Celebrating Island Business in Orkney

Graeme Harrison HIE

Graeme Harrison HIE

Orkney’s 2018 Business Festival got off to a cracking start with an evening Celebrating Island Business: Past, Present and Future chaired by Graeme Harrison from H.I.E.

Spring into Action was the theme of the festival but it started with a look back in time with Richard Shearer whose family business has been on the go for over 160 years.

William Shearer

Richard Shearer’s talk was a delve into Orkney’s social history as much as it was the story of the family business, William Shearer’s in Victoria Street.

Richard Shearer and shop

He took us through the changing products sold in response to demand and new technologies throughout the 160 years. He described how Orkney took the lead in promoting its own products and the  emergence of Kirkwall as a hub for commercial activity. He described the harbour area as the heart of the town and his grave concerns over the ‘narrowing of its arteries‘ as work proceeds to widen the pavements in this part of Kirkwall constricting traffic flow.

“Don’t let outside influences dictate how your town should look“, he warned.

As well as a fascinating look at the past of William Shearer’s, Richard also reminded us of both the present and future of the business: the extensive seed store and opportunities with wildfowling.

Richard Shearer stack net

Richard Shearer with one of the products no longer needed in Orkney: a stack net

Richard Shearer’s talk reminded the audience of the importance of Orkney’s local businesses responding to the needs of its customers and being open to change where change is needed but true also to its core values.

Harris Tweed Hebrides

Mark Hogarth Harris Tweed Hebrides

Mark Hogarth: Harris Tweed Hebrides

Mark Hogarth from Harris Tweed Hebrides described the amazing turnaround in the Harris Tweed business from its doldrums 10 years ago to its phenomenal success today as a fabric used by leading fashion houses.

The Harris Tweed business, Craft at the Croft, is a balance between tradition and modernity. It is a world renowned product built upon the strong foundation of the weaver in the croft.

Protected by an Act of Parliament the industry is overseen by the not for profit Harris Tweed Authority. It includes several private mills, however, its 140  independent hand weavers are self-employed. 60% of its product is exported: Japan, France, Germany, Italy and the USA.

Harris Tweed

Mark Hogarth explained that the key to the success of the business was flexibility with a variety of markets. Still important was face-to-face sales using key agents.

“From the hand comes the cloth…unique colours…unique place…unique product”

The Harris Tweed Trademark orb has become the logo and protecting the brand was vital, “the power of provenance“.

Target Internet

Ciaran Rogers Target Internet

Ciaran Rogers: Target Internet

Ciaran Rogers from Target Internet began his talk by taking us even further back than  Richard Shearer or Mark Hogarth with an illustration of 7,000 year old cave paintings.

He was demonstrating both with this and his reference to the Sunlight Almanac of 1899 that there was nothing new in content marketing. The difference today is that the attention of the target audience is spread across many devices: not just one cave painting or useful almanac.

His advice was to “walk in your customer’s shoes” and that even with the variety of devices people do still read magazines and listen to the radio.

He described the changing use of social media sites like Facebook with users not sharing so much and conducting more interaction through private chats, “it’s content shock…too much for people to take in“.

Target Internet

Ciaran Rogers gave us a fascinating insight into new devices and technology emerging onto the market and the possible uses it may have, including its implications for business:“the Internet is coming off the Internet.”

This is only the second Orkney Business Festival and has been a great success. It is a collaboration between: Business Gateway, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Orkney Islands Council. All the events were free.  Follow The Orkney News for more reports on the event.

Reporter: Fiona Grahame


3 replies »

Leave a Reply