Over 11 years of business, founder James Robertson has taken Isle of Skye Candle Company from humble beginnings to serious retail success. What began with six months of experimentation and research has transformed into five brick and mortar stores and a deli/gift shop, as well as products so high-quality that they’re now sold by over 150 stockists.
We spoke with James to get an inside look at how he’s done it and to learn why he chose Vend as his retail management solution. Keep scrolling for the interview!
Tell us a bit about how you got started. What’s Isle of Skye Candle Company all about?
In 2006, I started working in a small shop on our island (Skye) that specialised in making aromatherapy products. It was a really cool shop, and the stuff they were making was all-natural and great quality. I loved working there and making these products, but I always knew I wanted to start my own business.
It didn’t take long for me to spot a gap in the market. I noticed that the only thing they weren’t doing was making candles and that the stuff they were buying came from abroad and wasn’t very good quality. After about six months of research and experimentation in all sorts of natural waxes, I started the Isle of Skye Candle Company, producing the absolute best-quality soya candles at affordable prices. Fast-forward 11 years, and we now have five of our own retail stores plus a deli/gift shop. We also sell to over 150 stockists in the UK and export worldwide.
What’s your local community like?
The Isle of Skye must be one of the best places in the world to have a business. Not only is it stunning (with amazing mountains and fantastic coastlines), but the people here are all so friendly!
As we have a relatively small population for the size of the island (just 10,000), word spreads pretty quickly — so if you’re doing something good, like making scented candles, people make a great effort to support it.
Why are you passionate about what you do?
My passion for what we do comes from a desire to get more people using natural products that are sustainable and don’t harm the planet. It just doesn’t make sense for people to buy paraffin candles any more, as soya ones burn cleaner, give off more fragrance, and don’t damage the environment.
What brought you to Vend, and how have you found it? Would you recommend Vend to retailers like you?
We switched to Vend from Lightspeed, and the difference is unreal. Lightspeed was a nice-looking system but really lacked functionality. What takes minutes to achieve in Vend took hours in Lightspeed, and they wanted to charge you at every corner.
When we were reviewing other epos systems, what made us go with Vend was the fair price, offline reliability (needed on an island), and amazing customer support! We haven’t looked back.
Do you have any advice for retailers that you wish you’d known?
My advice to anyone starting out would be to adopt technology wherever you can. Although it may seem like a lot of cost, the time you’ll save will more than make up for it.
Retailers who are starting out in this day and age are so lucky to have so many cloud-based retail solutions like Vend, iZettle, and Shopify to help them get off to a flying start. Although we’ve adopted these, I would’ve loved to have them from the beginning. It would’ve saved us a few tough lessons, and it would’ve been amazing to see the business progress on them.
What’s your best retail tale?
It’s my best retail tale now, but at the time it was one of the most stressful situations I’ve been in. We were opening our Inverness store, and our move-in date kept getting pushed back by the landlords. December came around, and we still weren’t in — and knowing how important Christmas is for sales, we gave the landlords an ultimatum. Either we moved in on Friday, December 3 or we didn’t take the building at all.
They relented. We were in at 9:00am that morning, but it didn’t take long to see that the building was a complete wreck. We had to rope in everybody we knew and work with very little sleep over that weekend. We ripped down walls, replaced floors, rewired, plastered, painted, put signage up, set up the tills, unloaded stock, and dressed the windows.
We finished work at 4:00am on Sunday night and opened at 9:00am Monday morning!
How does Vend help you succeed (e.g. increasing stock efficiencies, improving customer loyalty, saving you time)?
With Vend, you can get amazing detailed reports in an instant. This has helped us introduce staff competitions where we give out prizes to staff with the best margins (highest basket values for certain months, etc.). The reporting also really makes stock control a breeze and has helped us reduce our stock levels in all our stores so we have more cash in the bank and less sitting on our shelves.
Your business is very inventory-intensive. How do you keep track of all your stock?
We keep track of the stock across all our stores exclusively through Vend.
Management love it, as it makes it so easy to reorder products that are low in stock and also see which items maybe need to be dropped. Staff love it, as stock-takes now only last a few hours rather than a whole day and can be fitted into their normal working hours. Customers love it, as it makes sure we always have what they want in-store when they want it.
Do you use any other cloud-based tools alongside Vend? How has moving to the cloud helped your business?
Over the last two years, we’ve moved all our systems online and really gone all in on the cloud. This has been a bit of a pain setting up, as migrating data always has its complications — but it’s amazing now that we’re there, and it puts us in a great position for growth.