By Scott Wright

A BORDERS-based entrepreneur is reaping the benefits of a spontaneous shift from brewing and hospitality into retail, declaring that his fast-growing Born in Scotland chain has brought the fun back to shopping.

John Henderson found himself in a predicament when the craft beer store and cafe he opened at Waverley Station in Edinburgh, under his Born in the Borders brewing brand, failed to resonate with the public in the way he hoped.

However, an idea to relaunch the unit as a gift shop, specialising in quirky goods created by Scottish designers, has taken off. There are now six stores in the Born in Scotland chain, which Mr Henderson believes offers a throwback to more traditional ways of retailing.

Mr Henderson, a former advertising executive, had built up a business supplying pubs in the Borders area with craft beers such as Foxy Blonde and Game Bird produced at Born in the Borders brewery, the brewery and visitor centre he opened in Jedburgh in 2011. The beers are made from barley grown in neighbouring fields.

Mr Henderson expanded the brand with the opening of further cafes in Galashiels and Tweedbank, and in November 2018 opened a Born in the Borders craft beer café at Waverley Mall.

But he quickly found it difficult to make headway at a site surrounded by competitors such as pub giant JD Wetherspoon and Costa Coffee. Having committed to a five-year lease, he began exploring other options. The result was Born in Scotland, a gift shop specialising in irreverent products that contrast the more traditional offerings of tourist outlets in the Scottish capital.

Mr Henderson observed weary commuters making their way through Waverley Station and reasoned that “they look a bit miserable”.

“So we decided to switch to a retail outlet called Born in Scotland, selling kind of contemporary Scottish design-led stuff, but in a fun way,” he explained.

“[There is] a lot of focus around iconic Scottish brands like Tunnock’s and Irn-Bru. There is a lot of focus on Scottish vernacular, in general, and trying to be all about Scotland as if Irvine Welsh did it, rather than Walter Scott.

“It has almost ended up [being like] a Scottish Paperchase.”

The concept proved to be instantly popular, with £75,000 of sales recorded from 1,000sq ft of retail space in December 2019. That gave Mr Henderson the confidence to take on an outlet twice the size in Sterling Mills, Tillicoultry, in February 2020.

Ultimately, lockdown restrictions meant that outlet did not commence trading until July. However it has performed well since opening, and further stores have now been added, in Glasgow’s St Enoch Centre in October, and Stirling’s Thistles shopping centre the following month. Both are currently closed due to lockdown restrictions.

A further outlet in The Gyle in Edinburgh has now been added, and was trading within 89 hours of Mr Henderson first inspecting the site.

He said: “It’s about being really reactive, and being willing to change completely what we are doing at the drop of a hat, but it is absolutely chiming with people. We now know we can open up a store and people will love it from the first minute the doors are open.”

After a tumultuous few months on the high street, which has seen huge numbers of store closures and redundancies, Mr Henderson said property landlords are showing a willingness to be flexible with lease deals to attract tenants.

And, while Covid restrictions have caused footfall in key shopping areas to plummet, he still holds faith in the traditional bricks and mortar retail model.

Mr Henderson, who stocks products from designers such as Gillian Kyle, Cheryl Jones, and Glasgow-based Gie it Laldy, said: “It has taken us all by surprise how well it has done, [and] how quickly it has blossomed. It is interesting when you compare what is happening on the retail landscape.

“It’s not worthy, it is not endless rows of products. It’s about an entertainment experience, almost, rather than just shopping. I think that is probably the way a lot of retailers are going to have to move towards.”

Meanwhile, brewing is currently taking place on a limited basis at Mr Henderson’s “spiritual home” in Jedburgh, with many of the pubs it supplies in the Borders and North of England currently closed.

The Jedburgh site has been rebranded Born in Scotland and also includes a retail store. The cafes in Galashiels and Tweedbank closed on the back of coronavirus restrictions.

The business employs 25 staff, and is on track to turn over £2 million this year.