A self­less com­mu­nity spirit has helped Carolyn’s shops flour­ish

Each week, we ask small busi­nesses key ques­tions. Here we speak to Carolyn Wil­son, owner of Vic­to­ri­ana Florist & Gifts and three other shops in Al­ness

The Press and Journal (Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire) - - BUSINESS -

How and why did you start in busi­ness?

I have lived in Al­ness most of my life. Thir­ty­one years ago, liv­ing on our farm at Dal­more and with young children to raise, I looked for an ad­di­tional source of fam­ily in­come and opted for a farm shop. Start­ing with £400 of stock, the busi­ness soon grew and I de­cided to move to Al­ness High Street and open Vic­to­ri­ana.

How did you get to where you are to­day?

The Al­ness of those days was very dif­fer­ent to to­day. The clo­sure of the In­ver­gor­don alu­minium smelter in the early 1980s re­sulted in 890 job losses and hit the town very hard. When Vic­to­ri­ana opened the town and its high street were in the dol­drums.

I care pas­sion­ately about my com­mu­nity and it was ob­vi­ous that we had to act to save Al­ness for every­one’s ben­e­fit. I was de­lighted to join other busi­nesses, the com­mu­nity as a whole and pub­lic agen­cies in a bid to turn things around. It worked and over the years, led by the busi­ness com­mu­nity, we have trans­formed our high street into a great place to shop, so­cialise, en­joy spe­cial events, and re­lax.

We’ve won nu­mer­ous con­fi­dence-build­ing ac­co­lades along the way – Bri­tain in Bloom and the Scot­tish high street of the year 2018 – as well as re­gen­er­a­tion and en­vi­ron­men­tal im­prove­ment awards.

As the High Street as a whole has be­come more vi­brant, so have its in­di­vid­ual busi­nesses and the suc­cess has helped every­one, not least me.

To­day, with the sup­port of count­less loyal cus­tomers, I own four shops – Vic­to­ri­ana Florist & Gifts, Vic­to­ri­ana Cloth­ing & Ac­ces­sories, Vic­to­ri­ana Shoe Room and The Larder del­i­catessen.

It has not been easy, but with hard work and en­thu­si­asm I have over­come the chal­lenges.

Who helped you?

I would have achieved noth­ing with­out the in­cred­i­ble com­mit­ment and loy­alty of my amaz­ing staff, a re­ally tal­ented group of peo­ple that in­cludes my daugh­ters, Katie and Jen­nie.

The Fed­er­a­tion of Small Busi­nesses is al­ways there to pro­vide cost-ef­fec­tive ser­vices, and to dis­cuss is­sues and give sound ad­vice.

What has been your big­gest mis­take?

No big mis­takes but things that could be done bet­ter, and I en­joy be­ing re­minded I am not al­ways right.

Buy­ing in goods to sell is the riski­est ac­tiv­ity, and some­times so-called sure-fire hits turn out to be duds, still sit­ting on shelves months later.

What is your great­est achieve­ment?

Be­ing part of the award­win­ning com­mu­nity team that con­tin­ues to trans­form Al­ness.

If you were in power in gov­ern­ment, what would you change?

I would in­tro­duce a na­tional pol­icy to en­sure that park­ing re­mains free in small towns and ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties. Free park­ing is es­sen­tial to sus­tain­ing vi­brant re­tail en­vi­ron­ments and, as a High­land coun­cil­lor, I am do­ing all I can to help main­tain it in Al­ness.

What do you still hope to achieve?

I feel very con­tent that my busi­ness is now on a sound foot­ing, al­though I am al­ways look­ing for im­prove­ments and op­por­tu­ni­ties.

The younger gen­er­a­tion have lots of good ideas and I want to en­cour­age them to see these im­ple­mented

What do you do to re­lax?

I never re­ally re­lax or sit still for long, but love be­ing in my gar­den and green­house, spend­ing time with my six grand­chil­dren and bak­ing.

What are you cur­rently read­ing, lis­ten­ing to or glued to on the TV?

I love all kinds of mu­sic, but tra­di­tional Scot­tish in par­tic­u­lar. Also good brass or mil­i­tary bands, and church mu­sic played well on the or­gan.

My read­ing tends to be lim­ited to monthly trade mag­a­zines as I scan them for new trends and ex­cit­ing new prod­ucts.

“It was ob­vi­ous we had to act to save Al­ness for every­one’s ben­e­fit”

What do you waste your money on?

Every penny is a pris­oner as far as I’m con­cerned, al­though I think most folk would say I’m gen­er­ous with what I have.

How would your friends de­scribe you?

Hard-work­ing, fo­cused and com­mit­ted.

What would your en­e­mies say about you?

Im­pa­tient, jumps too quickly to con­clu­sions and doesn’t spend enough time lis­ten­ing.

What do you drive and dream of driv­ing?

I drive an eight-year-old Volvo XC60, which I love too much to re­place. I have no dream cars.

Pho­to­graphs by Sandy McCook

GEN­ER­OUS: Carolyn could not stand by and watch Al­ness’s High Street de­cline and de­cided to take ac­tion.

Carolyn runs four re­tail busi­nesses in­clud­ing Vic­to­ri­ana Florist & Gifts

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