Focus on Ayrshire
Paligap’s design work for Ka Magazine.Travelling down the A77 to Ayrshire, it can be easy to see why companies don’t want to move up to Glasgow. Many of the towns are situated next to the blue, sparkling coastline and the air certainly is cleaner and more relaxing than in the bustling cities of either Glasgow or Edinburgh.
Speaking to the companies involved in this feature, it appeared that many were keen to hide their light under a bushel and simply get on with the work in hand. Admittedly, much of the work that is being done in the area is for local companies and many of the companies are certainly cottage industries but there were a few surprises. For example, Paligap, an advertising, design and multimedia company, had recently been appointed by Roche for quite a large sum of money to do corporate design work for them.
All in all, Ayr relies mainly on cottage industries such as technology, tourism and agriculture. These industries may not be the most glamorous but do provide a constant source of work.
The first thing to note about Ayrshire is its vast size. Spanning just outside Beith, almost down to the borders, it encompasses many of Scotland’s small satellite new towns. With the restructuring of the A77, however, it means that Glasgow is not a great distance to travel. The airport at Prestwick, the only place that Elvis visited in the UK, links the whole of the UK with its low cost airlines – and means that travel to London is probably easier than travelling through to Edinburgh at peak times.
John Turner, managing director of Music Mountain Music, notes that his company deals both nationally and internationally and these links are essential. Music Mountain Music is a music publisher’s company, with award-winning musicians using their specially built studios.
“Being based in Beith means that we are 15 minutes away from both Glasgow and Prestwick airport,” says Turner. “ This means that we can fly people up from London and place them in our studio in probably less time than someone being driven from one end of London to the other. It would probably cost far less when you take into account the rent that some people will be paying for a central London location.”
Ah yes, cost. It is the small business owner’s worst financial nightmare. Whilst Glasgow might not hold the same renting cachet as London, or even Edinburgh, it is considerably more than being based in Ayrshire. As Steven Cosh of Paligap notes, “We almost moved to Glasgow recently. We even had a deposit put down in offices up there, but one morning I got up and thought, no, we don’t need to be in Glasgow. Our clients do not care as long as we are doing a good job for them. The good thing about being based here is that our clients are not paying for expensive offices. The costs of being in Glasgow would be five times as much as being here. We can pass that saving on to clients so that they can get a better deal here.”
Paligap is probably the most aggressive company that The Drum spoke to within the Ayrshire region. Started in 1999 by Steven Cosh and Allan Sloan, it was set up after Cosh made a drunken promise to a friend to build him a website. Within weeks of building the site he had £25,000 worth of orders to build more websites. The expected turnover for this year is estimated at £1 million and with clients such as Roche, The Original Shoe Company, Scotia Double Glazing, Dune Records and Jet Set, a mail order company, it seems that the estimation will soon be a reality.
The company employs nine people and runs a tight ship. The staff work shifts, with the office being open until 1am in the morning. Cosh believes this service offers the client much more than his competitors. “Depending on how busy we are, we can have up to three shifts working. We like to get the projects in and out as quickly as possible. The quicker the work is done, the quicker we get paid.”
Coming up behind him in the advertising sector is ABC Ayr headed up by Alex Knox. Knox, who comes from a newspaper sales background, set up the company six years ago. ABC Ayr now employs a total of six people and has customers including local companies such as Ayr Racecourse and The Ivy House Hotel, along with national companies such as the Bed Shed.
Knox launched the agency after a lengthy career in newspapers which saw him launch the Ayrshire Leader. He says: “At the time, the Bed Shed was privately owned but it was taken over by Homestyle plc, which includes the Benson Beds. The account stayed in Scotland, which was good news and a testament to the work we had done. It was a good thing too because in the early stages the Bed Shed did things at the last minute. Sometimes we only had an hour to turn jobs around for them. Now we are at the stage where we can plan campaigns ahead for them and commit to campaigns in certain titles 16 months ahead. It is now much more about planning and because of that we have been able to improve performance.”
ABC Ayr works in association with Alistair Nichol PR and Design. Before setting up his company, Nichol was a former Associate Editor with the Evening Times. His clients include The Ivy House (which increased its turnover from £220,000 to £1.4 million during the last year through PR and advertising) and NHS Lanarkshire. Nichol believes that it is an advantage being in Ayr and that people look for an excuse to come down and visit them. “The fact that we are not based in Glasgow is an advantage to us. It is funny how many people want to come and see us as the weekend approaches so they can spend it down here.”
It’s not just advertising that seems to be doing well in Ayrshire; marketing seems to be thriving there too.
AME was set up as Ayrshire Marketing 17 years ago, with funding coming from Paisley University and Scottish Enterprise, amongst others. It was set up to give companies in the region an understanding of marketing, after a piece of research which Paisley University had done showed that companies in North Lanarkshire benefited if they were to market their companies.
AME now employs five full time people, and Lynn Kelly, marketing manager, believes that many things remain the same 17 years on – “Our philosophy has not really changed since those early days. We still look to introduce companies to marketing and show what they can achieve if they use it well.” AME Marketing represents many companies from a variety of areas from agriculture to tourism and leisure. They have recently worked with Nichol McKay – a steel fabricator – to launch a new heater, which is now being launched into Ireland.
Paul Hughes founded Creative Edge with his partner Chris Kirk in 1992. The design consultancy employs five people.
When the company was launched Hughes admits there was not much competition around, but now this is changing. Surprisingly, unlike companies in the central belt, there does not appear to be much interaction between companies. Hughes believes that this should really be addressed.
“I suppose all the creative companies here are aware of each other, but we do not socialise with each other. That is something we should look at. I think if we did socialise it would help the industry in Ayrshire.”
Hughes does admit that sometimes work will leave the area and go to the central belt: “The bulk of the work is in the central belt, but we have a strong electronics sector down here. The tourist board has completely changed and they seem to want to put all their work into central belt agencies, which is not ideal for the creative companies down here. It is a bitter pill to swallow.”
Kestrel Press is probably the busiest printer in Ayrshire. It was launched 29 years ago by client development manager Graeme Ferguson’s grandfather and now employs forty people.
The company is split into two separate areas – labelling and commercial work. The labelling side does commercial work for clients as far afield as the Far East, whilst the commercial side of things deals with stationery, leaflets and brochures. Ferguson says that Kestrel works with many design and ad agencies, both in Ayrshire and also in the central belt: “We tend to stick to working with design and ad agencies in the west as we feel we can service their needs better from where we are.”
The company is doing well although they have noticed some ups and downs in the industry. “In the last year we have had our quiet times and our busy times. It is going crazy at the moment. We find that agencies and clients want things turned around quicker now than ever before. Jobs are coming in and going out in a couple of days. We have invested in a new technology which makes us stand out in this marketplace.”
Yet Ferguson does not see a problem with being based in Ayrshire – “Clients are always up for seeing us. They are always looking for ways to save money. Print is a very competitive area, even more so in the central belt. We would like to be in the middle of that in one way, but we are glad to have our own market down here, which we can service very well.”
All in all, companies are doing well down in Ayrshire and, whilst some might not do the most glamorous of work, they are still producing highly professional pieces and getting the job done. As Alex Knox comments, the quality of life is probably one of the main reasons why many choose to stay in the region. “I like living in Ayrshire. I like the quality of life you get here. You are in easy reach of the city and at the end of the day what you do for clients is more important than where you are based. Communications are now instant and there are certainly good creative people around this part of the world.”