Border Embroideries of Greenlaw are celebrating their 25th anniversary this year, with Billy and Shirley-Anne Smillie’s business growing to employ over 90 people.
It’s a far cry from the single head embroidery machine they set up with in their bedroom
The couple approached The Prince’s Scottish Youth Business Trust, now part of The Prince’s Trust, 25 years ago, looking for funding and advice to get started. A quarter of a century on Border Embroideries now counts around 950 schools in Scotland and England among its customers and has moved to its own custom built premises.
Billy Smillie explained: “I’d always wanted to start my own business. I had been working at my father’s farm but when that was sold I needed to find something else to do.
“A friend who managed a local Knitwear factory suggested I start an embroidery business, as he had got requests for embroidered wear that they couldn’t fulfil.”
Billy, then 24, developed the idea and approached PSYBT for help. The charity provided a grant and business loan, helping Billy and his wife, Shirley Anne, to buy their first embroidery machine. The couple started Border Embroideries from their bedroom, later moving to a garage and then in 1999 to their own custom premises.
Billy said: “Over the years we have adapted our business. The Knitwear Industry in the Borders has declined but we’ve found new sources of revenue through supplying schools in Scotland and Northern England, as well as continuing with other embroidery work.”
“Summer is our busiest season with all the school uniform orders and this year we’ll have 97 employees in total during the summer months. I take a lot of satisfaction in being able to create jobs for other people.
“Moving to our own premises was a highlight for me. And we’ve already expanded our premises twice since then to meet demand.”
Billy and Shirley-Anne have seen the business grow into a family affair, with their daughter, Aynsley and two sons, William and Ross, now working for the company. He added: “When we started 25 years ago Aynsley was just a baby. Now she, and her brothers, works with us and she has a baby of her own. With the younger generation involved I think we will grow even more and find new opportunities.”
Going forward the business is working to build up its website and become a market leader in schoolwear and teamwear. This business already runs four shops and is preparing to open its first dedicated team and club wear store soon. Border Embroideries currently employs 62 people across its factory and stores, with a further 35 soon to join to help cover the busy summer season.
Kevin Mills, Borders Regional Chair for The Prince’s Trust Youth Business Scotland, said: “We are delighted that Border Embroideries are celebrating this momentous milestone. Billy and Shirley Anne Smillie’s business is a fantastic example of the far-reaching and long-lasting benefits that supporting young entrepreneurs can bring.
“From small beginnings they have a created a thriving business that now employs around 100 people at peak season, boosting the local economy and providing a valued service to schools and organisations across the UK. We are delighted to have played a role in supporting Border Embroideries to start-up and look forward to seeing their business continue to grow and succeed.”
“We are continuing to support aspiring young entrepreneurs in the Borders and throughout Scotland. The Prince’s Trust can offer a wide range of support - from access to funding to business mentoring. To find out how we can help you achieve your business ambitions call us on 0845 634 6098 or email email@example.com.”
Over the last 15 years Billy has also given back to Youth Business Scotland programme by volunteering on his local funding panel. In this role Billy can offer guidance to young entrepreneurs seeking vital funds to start-their own business.
Billy said, “I’ve always enjoyed hearing young people’s business plans. I often think I learn more from the young entrepreneurs presenting their ideas and ambitions that they do from me.
“To any young entrepreneur looking to get started, I’d say, listen to the advice you’re given from people like Prince’s Trust mentors and advisors. I’ve been lucky to have had good advice and guidance and I think that’s played a big part in our success, that, and hard work.”