newsletter sign up

great stuff, once a week, tops.

Stirling: Scotland’s Heart

posted: 17 August, 2015

In the second of a mini-series featuring Scotland’s emerging cities, we focus on Stirling, Gateway to the Highlands (and our home)…

Yes, Stirling is a city. And no, we’re not on the outskirts of Glasgow. And though our postcodes may begin with FK, Falkirk is very much the Colt squad to the First 11 that is Stirling.

Stirling is a cut above, you see. The gateway to the Highlands, this is Braveheart Country. Monuments, bridges, battlefields of historical note, we boast all these. Then we go and top it all with what must surely be the prettiest castle in Scotland. It’s magnificent!

I love my hometown but I’m here to talk about retail and, I don’t wish to be mean, but… our shopping precinct feels sometimes as if it might have been borrowed from elsewhere, or left here accidentally.

There’s a fair selection of pretty good shops, no argument there. Big names: M&S, Zara, Debenhams, H&M – all feathers in our cap. But it is what it is and that’s broadly the same as most similarly-sized British towns. Good, if unremarkable, but certainly worth a visit. But away from the chain stores, there are interesting things happening.

McAree Brothers is a modest independent department store known by generations of Stirling folk for its haberdashery and as the place mum bought your school uniform. Since 2003 they have been selling online and, would you believe, they are now quite possibly the UK’s leading online retailer of knitting supplies. With significant international sales to Japan, Australia, the USA and India, the humble shopfront belies an astonishing retail success story.

And it doesn’t end there. From a small shop on the outskirts of town, BushWear’s online business has propelled it to become the UK’s number 1 outdoor clothing and accessories retailer. This is another great example of retail entrepreneurialism which might go unnoticed for its absence on the high street.

There are some great Stirling-based companies which support retailing too. Seller Dynamics, for example, software developers who have carved out a great niche helping online retailers maximise sales. And (if you’ll excuse me while I reach for my own trumpet) there’s us. Retail Management Consultants supports leading brands and retailers in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas.

And if you’re surprised to hear that Stirling has a genuinely global standing in retailing, get this.

I get around a bit and meet a lot of retail people, and it doesn’t matter where I am in the world, more often than not there’ll be someone in the meeting who is either studying at or graduated from the Institute of Retail Studies at Stirling University. It’s equivalent to a Swiss finishing school for the global retail elite and graduates are genuinely proud to count themselves as alumni.

Stirling is very much on the retail map, and this makes me proud too.