As I set out on my own business journey (see here for how I’m now working with local businesses in Caithness to strengthen their online promotion), I’m really keen to learn from other local businesses. In today’s feature, I’ve gathered the thoughts of four business women on how the region of Caithness shapes their offering, along with the highs and lows of being a one-woman band, and a bonus, a sneak peek at their upcoming promotions!
Disclaimer: I featured all of the businesses mentioned on this post on a complimentary basis. Thanks to Ruth (Caithness Chocolate), Lesley-Ann (Coastline), Lisa (Haven House Art) and Lynsey (Lark & Lily Designs) for taking part!
If you would like an exclusive advertised feature for your business right here on A Highland Blend, please get in touch to find out about pricing.
How does Caithness inspire the range of products on offer?
Coastline: Well the weather is a highly influential factor in what we all wear in Caithness. Don’t get me wrong, I love to keep up with all the latest trends, but realistically we almost need the autumn/winter trends all year long! I try to steer clear from fast fashion “micro trends” and instead stock good quality, staple pieces that can be dressed up or down – and most importantly – layered up in cooler weather. Practical but stylish clothing, that’s how I’d describe it.
Caithness Chocolate: Caithness is at the very heart of my business. It’s in the name for a start, and my logo is the Scottish primrose, which is only found in Caithness, Sutherland and Orkney. I use as many Caithness products as I can, for example from Dunnet Bay Distillers, Old Pulteney, Caithness honey, Caithness summer fruits, and Caithness smokehouse in my chocolates. There is a fantastic larder here! One of my best selling products is a chocolate bar with white chocolate groatie Buckies called the ‘peedie sands’, bar which is a beach in Caithness and looking for cowrie shells is a favourite pastime here.
Haven House Art: Caithness features heavily in my paintings, and therefore in my products – whether directly or indirectly. I can be drawn to paint one of our many landmarks or beauty spots, such as Sinclair Girnigoe Castle or Dunnet Bay, but even when I am painting waves or a beautiful moment out in nature I am still being influenced and inspired by the landscape. I find Caithness so inspiring. It has so much space and large open skies, but the landscape is so varied too with its craggy coastline, wide, sandy beaches, expanses of peatland and the assortment of burns and forests that are scattered on it.
Lark & Lily: Inspiration from Caithness is definitely from the colours and textures of the landscapes & big skies we are so well known for up here. I love to mix colours and textures, but sometimes more subtly to create something modern but classic. Since starting Lark & Lily Designs, I have used materials from glass, leather to rope and ceramic in my work, and now mainly pearls, Swarovski crystals and sterling silver.
What’s your favourite place in the county?
Coastline: This is a really hard one… but the first place that comes to mind for me is Newton Hill Woodland. We lived nearby when I was younger, and a walk “up the hill” was an after dinner ritual. Since then, I’ve had my own family and moved back to the area, which really feels like home. My daughter loves running wild in the new woodland walk – climbing on all the wooden obstacles, throwing stones in the pond and hiding in the open stables by the croft. The sunsets up there at night are enough to make you stop in your tracks. We are due to get married in the croft there next year, and I know it will be the perfect setting for us in many ways.
Caithness Chocolate: I love the beaches and anywhere I can go for a walk with my dog. There are so many great walks in Caithness! In the summer months there is lots of fantastic wildlife and in the winter amazing night skies.
Haven House Art: I think my favourite place to just be is at Noss Head. I enjoy walking the loop down to Sinclair Girnigoe and out to Sandigoe Bay. I love the tranquility of that place and how it changes day to day. The colours are so vibrant in the summer time, with the gorgeous blue hue of the sea , against the lush green cliffs and bright yellow gorse, yet winter brings its own beauty, especially after a storm when the waves are pounding the cliffs below. This little area will always hold a special place in my heart and I draw so much strength and comfort from it.
Lark & Lily:
Nature is definitely my inspiration, but also my peace and reset for when things get hectic. My husband & I like to take a trip out on our Triumpj Tiger and explore off the main roads in Caithness when we can. I have so many places in Caithness I love, including Reiss Beach, Wick river, Duncansby Stacks, Wick harbour/Trinkie, Dunnet Head, and Berriedale beach. For me it brings back memories of when we were younger, having picnics & day trips out and about, as we couldn’t afford holidays abroad. We made the most of what we had on our doorstep when we had the good weather. I was brought up at the Wick harbour and my granny & gaga ran a chip shop and a cafe there. I worked in the cafe from around the age of 12 washing dishes. It got me into a good work ethic, value of earning money & the hard work that goes into running your own business.
Describe your experience of starting up and running your business in Caithness.
Coastline: It has been nothing but positive. I reached out to Caithness Business Fund for support and was given help with my business plan, as well as a grant, which helped to fund my start up. I really valued this support and have since joined as a member to the Caithness Chamber of Commerce. I was also invited along to showcase my business in 2018 to HRH Prince Charles (who was very supportive of my business model). I have hosted pop-up shops all over Caithness (and beyond) and built up a really supportive and loyal customer base. Throughout lockdown, that support was even more evident. I took part in virtual community markets (#caithnessmarket) and the want by everyone to shop local was clear. Some months I made even more sales than I would have at a real market!
Caithness Chocolate: It can be tough! One of the biggest issues for me is delivery charges. They really add to your running costs. However, being a small business in a small community can be so rewarding, especially when you have happy customers, and building that connection with them and other businesses is very special.
