17 May 2021|Latest Posts, Meet the Successful Founder
Donny Carstairs started Selbrae House (the parent company of Just Slate) in 2006, having graduated as an accountant from university. The company designs and produces homewares and gifts from their base in Kirkcaldy in Fife. In 15 years, he has built up this family company, which also includes his sister Emma who is the designer, his brother who leads production and his parents lend a hand where they can. The Just Slate Company now includes five brands of interesting, naturally produced home and table ware.
Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?
I set up The Just Slate Company on leaving university with an accountancy degree. The Just Slate Company is a Scottish homeware brand which initially began producing slate tableware. Handcrafted in Scotland from the finest slate, the Just Slate homewares are foam backed to protect surfaces and finished with a food safety coating. From there the slate offerings have expanded massively to include engraved slate metallic tableware, bar ware and accessories. A few years later Scottish Made was launched which is a range of etched wooden home and table ware, all produced from sustainable wood which comes from a social enterprise project in Fife. More recently The Linen Table was added with its upmarket offerings of linen napkins, table mats and runners, and tea towels, produced from linen which comes from the last traditional linen mill in Scotland.
How did the idea come to you for the company?
My family were originally famers from Fife. My mum began Scottish Everlastings (a home accessory company) back in 1992 and then the idea of creating a Scottish homeware and gift brand, created from natural products, came to me as I left university. This sits nicely alongside Scottish Everlastings.
How did you achieve awareness?
When we launched we were very lucky as we arrived at the marketplace with something that just worked – trendy, handmade in the UK, functional, well packaged and at competitive giftable prices. Our products were in immediate demand which may have been down to luck! John Lewis picked us up when we were relatively small and they are still our biggest customer today so this has helped hugely in growing awareness of the brands.
How have you been able to gain funding and grow?
We used an overdraft facility which was secured personally and have continued to use this to grow the business.
What are the key successes?
One of our key successes is to create products in designs that are on trend and highly desirable. Launching Scottish Made, the sustainable wooden board and gift brand made from wood sourced from a local social enterprise company, is one of our greatest successes and these products have been some of our bestsellers. We keep a very close eye on the market and try to stay ahead all the time. For example, ‘bee’ products are very ‘in’ right now and so we have, over the last few years, created a wide number of products featuring the iconic bumble bee from coffee spoons, to engraved glasses, slate mats to bottle stoppers.
What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?
About 8 years ago we diversified away from our core products. We had a few ‘misses’ in creating products that were too niche or didn’t fit our customer base so we quickly learnt to drop them and concentrate on products that really sell. Brexit administration issues have also been a big headache this year but through hard work, coupled with understanding and creating all the relevant paperwork, we are now back selling well into Europe.
What are your plans now/for the future?
We are keen to grow the corporate gifting and bespoke part of our business. This year we have invested in our “laser etching” capacity (which increased by 100% with four shiny new machines) to help us keep up with demand for bespoke products for corporate gifting and retailers looking for that personal touch. This has been a growing part of our business with British Airways, Laphroaig Whisky and Fortnum & Mason all having their own unique ranges developed.
What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?
Always have one eye on where the business needs to go next. It’s a constantly evolving organisation that bleeds if standing still.
Can you share you top tips for entrepreneurial success?
– Surround yourself with positive hard working people
– Always keep an eye on your products and develop new ones regularly
– Get a business mentor or speak regularly with larger, more experienced business owners as their expertise and wisdom is invaluable
– Don’t compromise quality
– Never rest on your laurels – think constantly where the business is going next as it will bleed if it stands still
Who are the 5 people who inspire you the most?
Chris Evans – has faced adversity in his life and turned it around. Surrounds himself with people he loves and things he loves doing.
Alex Ferguson – showed that greatness can come from hard work and a conviction in yourself that you are doing the right thing.
Emma Bridgewater – become an icon of British made giftable wares that has stood the test of time, and flourished.
My mother! Started a business with no training and through hard work made it a success while at the same time raising 3 amazing kids (or 2 at least!).
Win Hof – convinced me of the benefits of cold water. Has had an ice bath before breakfast for the last 30 years!
What is your favourite inspirational /motivational quote?
“Some days we go fishing, other days we just mend the nets.”
What are your social handles and website links so our readers can connect with you?