In 2005, Jamieson & Smith owners Jim Smith, now 80 years old, and Eva Smith 74 years old, announced that they were retiring. They still had the two farms, as well as Papa, and one could safely say they had their hands full. They said they were considering selling to Curtis Wool Direct who now bought the wool we purchased, which was over 80% of the island clip.
I enquired if they would consider selling the company to me. The reply was, “No, the responsibility would be too great a burden on you.” I replied, “Can I at least approach the local agencies, the council, and Highlands & Islands Enterprise and our bank to see if I could gain financial support?” The answer from both agencies was no. At the time, I felt disappointed at the reaction but was not surprised as I was to find out later on, from a high ranking council official that they were in fact investors in another similar island business!
If the shock of Berry retiring from the business, their security and protection gone wasn’t enough to deal with I now had to adjust to a completely alien way of life to what I had been used to for 38 years; that was working for a large international wool group.
It was put to me quite bluntly, that I had to take on the role of manager as well as being a director; after discussing this with Catherine I went back with my decision to Jim & Eva that I had no education or experience of managing. Jim answered saying “You are very capable of doing the job,” and that they would “…always be there for advice.” “If you do not take on this role the sale will not happen and we simply have to close the company down and the jobs will be lost”.
So no pressure on me then! I, against my better judgement, took on the role and met with one of my new employers who was in Shetland to conclude the deal. He promised he would pay regular visits to us and there would be support and advice from them. “The first problem you have to deal with is that the other wool man has handed in his notice, so you will have to find a replacement.” Unfortunately, as it turned out, the opposite happened. He left Curtis Wool early 2006 at the same time our office manageress also left. Again, as if that was not enough to be going on, the SIC gave a similar local textile company a marketing grant of £100,000!
People would no doubt have sympathised with me if I had thrown in the towel at this stage, however one thing I am not is a quitter and, with the help of my close family and the recruitment of Derek Goudie and two new ladies in the yarn side of the business, we steadied the ship.
In early summer 2006 we had a visit from the Curtis Wool Direct joint managing director. His message was very simple; we have to turn this company around and make it a success – our aim being to increase the price of the raw wool we pay to the local producer. To do that we need to turn the wool into product and, most importantly, sell it.
The shop had a complete new makeover since the early days of the 1970s, this display of all the shades made the customer very aware of what we had to offer.
Curtis Wool put into place a registered brand the “The Three Sheep Logo”, as Shetland wool has no defined brand to protect producers and customers from the mass produced imitation Shetland textile products which flood the market made from foreign wools. Our registered logo features three Shetland sheep and guarantees the end user that when applied to the textile products it is made from the finest Real Shetland wool from crofters and farmers in Shetland. Users of our yarns will be able to display our brand on all their finished products, and this will guarantee authenticity.
The takeover in 2005 meant we now had a positive way forward and very capable mentors & supporters at the parent company. Together with the parent company Curtis Wool Direct we have developed new products and sought out new markets. We share the same belief that together we can achieve our combined goal in turning the company around, adding value to the local wool clip purchased by us, in turn paying the wool producers more for their wool.