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Weaving success with Stirling’s Superfast Fibre Network

Investment in broadband infrastructure is key for a diverse range of businesses operating in Stirling’s rural communities. With many companies reviewing their COVID-19 recovery plans to incorporate significant changes to create better life-work balance for employees and using the lessons from 2020’s enforced period of working from home, there’s never been a better time to consider how your business could benefit from a seamless switch from big city centre to farmhouse or loch-side.

Bonnie Tartan is a company that’s embraced remote working and gaining the benefits of a skilled workforce in their own locations, and the opportunities available through e-commerce. Established in 2009, Bonnie Tartan now supplies tartan hosiery, dance outfits and accessories in any tartan, plus their own exclusive range of 32 dress tartans, to its worldwide customers.

Inspired by their daughter’s budding dance career at age 3, Bonnie and David Middleton discovered a gap in the market for the specialist hosiery needed for competitive highland dancing. Highland dance outfits are made to measure, using traditional methods, a time-consuming process.  They must also comply with the exacting standards of the Highland Dance competitive circuit. It’s a specialist, global market with competitions taking place at gatherings from Bridge of Allan to Buenos Aires, Dunblane to Dunedin and Stirling to South Africa.

The majority of Bonnie Tartan’s businesses is through e-commerce, not just through online sales, but also in providing customers with a high level of customer and personal care. The team makes video calls to customers, personally guiding them through the best ways to provide the precise measurements that will ensure the clothing fits from top to toe.

Being situated in a slight hollow and 2km away from the nearest cabinet in Dunblane, the company previously had neither good internet nor mobile phone connection. On any normal working day, the speed from ADSL broadband was never more than 6Mb. With cell phone stations also plugging into the network the whole business struggled for a reliable connection which ultimately inhibited productivity. Sourcing faster broadband to provide the right level of customer care was key to the company growing and developing and to service to its growing market of global customers.    

Searching for ways to improve this connectivity David and Bonnie learned about the ‘Community Fibre Partnership’ scheme run by OpenReach. Designed to provide a customised fibre to the premises (FTTP) solution to homes and businesses, the scheme also signposted them to further funding opportunities such as the Rural Gigabit Broadband Voucher scheme. In order to benefit from the scheme, which also tied into Stirling Council’s Community Infrastructure project, he formed a local community group with another business and a group of local residents.

An initial survey identified eye-watering costs of £34,000 to carry out the work, but on closer inspection an Open Reach Engineer discovered the existing telephone duct ran past the end of the road that provided the phone connections to all the farms in the area. By utilising this existing cable duct and minimising excavation work, a saving of £17,000 was made.

The upgraded capacity has also enabled Bonnie Tartan to use cloud services and to upload data more efficiently. VOIP calls now transfer seamlessly to mobile which means more than one member of the team can be talking on the phone at once.

“In the end we were fortunate to attract a Rural Gigabit Broadband Voucher per business to the tune of £3500 each and a one-off Stirling Council investment of £8,750. The remaining £1,500 was provided by two businesses and as the legal entity of the community group, Bonnie Tartan Ltd was the legal signatory of the contract. “We’re thrilled that the wider community is benefiting from the scheme and we are now enjoying download speeds of 300 Mbps and uploads of 45Mbps. It is now more than we need, but as the business expands it means we are future proofed in terms of connectivity. We do pay a slightly higher monthly charge for our business broadband account with BT but this is off-set by convenience. Now you don’t have to worry if someone is watching Netflix, while you’re helping a customer in a different time zone!”

David is keen to help others benefit from his experience and has been mentoring another local group inspired to take advantage of the gigabit broadband voucher scheme, further improving connectivity in rural Stirling.  

Like so many businesses, COVID-19 had a detrimental effect on business as gatherings across the world were cancelled, but Bonnie Tartan was able to retain its highly skilled workforce through the Job Retention Scheme, as well as some imaginative diversification into producing tartan face masks.  A number were donated to Dunblane High School with head teacher Mr McKay receiving a very special McKay tartan mask!

Bonnie Tartan has also started a Buy Back scheme, allowing customers to trade in Bonnie Tartan garments for a high-value credit voucher to use in their online boutique or against new bespoke garments and full outfits. The team assesses the quality of the returned garments and re-sells them at a reduced price on their website, while never compromising on quality.

In addition Bonnie Tartan has attracted interest from outside the highland dance and pipe band communities, producing new colour ranges of socks for Vivienne Westwood as well as a bespoke order for the Stan and Ollie film featuring the inimitable pair in pairs of Bonnie Tartan hose on stage in Glasgow!

With Australia and New Zealand already starting to open up to gatherings, Bonnie Tartan is already seeing business pick up, and as it does, David and Bonnie and their team will continue to provide worldwide customers with a first class service and a first class product from an old farm steading just outside Dunblane.

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