By Scott Wright

WHEN a business has been trading for as long as Kinloch Anderson, you would back it to find a way through even the deepest challenges.

The Leith-based kilt maker has seen world wars, rationing and recessions come and go since setting up shop more than 150 years ago.

The experience and nous passed down the generations of the Kinloch Anderson family is likely to have been tested to the limit as they have dealt with the challenges brought by the coronavirus in the last 10 months.

But chief executive John Kinloch Anderson appears philosophical about the situation, even though there is still no sign of when the firm will be able to welcome customers through its doors again. Nor is there any immediate prospect of the events it designs its formal wear for – weddings, graduations, black-tie events – starting up again soon.

“In 150 years you have seen quite a lot of things,” quips Mr Kinloch Anderson, who with his parents are the fifth and sixth generations of the family to run the business. “A couple of world wars, numerous recessions, rationing and a whole lot of other things.

“But I think many SME owners would say, the nature of an SME is very much adjusting to the conditions and the position you find yourself in. Everyone, obviously, is finding this really difficult, and certain industries [are finding it] really challenging because they can’t open at all.

“But people who own SMEs are often best-placed to adjust and make changes, because that is what they have to do on a weekly, monthly, daily basis.”

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He added: “It is not a marathon – it is not a sprint. It is an ultra-thon. You have just got to keep going and persevere.”

Mr Kinloch Anderson is appreciative of the grants and other government support that has been made available to businesses to help them through the crisis. He has also welcomed the support provided by the furlough scheme, particularly since it has been adapted to allow employers to use it more flexibly.

But he notes the government support does not cover all of the overheads businesses face.

Reacting to the three-month extension of relief from business rates, announced by Finance Secretary Kate Forbes on Friday, Mr Kinloch Anderson said that, “while every bit of support is welcome”, rates are “just one part of businesses’ fixed costs they will have to pay.”

He said: “It is still a challenge and part of the picture that businesses are facing at the moment.”

As a tailoring business, Kinloch Anderson, which holds a Royal Warrant, relies in normal times on the personal touch. Customers looking to buy items such as kilts and tartan trousers visit the premises based opposite the Scottish Government building in Leith where, with the help of knowledgeable staff, can select their preferred tartan.

HeraldScotland:

John Kinloch Anderson runs the firm with mother Deirdre, pictured, and father Douglas

The textiles are sourced from mills around Scotland, and customers can view the garments being put together via a window from a small museum inside the premises.

“A fair amount of it is hands-on, and it is something people like to do in person, rather than online,” Mr Kinloch Anderson said.

With demand for formal wear muted because of coronavirus restrictions, the business has been forced to diversify. “Never would I have thought a year or so ago we’d make thousands of face masks, but if that is what’s required, then that’s what you do,” Mr Kinloch Anderson said, noting the masks are available in whichever tartan consumers wish.

The pandemic has also accelerated its moves into the digital world, with the current situation giving it cause to think more about its online strategy.

“You can talk it as an opportunity to evaluate which parts of your business are important, and what direction you want to take going forward,” Mr Kinloch Anderson said.

“But I would caution that with, you might not to completely change the direction if your business. The chances are the world will probably turn back to something like the shape it was in before Covid, albeit some aspects of life and business may change for the longer term.”

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Indeed, while the direction of retail travel is very much online at present, Mr Kinloch Anderson, who is cautiously optimistic that events may return before the end of this year, believes the high street still offers hopes for traditional retailers.

Commenting in the wake of news the Debenhams chain and Jenners in Princes Street, Edinburgh, would be closing for good, Mr Kinloch Anderson said recent events have speeded up the changes that were already taking place across the retail sector.

“Businesses that were piled high with debt, and/or profit was extracted to the max every time any came in, they were always going to struggle in more difficult times,” he said.

“Perhaps, more importantly, large retailers selling generic products through bricks and mortar stores are going to find it challenging at present, and also for the foreseeable future.

“There are a few that are still succeeding, but they are in a minority, and, if you look hard enough, they will have still have an important ingredient. To me that is, that is the point of difference. This is something smaller independents have that enables them to operate effectively and continue in the physical world.”

Mr Kinloch Anderson gain a degree in sports science and recreation management at Loughborough University. He worked in the health and fitness management industry in London for several years before joining the family business full-time in 2000.

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He said: “If your name is on the door, then you definitely take extra pride, attention and focus on making it as good as you possibly can… especially if it has passed through multiple generations. You want to make it the vest best that you can, and put in what I would describe as really substantial efforts to make that happen.”

Q&A

What countries have you most enjoyed travelling to, for business or leisure?
Have travelled fairly extensively and there are lots of amazing countries and far too many to choose from. In Asia mainly for business, highlights have been Japan, South Korea, China and Taiwan, which are all so different and interesting.For leisure, skiing anywhere is fun and beaches are always a highlight.

When you were a child, what was your ideal job? Why did it appeal?
Professional sportsman or a detective. Sportsman as I have always been obsessed with many sports including rugby, athletics and tennis to name a few and a detective as I like solving things (or trying to).

What was your biggest break in business?
Having a presence in the Far East has been incredibly beneficial to the business and holding three Royal Warrants of Appointment has been immensely helpful.

What was your worst moment in business?
There are always ups and downs which you have to accept, but I think a manager’s most difficult role is parting company with staff.

Who do you most admire and why?
My wife for putting up with me.

What book are you reading and what music are you listening to?
A Promised Land by President Barack Obama – fascinating and the world is full of incredible people.
Music – whatever my teenage children are listening to, which 
I usually find I don’t understand the lyrics to and I also get tested on who the artist is and the name of the song – and which I am usually hopeless at.