Claire Donnelly.



What is your business called?

Aspire Industrial Services.

Where is it based?


What does it produce, what services does it offer?

An extensive range of personal protection equipment, including hard hats with internally fitted first aid kits, workwear, power tools, reusable fitted full face respiratory masks and testing equipment.

We can embroider the brands and logos of customers onto items.

We offer also training in asbestos handling, equipment maintenance, repairs and testing and a huge range of accessories, from adhesive and tapes to safety signs, and fall arrest equipment to janitorial products, with a click and same day collect service from our trade counter in Hillington.

To whom does it sell?

Customers include private and public sector organisations operating in a range of activities, including demolition, asbestos removal, construction, hospitality and even the beauty and well-being sector.

What is its turnover?

In the year to March this year it was £1m; we are currently on target to record turnover of £1.5m in the year to March 2020.

How many employees?


When was it formed?

May 2017.

Why did you take the plunge?

I was on maternity leave from my role as a senior manager at fashion retailer New Look in 2017 when I was asked to provide some input for a family business that was involved in supplying personal protection and testing equipment, as well as other consumables, to asbestos removal operators and other construction sector companies. I suggested we extend the range to help grow revenues and profitability. We introduced an extensive workwear range, both for indoors and outdoors, and the capability to brand it with our customer’s names. Other product offerings followed as I identified new sales channels across a range of sectors. We began to build our margins and increased our customer base through social media to 10,000 connections. I was appointed managing director in February 2018, with my brother Marc Cruickshank as operations director, and a team of experienced retailers.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

From adolescence I had always harboured an ambition to run my own business but I began studying for a BA degree in French and Spanish at the University of Strathclyde and planned to become a language teacher in a secondary school. While at school and then at college I worked weekend shifts for Next at The Forge, Parkhead. Towards the start of my final year at college I was offered a full-time role as office manager on £23,000 a year. I liked the retail sector a lot and felt well-suited to it. I understood about buying and selling well and the need always to be one step ahead of customer demand. I abandoned my degree course and eight months later was assistant store manager at Next’s then flagship branch at Silverburn on the southside of the city. Later, I was head-hunted by New Look to run its operation at Braehead shopping mall. I further developed my retail skills there and learned a lot about leadership from my mentor, the area manager for the west of Scotland, Mhairi Riddell. I was invited by the MD of New Look to go to London to join the personal development programme it was conducting for its talent pool and was expected, at some stage, to move south to further my career. However, with a young family to raise, this was not really an option I fancied.

How did you raise the start-up funding?

Through family savings and help from Renfrewshire Council which allowed us to buy our first embroidering machine for £15,000 as well as funding for our website. Through relationships my dad has with various suppliers, we were able to agree generous credit terms, and these have been invaluable.

What was your biggest break?

Winning work from Dem-Master Demolition, one of the biggest demolition businesses in Scotland, and a supply contract from Moray College in Elgin, our first public sector customer, which we won by tender. Another fantastic break was participating in hub South West’s Building for Growth programme a year ago. It gave us a platform to help us to understand exactly what we are doing and the confidence to do it as well as we possibly could.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

I love the excitement of leading the team. When we win new business, we celebrate the highs which are unbeatable. The lows too can make us very low, but only for a brief spell.

What are your ambitions for the business?

Sustainable growth and, perhaps, to open a new outlet in the north of Scotland, maybe in Aberdeen. Earlier this year we launched Aspire Academy, a business which seeks to work with schools and parents to deliver value for money school uniforms. We will be opening a pop-up shop at Braehead in Spring next year and I’m planning to open a unit in a retail park to the east of Glasgow, in the Uddingston, Baillieston, Coatbridge area after that. As a mother of three I’m all too aware of the cost pressures parents live with.

What are your top priorities?

To have a successful first year for Aspire Academy. We will continue also to focus on industrial services and plan to extend our services to equipment testing to colleges throughout Scotland.

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

Provide more support for women in business. Government support is available but it’s often difficult to find, because, I think, there are too many competing sources. There should be a one-stop portal for aspiring businesspeople to find out as much as possible what support is available.

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?

No business is perfect; mistakes happen and there will always be setbacks. It’s how you deal with them that matters. Always think through problems, sleep on them if you need to.

How do you relax?

By being mum to Nathan, 10, Austin, five and Rebecca, three.