Handmade products from Kirkcaldy tap into French and Japanese markets

Donny Carstairs, managing director of The Just Slate Company.
Donny Carstairs, managing director of The Just Slate Company.
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A KIRKCALDY company that turned down some of the leading names in the retail world is on target to increase sales by 40 per cent after securing distribution deals in France and Japan.

The Just Slate Company, which hand makes home and tableware products from slate, forecasts sales will hit £2 million by September.

With help from Business Gateway Fife, the company has undergone a rapid period of expansion since being bought by Donny Carstairs in 2006.

In the past three years alone the business has secured high profile clients - including chefs Martin Wishart and Gordon Ramsay, as well as Harrods and Selfridges - grown staff numbers from five to 25 and generated a 70 per cent to 90 per cent increase in annual turnover each year.

Mr Carstairs, managing director, said: ““When I bought the company it was losing money.

“It took two years to change the range and get the customers we wanted in front of us.

“Preserving the brand has always been upmost in my mind when deciding who to supply.

“I don’t want the product to become a commodity that won’t be around in five years - that is why we’ve turned down some well-known volume retailers.

“When we went to the prestigious Maison & Object Paris tradeshow earlier this year we were surprised by the level of interest.

“Potential customers were drawn to the artisan and handcrafted nature of our products.

“We went thinking we’d secure 50 small retailers. Instead we secured a sales agency that will distribute product throughout France and have orders from Japan which we have started to fulfil.”

Mr Carstairs said exporting is key to sustaining the company’s growth and guidance from Business Gateway has helped the business fulfil its potential, but he has also not lost focus on the bread and butter of the UK and Irish markets.

He added: “Orders from John Lewis, Lakeland and Baxters as well as independent delis and kitchen shops have helped turn a once ailing business into a success.

“The home market is extremely important to us and we are constantly designing new products that will appeal to our core clientele.

“This year that includes launching a new garden range and a line made from green slate.

“Because we see trends and respond to them we are in a privileged position whereby retailers do not dictate what they want from us. When I took over the business that was always my goal – to be in control of what we do. That ethos has had made Just Slate a sought after brand.”