Inverness family business stalwart shares his wisdom
Alasdair Dowling has been at the Cairngorm Group from its inception when he joined his father-in-law at the helm.
He’s seen the company grow from strength to strength, and is the stalwart of the group, still passing on knowledge and wisdom to his grandsons that are today’s managing directors.
Speaking about what it means to him to be celebrating 70 years of Cairngorm Group, and recalling some of his fondest memories he said:
“I’m just grateful to be here! It certainly doesn’t feel like it’s been 70 years!
“I’ve got lots of favourite memories. One of mine is when we were trying to build up clientele as the street we were based on at the time wasn’t very well-known.
“To let people know about us I decided to get the kids from the school down to us to get straw for for their pets, and that brought their parents down in their cars! Word got around that there was a glass company which people didn’t know about before. There’s nothing like building up a network of people through direct contacts!
“Another memory of mine is I remember one time there was chap who bought patio doors from us, and he never paid for them so we kept sending him letters.
“I bumped into him on the street one day and asked him what he was going to do about it.
“He said he should have come in and spoken to us, and told me that he had lost his job.
“I suggested he should start up on his own as he was a joiner, and his wife who was with him agreed. I never saw him again for several months. One day the cheque came in for patio doors, and then a few weeks later he came in and ordered double-glazed windows for two bungalows.
“I asked him what was going on and he told me he had been inundated with requests for work and that he had started up a building business and he had lots of contracts!
“I found that rather than hounding people down, there are always ways to work with people.”
This memory of Alasdairs’ is an illustration of Cairngorm’s success, as for them it is all about relationships and hard work.
Alasdair joined the company after having a job in the press, so it was a big leap of faith for him at the time. Since then he’s watched the company grow from a tin shed to having several branches today.
He explained: “I came into a job where the first year apprentice knew more than me. It was a bit like jumping off a cliff and hoping your wings will open on the way down.
“I took the chance and went for it and it wasn’t easy going into an a new environment.
“We had no money in those days to buy lots of stock, so we didn’t get good buying deals. But we worked away with reasonable stock and it was very labour intensive.
“We bought the entire site at Wells Street for £35. My father-in-law roofed it and it allowed us to carry a bigger stock. It progressed from there, and we built another building.
“I walk in here now and it’s palatial. I don’t think my father-in-law would believe it and it took a long time to do.”
An element of the business that Alasdair is particularly proud of is staff retention, and the number of people who have stayed throughout their working lives.
“We’ve had many people who have have started work with us, and never leave,” he said.
“To me that speaks volumes.”
He’s also built up a good compass for business over the years: his gut.
He said: “I always went by gut feelings! Ninety percent of the time it was right. Even who to give a credit account to.”
Having a family business means a lot to Alasdair and he is happy to see the generations after him continue to nurture the company.
He said: “They’re devoted to it, and they look after things the way we did.”