Turnberry Rug Works 13It’s been a busy few weeks for handmade rug manufacturers Turnberry Rug Works. Not only has the Scottish textiles company just become employee owned, but it also took centre stage at a high profile design event at London’s Kensington Palace, supported by Scottish Enterprise. Here, Turnberry Rug Works managing director John McKerchar, reports on how it all went.

Becoming an employee owned company is quite a journey to make. But for us long term planning has really helped to make the road less bumpy.

Since 2011 we have identified this dynamic business model as the best way to safeguard our long term stability and preserve the unique skills of our staff. We like to think that what we do is a bit different in the world of textiles.

Turnberry Rug Works is making the transition to employee ownership.

Turnberry Rug Works is making the transition to employee ownership.

Turnberry Rug Works specialises in producing handcrafted rugs and wall hangings from a converted granary overlooking the sea at Turnberry, on the west coast of Scotland. Our clients have recently included the British Embassy in San Salvador and Virgin Money.

We started out in 1991 and have grown to annual turnover of £450,000. Most of the team has been with Turnberry Rug Works for over 20 years so we’re part of the local community. Employee ownership gives us a new lease of life, and ensures we remain rooted here.

Turnberry's staff are the lifeblood of what they do

Turnberry’s staff are the lifeblood of what they do.

Quite simply the skills and experience of the staff are the lifeblood of what we do and mean that clients come to us instead of our competitors. So employee ownership will give our staff a real say in their future direction of travel and harness all their considerable expertise.

The help we have received along the way from Co-operative Development Scotland (CDS), the arm of Scottish Enterprise that supports employee ownership, has been very welcome. Their role has been to demystify the process and help us ensure that staff are fully on board for this.

The transaction involves the creation of an Employee Benefit Trust (EBT), which will initially acquire 49 per cent of the shares, and eventually the full balance will be purchased by the EBT out of the company profits over the next five years.

That means staff have every incentive to succeed and I have every confidence they will do so. Indeed we have just returned from exhibiting at Decorex in London which attracts a large number of interior designers and high-end retailers.

Turnberry Rug Works at Decorex in London

Turnberry Rug Works at Decorex in London.

It’s the type of event that is usually out of reach for a company of our size but thanks to Scottish Enterprise organising a delegation of six Scottish companies to exhibit at the event, we found ourselves in the gardens of Kensington Palace where the event was held this year

Before the event we held a series of meetings with Scottish Enterprise to design the stand and to discuss the best way to benefit from the exhibition.

In addition to the stand Scottish Enterprise organised a Scottish gin and apple juice reception in the late afternoon on the Monday at which we were able to invite as many of our contacts as we could.

It was mobbed and drew people from Harrods, John Lewis, Heal’s and the building unit from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to the stand. The exhibition security had to chase us all out at the end!

On the first day, Sunday, the stand also hosted a breakfast reception organised by the British Institute of Interior Design (BIID).  Usually the first few hours are quiet when an exhibition first opens, but our stand was full of key personnel from the world of interior design.

We gathered about 100 contact names during the course of the exhibition. In the few days since the event we have been asked to sample and quote for business worth over £8,000.

The hard work has only just started, and we now have to work through all our new contacts and send samples and follow up details but the initial responses do look very favourable.

Staff at Turnberry Rug Works.

Staff at Turnberry Rug Works.

My impression from the other five participating companies was that they too had a positive experience and that the stand, organisation and quality of the visitors, matched their needs.

We are yet to go through our formal review with Scottish Enterprise but we as a company are hopeful that this can be a regular feature of the Scottish Enterprise programme to help small Scottish companies in this area of the interiors market.