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Meet our members – Ewan Bannerman

Meet our members – Ewan Bannerman Posted on 9 November 2021

Bannerman family

We find out what it’s like to be a member of the Scottish Decorators’ Federation. This time it’s Ewan Bannerman, Director of Bannerman Decorators in Perthshire.

What’s your background?

From the age of about 12, my father put my two brothers and me to work with the painters, burning out pots, stripping walls and doing things that no one else really wanted to do. In a family business, you just muck in and get on with it. It wasn’t my ambition to join Bannerman Decorators, even though my dad, Bill, had taken it over from his dad, who started the company in 1921. When I left school, I went to Napier College as it was then, in Edinburgh, to do business studies. I got a bit distracted from my course when I ran for student president and won – so for the next year I ran the student union – which was a great experience! 

My dad decided to expand the retail side of the business, so at the age of 21, I returned to Perth with the promise of a brand new Ford Escort and took charge of the paint shop in Perth. 

In 1985, we took over an established firm in Dundee, and opened a shop there in 1986. My younger brother Bruce took over the reins of the retail side of things and I began to manage the painting and decorating arm of the business. Bannermans Colour Studio has two shops – one in Perth and one in Dundee. 

What’s your speciality?

I have always seen myself as a hunter gatherer, to go out, meet clients and get work. Once I have secured the work, it is my job to get colour schemes organised and schedule the project. This is the big juggling act as anyone within the industry knows… trying to manage customers’ expectations. Fortunately, I have a great back team of decorators who carry out the work and an office team who keep me organised and most importantly get the invoices out. My wife Jackie is involved in the finance side of things and keeps our cashflow running smoothly.

When did you join the Scottish Decorators’ Federation?

The business joined decades ago, and my dad is a former President of the Federation. 

What motivated you?

My brother and I once tagged along to see my dad speaking at a decorating conference in Blackpool in 1974. I was only 13, but I remember how important the SDF was to dad – he was a stalwart supporter. His theory was that they looked after the industry, so you had to put the effort back in. I think that is still true today. Members need to engage with the Federation to get the best from it. I am also still President of the Dundee & Perth region, but would like to pass the chain of office on to someone else now.

What’s the best thing about the Federation?

There are so many reasons to join the Federation, from legal advice to training schemes. I needed to get a couple of our team qualified to use a cherry picker, and I called Neil Rogers at the SDF to see if he could advise. Within a week, he had them booked on a course in Dundee, and they had their certificates. As SDF members, we also qualified for a discount on the course.  

How has the Federation changed?

In my dad’s day, the Federation had the feel of a gentleman’s club, where elder statesmen in the trade passed on nuggets of knowledge to the younger generation coming through. Nowadays, the SDF lobby on the industry’s behalf and help with any new legislation that affects us. But SDF members need to use the Federation to help them – whether it’s for employment issues or contracts – it’s up to them to get the most out of their membership.

What has been the biggest challenge in your career?

Every day is a rollercoaster ride in the decorating industry – there have been good times and bad. In 2010, we saw our workload plummet after the financial crash, although the retail arm of the business did well. 

Then in 2020, Covid-19 hit, and we had to furlough all our staff, as much of what we do is in people’s homes, so we were unable to do any decorating. However, the retail side of things fared well, as we were contacted by local authorities, NHS and Rosyth Naval Base to get vital supplies of paint to them. We managed to do this all without face-to-face contact, taking orders over the phone and leaving supplies in secure cages outside the shops.

What’s been the favourite job in your career?

I would say there have been two. The first was tennis champion Andy Murray’s Cromlix House Hotel in Dunkeld. He bought it semi-derelict, and although it was fraught with difficulties, including scheduling problems leaving us with barely any time to complete the job (we did), it was also a prestigious project to have worked on and I was very proud of our achievement. The second was St Ninian’s Cathedral in Perth – not an especially challenging job in terms of painting, but boy did it have the wow factor! We were nominated for a national award, and it is still a source of great pride to have had the honour of working in that building.

What would be your dream job?

Just to carry on working, to be honest. We have made it to 100 years in business this year, and we are extremely grateful to all the people who have helped us in that achievement. The generations of loyal families who have trusted us with painting their homes are part of that, and we hope to be able to continue working with them. 

What are your long-term goals for the business?

I don’t look too far ahead, and I am sure my dad never expected the business to hit 100 years. He is still my sounding board, though. Now 91, he still gives me great advice. I always remember when I quoted for painting a cemetery fence at the beginning of my career. I got it badly wrong and labour hours and materials were running a lot higher than I expected. All he said to me was: “Next time when you quote for a fence, remember they have two sides”.

Wise words indeed, and the best advice I have for people entering the trade is much the same, learn from your mistakes. You will make them but don’t dwell on them.

What about your personal life?

I have been married to my wife Jackie for 33 years, and we have two sons, Scott (27) and Ben (23). Neither will be joining me in the business – they both went to Edinburgh University and work in data protection and data analysis respectively. “Data is very important,” they tell me – but my answer is “yes, but it can’t paint a wall.” 

I love to play golf, and I am a member at Blairgowrie.
I am also a passionate football fan – my granddad played for St Johnstone and Raith Rovers in his time, so it must be in the blood. My brother Bruce’s son Finn is only 14, but he’s already playing for the St Johnstone’s junior team. 

With Covid-19, we haven’t had the chance to holiday abroad, but recent staycations have included St Andrews, Crail and North Berwick – lovely seaside towns with plenty of golf courses nearby! I played my first round at the Old Course at St Andrews recently – it was magical.  

Find out how to join the SDF here.

Photograph shows (left to right): Bruce, Bill and Ewan Bannerman outside the family business.
Photograph: Perthshire Picture Agency