With a long heritage of technical innovation, not to mention its natural resources and world-leading reputation for food and drink, it’s little surprise that many firms would want to align themselves with “Scotland the brand”.
But here are seven examples of companies and brands that – despite first appearances – have no obvious connection to the country that gave the world the bicycle, pneumatic tyres, the Bank of England and electric clocks.
Choosing a company name is fraught with danger, as those behind the decision to rebrand Royal Mail as Consignia will attest. But instead of spending thousands on external brand positioning experts, why not let fate decide? That’s what the directors of a high-tech antenna maker did 40 years ago when they set up the firm, which was bought by Aim-quoted electronic component supplier Solid State in May 2013. The founding Holliday family felt that “Holliday Engineering” didn’t have the right ring to it, so they decided to stick a pin in a map and ended up calling their Herefordshire-based company Q-par Angus. No prizes for working out which Perthshire town the pin landed on.
With a name like that, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the “world leader in modular space and secure storage solutions” would be based somewhere north of the Border. But the company, which trades under the Elliott name in the UK, has its headquarters in Baltimore on the east coast of the US. The group takes its name from the California-based Scotsman Manufacturing Company, a maker of recreational vehicles and storage systems for the movie industry, which joined forces with Williams Mobile Offices in 1990. In 2007, Williams Scotsman was acquired by a syndicate led by private equity firm TDR Capital, which merged the business with European outfit Algeco and Elliott.
The Scotsman newspaper was founded in 1817, so this US company – the world’s largest maker of commercial ice machines – is a stripling in comparison. The firm traces its origins back to 1921, when the Queen Stove Works was set up in Minnesota. In 1950, Queen Stove Works bought the American Gas Machine company, a manufacturer of lanterns, ice chests, heaters. Following that deal, the Scotsman name was used to market its commercial ice machines. It is now owned by Italian foodservice equipment group Ali.
London Scottish Bank
In 1986, a doorstep lender called Refuge Lending Society changed its name to London Scottish Bank – despite being based in Manchester. The reasons behind the rebranding are not entirely clear, and may remain that way, because London Scottish Bank called in administrators from Ernst & Young in 2008 after the financial regulator blocked it from accepting more deposits. Perhaps the specialist in “subprime” lending was hoping to replicate the success of London Scottish Football Club, formed in 1878 by three Scotsmen living in London who broke away from their rugby club to form a new team for their compatriots.
Last year, an alcoholic drink appeared on the Bulgarian market that attracted the attention of the Scotch Whisky Association. With a bright yellow label depicting a bagpiper in full Highland dress standing in front of Eilean Donan Castle near the Kyle of Lochalsh, this “Grain Alcoholic Drink with Malt” was called “Highlander”. The product, manufactured by Bulgarian company Nordix, did not claim to be Scotch, a market survey carried out in Bulgaria showed that 91 per cent of consumers believed the product to be a whisky – with more than half saying they had assumed it was specifically a Scotch whisky. Eventually, a settlement agreement was reached in which Nordix agreed not to use the name Highlander, figures of Scottish Highland dress and images of tartan or bagpipes and the name was removed from the Bulgarian trademark register.
Caledonia Mining Corporation
“Caledonia you’re calling me, and now I’m going home,” sang Dougie MacLean in 1977, but the songwriter would be a long way from home if he visited the operations of Caledonia Mining Corporation. The miner’s main asset is a 49 per cent stake in the Blanket gold mine in Zimbabwe and its corporate headquarters are in Toronto, where its shares are listed. It is also quoted on London’s Alternative Investment Market and the OTCQX marketplace in the US.
What could be more Scottish than Alba? The Gaelic name for Scotland actually has its roots in ancient Greek, which also gave us “Scotos”. The name was adopted by London gramophone manufacturer AJ Balcombe in the early 1930s for its range of radios and later televisions, before the business went into receivership in 1982. New owner Harvard International floated the company on the London Stock Exchange in 1987, and in 2008 sold the Alba brand – along with stablemate Bush – to Argos parent Home Retail Group for £15.25 million. In August, Argos unveiled a refreshed line-up of products, including Bluetooth speakers, portable DVD players and even a tablet computer – a world away from the brand’s origins on London’s Tabernacle Street.