“I’m not really a natural entrepreneur,” says John MacGregor with typical Highland understatement. “I just think you have to work hard, do your homework, be a good listener and try to get on with people.”

The Inverness-based owner of MacGregor Industrial Supplies (MIS) believes these attributes are key to running a successful business, and with more than 30 years under his belt, five branches throughout the Highlands and Islands and two more on the way, he certainly knows what he’s talking about.

After setting up in Invergordon in 1985 following a stint in the family supermarket business, Mr MacGregor now employs 300 people throughout the north of Scotland, and has 17 divisions catering for a wealth of industries from forestry to fish farming.

Loading article content

And although he admits the multitude of online suppliers that have popped up over the last few years has changed the nature of the business to some extent, he maintains local knowledge and good service still matter most to customers.

“We’re opening in Orkney and Aberdeen soon, so this is an exciting but tiring time for the business,” he explains. “The margins are very tight in industrial supplies and with so many cheap online competitors, it’s a challenging sector to be in. Buying a mechanical part online may for £20 cheaper may seem like a good idea at the time, but when it doesn’t work out the customer is stuck with it.

“We have the knowledge, skillset and infrastructure to deal with just about anything. When Highland businesses shop with us, it might cost a few pounds extra in the first place, but they can send it back and won’t be charged carriage.

“In the highlands, the two leading industrial supply companies are both independents and that’s down to the fact that we understand the logistics. The big chains are happy to work in urban environments, but when it comes to a van doing a 300 mile round trip, we handle it better. The loyalty of our customers reflects this.”

Being a family business is important to Mr MacGregor, who comes from a long line of successful Highland entrepreneurs. His father is still running a business at the age of 88, while son Roddy runs a division of MIS and will hopefully take over one day.

“Also, there aren’t many customers that I don’t know personally,” Mr Macgregor adds. “I have the pleasure of being able to lift the phone to a good customer and thank them for their business and I still think that goes a long way, even more so in these computerised times.”

And when it comes to judging when the time is right to consider expansion, the businessman says it’s about ensuring your business fundamentals are right.

“There is always a risk involved in expanding, but we now have a model that works and that makes things easier,” he explains. “The other crucial thing is staff. We’ve got a great team of people working across HR, sales, accountancy, quality control, IT – that’s key.

“We have 20 people who have been with us for 10 years or more, and that continuity really matters. The experience of staff is invaluable when you are growing a business.

“Our marketing team are also particularly important when we open a new branch, and it’s important to have a slick IT system that can handle all the demands of your business.”

The other thing that can make all the difference, he says, is having the right partners in place. Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie LLP have helped make the expansion and acquisition process smooth, according to Mr MacGregor.

“It’s certainly important to find partners who understand your business and can act quickly and efficiently on your behalf,” he says. “Even though modern technology is key to everything we do, good business is still all about being able to create good relationships with partners, customers and suppliers. I learned that from my father and it still applies.”

Would you like to appear in this slot? If so, email entrepreneur@heraldandtimes.co.uk