Duncan and Emma Hepplewhite.


40 and 39 respectively.

What is your business called?

My wife Emma and I started our business Sailingfast (as Scottish Sailing) in 2002. In 2014 we extended the business and launched Paddlefast.

Where is it based?

Central Scotland, near Falkirk.

What does it produce, what services does it offer?

We sell sailing boats, stand up paddleboards, accessories and spares.

To whom does it sell?

Sailingfast is aimed at the sailing world, primarily the racing market. We also sell to outdoor centres, sailing clubs and schools and anyone who wants to get involved in sailing.

Paddlefast is for anyone who wants to paddleboard - beginner or experienced.

What is its turnover?

Projected turnover for 2019 is £1million for both companies

How many employees?

While we’ve employed staff in the past we currently have no full time employees, but appoint specialists as and when we need them so we have flexibility.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

I was studying at Glasgow Caledonian University doing a BA Hons in Leisure Management. I was doing a lot of coaching and the parents and sailors kept asking for advice about what kit to get and where to get it from. It seemed there wasn’t anyone else serving the dinghy market in Scotland and so Scottish Sailing was born.

Emma had worked for 10 years in corporate hospitality both in sales, and in event delivery, before gradually being assimilated into Scottish Sailing after the birth of our first child. She was fielding a lot of Scottish Sailing calls while working back part-time in her corporate hospitality role then decided it was time to give up her day job and commit to running a family business.

In 2014, one of our sailing suppliers pointed out the potential for an explosion in demand in the Stand Up Paddleboard market. Emma had a shot and hasn’t looked back. It was a perfect growth opportunity for our business and we figured there would be a lot of crossover between the two operations.

How did you raise the start-up funding?

I used £3,000 of my own savings and had a loan of £5,000 from the Princes Youth Business Trust to start the business.

Having spent a lot of time on Business Gateway courses, for Paddlefast Ltd, we were encouraged to apply for a Digital Voucher from Scottish Enterprise which paid for half the website set up costs. We’ve had a lot of support from Business Gateway which was fantastic.

What was your biggest break?

Signing a contract with Laser Performance in 2004. Laser Performance is the world’s largest manufacturer of small sailboats. Their best-selling boat, the Laser, is the class of boat that saw Ben Ainslie win two of his five medals at the Olympics (before he moved to the Finn class). It was great to get the recognition within the industry that we were doing well and could continue to do so in partnership with LaserPerformance.

What was your worst moment?

When Emma was first getting SUP Central Scotland off the ground nobody turned up to one paddleclub session at the Falkirk Wheel in the first year. It didn’t deter her. She took the opportunity to catch 40 winks and rethink the marketing strategy! We now have a regular turnout of 10-20 paddlers which is brilliant.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

More than 15 years on I still get a buzz from delivering product to customers and seeing them on the water having fun. We also like the fact that we get to do some crazy things we might not normally try in the interests of learning. These have included the SUP Nautique Paris race, with 800 paddlers heading down the Seine, and the Norfolk Broads Endurance Ultra that Emma recently completed. The flexibility of having our own business means we can find the time to do things with the children during the week.

What do you least enjoy?

Managing the spreadsheets for putting products on the website. This involves collating product names, product codes, descriptions, prices, weights, dimensions, photos, stock levels, tax codes into one gigantic excel spreadsheet. With about 20 suppliers all laying their spreadsheets out differently – it’s a mammoth task.

What is your biggest bugbear?

Factories in China can be subject to local weather conditions or production issues that may cause supply glitches. It reflects badly on us if we can’t get orders to customers in a timely fashion, especially when our sailing season in the UK is so short.

What are your ambitions for the firm?

To continue being the best at what we’re doing right now and to be the go-to SUP specialist retailer in Scotland. We are always open to possibilities

What are your top five priorities?

Customer satisfaction, enjoying time on the water, hanging out with the kids, paying the bills and skiing.

What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would help?

It would be great if they could reduce the level of tax on vehicle fuel. It would enable us to transport goods more cheaply and free up funds to employ more staff.

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?

There is no substitute for hard work.

Also to appreciate the little things in the bigger picture. I was unwell around the time our son was born and as a family we muddled through the treatment and having our lives turned upside down by a baby in a bit of a haze. We can now see how fragile and precious life is and how you should take a moment to appreciate the little things more. You never know what’s around the corner.

How do you relax?

When you are self-employed you never relax; the business is your life. However, I do enjoy sailing, skiing and watching rugby with friends. Emma likes skiing and sailing too but she also tends to escape by heading out for a paddle on Loch Lomond.