Rachel and Graham Nowak.


50 and 56 respectively.

What is your business called?

The Damside.

Where is it based?

Alvah, in the Aberdeenshire countryside.

What does it produce?

We design and manufacture Scottish pictures, location-specific photo frames, nature art, family-themed pictures and bespoke wooden baubles for tourist destinations.

We have also designed a collection of Scottish-themed coffee stencils for cappuccinos. A lot of our work revolves around meeting the customers’ need for bespoke products.

To whom does it sell?

Luxury retailers across Scotland, Scottish airports and cruise ports, Loch Ness tourist hot spots, castle gift shops, Visit Scotland iCentres and Center Parcs UK.

What is its turnover?

Around £37,000 for the year ending April 2019. On current trends we may double our turnover by next April.

How many employees?

Just the two of us.

When was it formed?

Our first trade sale was in August 2016.

Why did you take the plunge?

It was a gradual process. We began making gifts to sell at craft shows and Highland Games, to supplement our income from a holiday cottage. We realised we were making products that people appreciated. We trialled a few different products and went on to develop lines that not only sold well but that we could also manufacture in large quantities.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

Graham had worked in the sign-making industry for more than 30 years, from which he gained his expertise in laser engraving. I had always been interested in crafts. My work experience had been mostly in administration and customer service.

How did you raise the start-up funding?

From the proceeds of the sale of our house in England.

What was your biggest break?

We were approached at the Keith Show in August 2016 by the owner of the Highland Home Centre in Aviemore. They placed a considerable order, and this is really where it all began. We decided to concentrate on becoming a business to business trade supplier.

What was your worst moment?

We had been talking with World Duty Free for several months with regard to selling products in airports across Scotland and the UK. It was a huge learning curve. We learnt a lot about pricing and what buyers expect from suppliers. We lost the opportunity, but the experience left us with a greater understanding of negotiation.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

The creativity of designing new products, the artwork required to create bespoke products for clients and having the freedom to present ideas to new customers. Another bonus is working for ourselves, from home.

What do you least enjoy?

Moving heavy boxes!

What are your five top priorities?

Our top priority is customer satisfaction. We also aim to source materials within the UK (Scotland where possible); to be as eco-friendly as possible; to always listen to customers and strive to fulfil their needs and to successfully achieve and maintain a good work life balance.

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

We have already received support from Business Gateway and its DigitalBoost digital training programme, which are both government-funded and delivered by local authorities. We were given one-to-one business advice – which has improved our confidence – and have implemented a new strategy to improve our online presence.

However, many small firms are failing due to ridiculously high business rates. In particular, empty shops are still too visible in small towns. Also, high speed broadband is still an issue and should be provided throughout all rural areas immediately.

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?

To take knock backs in our stride.

How do you relax?

Walking our Miniature Schnauzers, playing card games or Scrabble, strolling on one of our local beaches and, taking short breaks in our caravan.