers around the world and becoming a national gift of Scotland.

And to persuade others to try out being their own boss, any tips? "Surround yourself with support and enthusiasm as being an entrepreneur can sometimes be a long and lonesome road.

“Seek out as much support and advice as possible –and make decisions based on the knowledge you receive. We would suggest running the business as lean as possible in the early days until you find your feet.  If investment starts to run out, seek out as many opportunities as you can which will launch your business to the next level.

“Try to become ‘cloud based’ for software and communications especially when starting up. Dropbox, Voip, Xero, Base (CRM), Office 365 and ecommerce platforms are easily integrated and saves so much time, allowing you to work anywhere anytime from your phone.

“Cash flow must be religiously monitored and stick to the plan when possible!”