Name: Donny Carstairs.

Age: 45.

What is your business called?

The Just Slate Company.

Where is it based?

Kirkcaldy in Fife.

What does it produce?

The Just Slate Company is a Scottish homeware band which initially began producing slate tableware. From there the offering expanded massively to include engraved slate, metallic tableware, bar ware and accessories.

After a few years we launched the Scottish Made range of etched wooden home and table ware, produced from sustainable wood which comes from a social enterprise project in Fife.

Recently, the Linen Table was also added to the Just Slate family. Its offering includes napkins, tea towels and table runners, produced from linen which comes from the last traditional mill of its kind in Scotland.

Going forward, the Just Slate company is expanding with bespoke corporate hospitality gifts.

To whom does it sell?

Gift shops, department stores, visitor outlets and independent retailers across the UK and Europe, as well as direct to customers online.

What is its turnover?

£9m as a group, with £2.5m for Just Slate.

How many employees?

In total 48, including 24 for Just Slate.

Why did you take the plunge?

My family was originally in farming in Fife and my mum started Scottish Everlastings (a home accessory company) in 1992. I launched Just Slate in 2006 , in conjunction with my sister who does all the product development and illustrations, and my brother who is in charge of all things technical.

What were you doing before?

I was at university where I studied accountancy and was keen to expand the family business.

What was your biggest break?

John Lewis picked us up when we were relatively small and are still our biggest customer today.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

It’s a total cliché but I feed off positive people – and we’re lucky to have a team full of them here….

What do you least enjoy?

I recently did a personality test that said I wouldn’t be great at the detail and lack patience. This is very true and definitely the part of the business I least enjoy! Anything with big spreadsheets is a real turn off for me and I leave that side of the business to those skilled in these areas.

What are your ambitions for the firm?

We are keen to grow the corporate gifting and bespoke part of our business. This year we have invested in our laser-etching capacity to help keep up with demand for bespoke products for corporate gifting and retailers looking for that personal touch. British Airways, Laphroaig Whisky and Fortnum & Masons have all had their own unique ranges developed.

What single thing would most help?

Export into Europe has been a growing and important part of our business. Brexit has rightly or wrongly put a dampener on that process. Getting a logistical and tax solution in place that allows frictionless trade again would be the single thing that would help us most just now.

The focus for Brexit prior to the end of the transition period on December 31 was whether or not duty would apply to goods crossing into the EU. What myself (and many SME’s) didn’t realise was that the VAT issue would be the main problem, in that we now charge VAT on all goods going into the EU with the final customer being responsible for paying that VAT as the goods enter that specific country’s borders. That might be “no problem” for an importing company that perhaps has its own import team to manage such prepayments etc. However most of our customers in the EU tend to be smaller “Ma & Pa” shops that spend their working time on the shopfloor – the hassle factor of working with a logistics company to prepay VAT and then reclaim at a later date is not only a cash issue but an administration one for them and one that many just “cannot be bothered with” (particularly the French) and we’ve had multiple order cancellations.

The whole point of the EU in the first place was easy and frictionless trade. Many may say that we can perhaps set our sights on other markets such as the US – but the US market is one that we can’t deliver to within a two-day day shipping service and the shipping costs are ten times higher.

Our solution is to set up separate VAT representations in each EU country we deal with and apply for a “Reverse Charge VAT Account” which will hopefully allow us to ship goods to the final customer without them needing to get involved in the VAT (or Duty due where goods originated from outside the UK) complication. But, of course, that bears a cost to our business.

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

I have to say that both the Scottish and Westminster Governments’ financial response to Covid-19 has been tremendous and has helped small businesses like ours.

I always find it beneficial speaking with owners of larger businesses and those with more experience. If the Government could create a formal route that allowed access to more of them it would be beneficial to owners of SMEs.

What is the most valuable lesson you have learned?

You always have to have one eye on where the business needs to go next.

How do you relax?

My sister got me into “sea dipping” last summer – and I find it both relaxing (at least after!) and addictive.