The Covid pandemic altered the world of work in many ways. But for some people, the shifting sands created by lockdown caused them to change career entirely – a global trend that’s been dubbed the ‘Great Resignation’. But what is it like to start a new business in the middle of a global shutdown? We spoke to five new business owners across Scotland who did exactly that…
Ayrshire’s Wee Fish Van
“I take my van all round Ayrshire supplying fresh fish and seafood, but I was an air hostess until lockdown. I was with British Airways, doing long haul, but was made redundant in August 2020 due to Covid. It was my partner’s idea to start the fish van – he’s a trawlerman out of Peterhead – and I set it up in December 2020.
“It’s been going absolutely fantastic. I’ve now got a second van and I’m setting up a webpage where I’m going to be doing national deliveries. I get people from all over the UK asking if we can come to them and so I’m planning to do that.
“When I first had the idea I went on to Facebook and I did a bit of research. I put up a post, saying that I was thinking of doing a mobile fish van, asking their thoughts on the idea. I had thousands of replies on it which I just couldn’t believe.
“People were saying ‘come here’, ‘come there’ and I realised the demand was there. A lot of fishmongers are closing down because of overheads, so it is getting harder for people to source fresh fish. Going from door to door is probably the most feasible way to do it.”
Jeri Kelly is the owner of Mabel’s Bakery, a dog treat business based in Perth
“I started Mabel’s Bakery in lockdown when I was furloughed from my job – I didn’t realise it would take off the way it did. Mabel is my dog, I got her four years ago and I had always baked treats for her. It was my friends and family who told me I needed to make a business out of it, they were saying that there was nothing similar in Perth, it was just bog-standard dog treats that you get in the supermarket.
“But I was really unsure. I’m not from a baking background, it was more just a hobby. I decided to make a Facebook page and told myself I would be happy if I sold a few biscuits, but things just grew from there. When I started it was just bags of biscuits in the shape of bones, but now I bake doggy birthday cakes and all sorts.
“Starting the business in lockdown meant I couldn’t go anywhere, so I spent a lot of time on my laptop looking up ingredients. I researched what was good for dogs, bad for dogs, what other businesses were doing– but everything is taste tested by Mabel before it goes on the menu. Things are definitely expanding.”
Old Mother Hunt Rum
Becky Hunt is the co-founder of Old Mother Hunt Rum in Strathaven
“My husband is a pilot and he got his first commercial flying job in Glasgow Airport, so we moved up from England when our children were little. I was a stay-at-home mum and he flew for Flybe. When the airline collapsed in March 2020 he didn’t get any furlough, or any warning, he was made redundant the very same day. He took it really badly because he worked so hard to become a pilot and lost it all overnight.
“We were really scared but we thought we needed something to keep us busy, something to work towards and give us hope for the future. Neither of us could get a job, despite applying for almost everything we saw, so we realised the best option was to set up our own business. We wanted a pandemic-proof business, and alcohol seemed like a good option. We did a lot of research and realised that with rum, there are so many different flavours that you can get from the same spirit.
“We were really hampered by it being the pandemic, everything had to be done remotely. But we bought a lot of books and watched a lot of YouTube videos on how to make rum– there’s a lot of amazing material on the internet. We launched in November 2020 and I think by that point people were desperate to have something positive coming out of Covid. When we launched it was amazing, our local community rallied round and supported us and then told all their friends and family. The demand has been really strong ever since.”
Pegasus Bathrooms and Tiling
Barry Queen is the owner of Pegasus Bathrooms and Tiling, in Helensburgh
“I was in commercial window cleaning, for restaurants and shops in the centre of Glasgow. When Covid hit they shut down everything except supermarkets and grocery stores, and we didn’t clean any of them. I soon realised I needed to look for something else.
“I spoke to my neighbour, who told me there was no tilers left in our area, so I started researching tiling courses I could go on. There was one at a trade training school in Edinburgh, so I went and did a tiling diploma and a six-week course, then leased a van and made a logo. Gradually the jobs started to come in.
“Mentally it was very hard. I was used to working Monday-Friday, starting at 5.45 and being finished at lunchtime, doing a job I found very easy. Then I went to a job I had never done, knew nothing about, throwing myself in at the deep end. I worked at it -and am still working at it- but it took a good year or so to get used to the skill of tiling. I immersed myself in it, watching YouTube videos and becoming a better tiler.
“I’ve since trained myself in bathroom fitting, I went back to the trade school to do plumbing and I can now fit full bathrooms from start to finish. The demand has been great, I’ve actually hired a full-time apprentice who starts college in September.
“All my focus is on this now, so I sold my window cleaning business. Covid has made me look at everything in a different way– without the pandemic I never would have started this business.”
Rosemary Wild Fabrics
Rosie Creyke is the founder of Rosemary Wild Fabrics, an online store based in East Lothian
“I trained as an accountant and then a chartered surveyor, but I was made redundant in the credit crunch in 2008 and became a full-time mum to my three children.
“I’ve always been a sewer and I thought it was time to teach my eldest daughter how to sew. I took her to some fabric shops but there wasn’t anything that inspired her, so I decided to start my own fabric shop.
“I opened the business in September 2020. Throughout the whole pandemic I was learning the language of business, how you run a website, how to do Facebook and Instagram. And although I made a lot of mistakes, there were people wanting to buy what I was selling and it was such a joyous thing for me to do.
“The business became a very positive, affirming thing in the nightmare of home-schooling children and the gloom of the pandemic.
“Coming out of lockdown has been a complete adjustment as well, figuring out how an online business reacts to people not being online as much. But I feel now I can manage things more confidently.
“It was undoubtedly Covid that caused me to start the business. Before the pandemic I had always thought I would do my own business of some sort, but lockdown made me realise fabrics were what brought me joy.”