How the House of Bruar became a retail powerhouse

In 1995, the countrywear specialist, The House of Bruar, opened with 40 employees and a building extending to some 20,000 square feet. Today, the Scottish retail powerhouse has grown to a staff of 350 and occupies a site of almost 200,000 square feet.

In 1995, the countrywear specialist, The House of Bruar, opened with 40 employees and a building extending to some 20,000 square feet

Last year, almost two million customers flocked through the doors to browse and purchase products from a wide array of departments, including luxury country clothing, accessories, arts, gifts and specialist foods and drinks, or to dine in the restaurant or fish and chip shop.

Yet, when husband and wife team Mark and Linda Birkbeck conceived the idea for an outlet for tourists and travellers just off the A9, near Blair Atholl in Perthshire, many observers said it would never work.

Patrick is the couple’s eldest son and a manager director at The House of Bruar. He said: “My parent’s vision was for a retail business that would sell the best of Scotland in Scotland. But many said it would fail; they thought it was bonkers. I think it’s fair to say we have proved them wrong.”

Scottish retail powerhouse has grown to a staff of 350 and occupies a site of almost 200,000 square feet

It is the partnership of Mark and Linda that has been key to the success of Bruar. Patrick, 46, says: “My father is the creative inspiration and sees the unique product and the trends in product.

“He has always had an eye for what will sell – and this was evidenced right from the start of his career when he travelled the country selling items from the back of his car. That was before he created – and then sold – the successful UK chain, Jumpers.

“Meanwhile, my mother has always looked after the systems, processes and the HR. She is the people person. She is also the driving force behind the knitwear and gifts that are an integral part of the overall Bruar business.

“It is their joint passion for the company – and sheer hard work – that has worked so well over the decades.”

Another of the couple’s four children, Tom, 34, also works in the family business, as the creative director. Patrick says: “Family underpins our business and I think this has been another part of our success.

“The teams of staff can see that we are very passionate about the company and they know how important Bruar is to us, as a family. That gives them the confidence to also invest their own passion and endeavour.

“I think that the team is proud of The House of Bruar – and they like that it is different, unique in many ways and special. They believe that all the hard work that they put in is worth it – and they do work hard.”

An additional element that is important to The House of Bruar is the focus on Scottish and British products. Patrick says: “We feel that good workmanship commands a cachet and has authenticity because of heritage. We all have a huge comfort factor in buying British.

“I think that our customers agree and being able to purchase Scottish or British is important to many of them.”

As House of Bruar enters its 25th year, the outlet continues to thrive despite a generally tough UK economic environment. As well as being open seven days a week, there is an e-commerce business that operates 24 hours a day.

New developments in recent years have included a dedicated jewellery department with a collection of pieces from across the UK and America; an Art and Sculpture Gallery with a Scottish wildlife focus; a specialist Fishing Tackle Shop and the Fish and Chip shop.

Patrick says: “I think that as a family business we have learned a great deal along the way. It has been an incredible journey so far and we are still here and thriving. Mark and Linda’s vision is as strong now as it when he founded The House of Bruar.”