Outdoor kit specialist Highlander on mission to double sales

Ramin Golzari explains that when his father Bahram came to Scotland to study at the University of Edinburgh, he wanted to continue his passion for mountaineering and climbing that he had developed in his native Iran.

Ramin Golzari, managing director of outdoor goods specialist Highlander. Picture: Greg Macvean
Ramin Golzari, managing director of outdoor goods specialist Highlander. Picture: Greg Macvean

Finding that the kit on sale at the time was expensive and niche, when military surplus specialist Leith Army Stores went into liquidation he decided to take it over, and Highlander started out in 1985.

As the business grew, Golzari senior tapped into his engineering knowledge to break down the costs and create something built to last but affordable, and Highlander started to supply independent outdoor and military stores across the UK with its own lines.

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Ramin Golzari took the reins four years ago after studying at the University of Glasgow, but had grown up with the firm. “I’ve done pretty much every job there is to do in the business,” he says.

The company, which designs and manufactures adventure equipment, now has a product range covering more than 2,500 lines under its own brand, and in 2005 moved to a larger site in Livingston to support its growth.

It has a team of about 40 while turnover in its last published results was just under £10 million, and Golzari is confident that this can double in the next five years.

“We’ve been profitable every single year we’ve been in operation,” he says, stressing that it has been completely privately funded and is therefore able to act, just as is required in rugged outdoor terrain, quickly and nimbly.

The business has been working with Scottish Enterprise, secured a contract to supply the London 2012 Olympics and the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games with official merchandise, and has joined forces with the United Nations to provide disaster relief and shelter equipment.

Additionally, it has been supplying kit for extreme expeditions, such as the team supporting cyclist Mark Beaumont’s current mission to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days.

Now, just under a third of sales are coming from overseas, “which is a high growth market for us”. The vast majority of these are to Europe, with Germany its largest market outside the UK, and Golzari also highlights Italy, France and Spain.

The firm has been recognised for its growth in overseas sales, which hit £2.5m in 2016, by the latest Sunday Times SME Export Track 100.

But with Highlander having such a European focus, and Golzari aiming for it to be known as a global company in ten years, how concerning is Brexit? “I don’t think we’re worried — but we’re actively engaged in it,” he says. “We’re looking at plans and we’re analysing what might happen.”

Looking at outcomes from best to worst, he says that if things become “problematic” when dealing with Europe, Highlander will need to examine different business structures as it looks to continue overseas growth. “[That] shouldn’t be something that’s blocked by Brexit — if anything, we’d like to find a solution that makes it even easier.”

In terms of market size, the latest data from the European Outdoor Group found that the wholesale value of the sector in Europe in 2015 was €5.3 billion (£4.8bn) in 2015. The two largest markets, Germany and France, grew by 2.2 per cent and 2.5 per cent respectively in the year, while the UK came in third at 1.8 per cent.

But while the ultimate impact of Brexit remains obscured by cloud, what is more immediately evident is the change Golzari highlights in the way consumers approach retailers.

“We’re in a very dynamic and a very different marketplace than we were five years ago and I think it’s going to change even further,” he believes. “Outdoor clothing is no longer about just keeping you dry and warm. It’s got to do so much more than that — it’s an extension of who you are.

“As a result we’re seeing a lot more colour and a lot more flamboyance coming through our designs for 2018 and beyond.”

And while there are undeniably many high-profile competitors in the market, he is of the view that with customers now researching a company’s identity in far more depth than previously, like-for-like comparisons in say, market share or designs, are decreasingly relevant to him.

“What we’re trying to do… is an extension of who we are and ultimately that’s really what people buy into going forward.”


Born: 1985, Edinburgh

Education: Hons degree in business and management at the University of Glasgow

First job: Business ­development manager at Highlander

Ambition while at school: Very quickly I knew I wanted to go into business

What car do you drive? Jaguar XKR

Favourite mode of transport: Walking – if not, I love to fly

Music: Totally depends on mood, almost anything

Kindle or book? Book

Reading material: ­Business and personal ­development books

Can’t live without: Laughter

What makes you angry? Failure without learning from it

What inspires you? The challenge – the goal has to challenge you!

Favourite place: Florence has just topped my list!

Best thing about your job: Diversity