Haven House Art: I was already a practicing artist before I came to Caithness almost 10 years ago from Sussex but it felt like starting anew as my entire subject matter changed, and local people didn’t have a clue who I was. I started small by selling my smaller paintings at local markets. Facebook helped a lot in the early days and enabled me to share my work with the public. I gradually expanded my product range to include prints and other gift items, and now several local outlets sell my items, which is lovely as it means they can do the selling whilst I can do the creating. It was difficult in the early days, and it is a hard slog, especially when you are creative and all you want to do is paint, but I had to learn to be disciplined and to push myself to keep putting my work ‘out there’. It has got easier as I have learned to trust myself more. A lot of trial and error means I now know what works for me and what doesn’t work for me. Caithness is a great place to run a business as people are very loyal. Once they buy your work or get to know you they tend to return again, which is great.
Lark & Lily: I did some research of my own back in 2010/2011 and then started Lark & Lily Designs in July 2011. I was working in a bank & had done fashion retail before that but I’m a creative soul and I have an honours 2:1 degree in fashion, textiles & design management so I always knew I wanted to start my own business. I previously had a side business named crafty clooties, making scarves and cushions. At the time there was no one producing jewellery that I was, so I filled that gap in the market after completing the research. I signed up for some free business courses from business gateway & HIE from general business start up to social media, book keeping etc. Those were very helpful and I got to meet other small business owners too. I have had no funding or government support since starting my business or during the pandemic. Unfortunately due to an HMRC online error, I was ineligible for the self employment grant, which was disappointing and upsetting.
My customers have been very supportive and my husband, mum & sister have been invaluable to sticking by me through ups and downs of it all since 2011. That’s what’s great about living in Caithness, having family near you for a wee support boost. Most of my pieces are named after family and supportive people I know, I like the personal touch so I try to do the same for my customers, aka Lark & Lily Clan.
Laura at Eye Candy has been in my business journey before her current shop, I stocked with her in her 2 previous premises in Thurso. She has been a champion at supporting my small business and giving me a chance to stock my items with her. In-fact Eye Candy is my best selling stockist! Also Andrew from the Norseman Hotel had given me the opportunity to sell my jewellery through one of his hotels in wick, The Norseman Hotel, since the very start. I’m grateful for both business owners for their support and kindness.
Can you give AHB readers a sneak peak of promotions that will be launched in the run up to Christmas?
Coastline: Last year I made up ready-made Christmas gift boxes which were really popular and so I think I will repeat that again this year. I know lots of people are still wary about going out to shops with the pandemic so I think it will be useful to run this promotion again. Gift boxes are packed with fail safe gift ideas – a mixture of hats, scarves, chocolates, jewellery and purses with price points for all budgets. The gift boxes have good savings in comparison to buying items separately, and the best part? It’s all neatly gift wrapped ready to be placed under the tree.
Caithness Chocolate: In the next few weeks I will launch my ‘Bar, Box and a Bite’ service, which will be a monthly chocolate package with different products.
Haven House Art: I launched my online art classes as a result of lockdown, which were very well received and which I enjoy teaching. These will continue right up to Christmas. They are for all abilities and an enjoyable and safe way to start or continue painting, whilst having a wee bit of social interaction, albeit on zoom! I have plans to run an Open Studio and Gallery event, with special offers, place visits and wee treats, all online too, so look out for that. I am also working on some new paintings of local landmarks which will be launched in time for Christmas. These will be available as prints and gift items. All items, as well as the art class places, can be purchased online via my website https://havenhouseart.com/, or the studio is open by appointment so you can browse at your leisure, and in a COVID 19 safe manner.
Lark & Lily: I have a couple of new items for this season:
The Kerry necklace: A mix of sterling silver & pearl. I love the contrast in the lustre of pearl and the hardness in the metal. Inspired by chains at the local harbour mixed with lustre of pearls.
The Lynsey bracelet – Northern lights & Glistening Night: Both a mix of hard Swarovski Crystal & lustre of pearls. These remind me of the hard rocks of the cliffs and the sparkle into the big skies at night. And of course the Northern lights against the dark Caithness sky at night.
Your top tips for running a business?
- Be prepared to work long hours but just remember that the reward is so worth it.
- Ask for help when you need it! I’m very stubborn and have learned this the hard way.
- Try and socialise with like-minded individuals. I find it so useful and reassuring talking to other local business people, whether it’s to bounce ideas off, ask for advice or collaborate on a project with.
- Be true to yourself.
- Running a business is hard work, so you need to believe in and enjoy what you are doing, especially during challenging times.
- If you need help or advice, ask. Someone is always there for you. A definite plus about working in Caithness!
Haven House Art:
- Have a dedicated work area or space, and strict working times. Try not to blur the boundaries of home and work or you will find it hard to relax and unwind.
- Markets, trends, tastes, people all change and the key to continued success is versatility. Who saw COVID 19 coming? No one. We could see it as a falling off point or we can see it as a chance to adapt and to grow. I hadn’t thought of running online classes at all, but now I love teaching them and I am now reaching and teaching people in all parts of the world. The pandemic has actually opened up my market and made me realise that with the internet the world is my oyster.
Lark & Lily:
- Do something you are passionate about, but make sure it is viable.
- Do research: is it worthwhile making/producing something, can you see yourself making a profit?
- You Do You, don’t follow the crowd or copy another small businesses work. It’s unprofessional, uncreative & unkind. There is opportunity for lots of different kinds of businesses in Caithness so find your own inspiration.
I’m so grateful for the time and wisdom that these local businesses have shared here today – their advice definitely helps me as I navigate starting a business during these strange times. It’s also been great to learn how this region shapes their products, and the places that they like to get out and about to! If any local businesses would like to feature on A Highland Blend, pricing starts from £120. Do get in touch or take a look at my Available Services page for more information.