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Meet our Members – Alasdair Campbell

Meet our Members – Alasdair Campbell Posted on 4 January 2024

Photograph of new build property painted using Isle of Skye Paint Company products.

In our regular feature, we find out about members of the Scottish Decorators’ Federation. This time, it’s Alasdair Campbell, from the Isle of Skye Paint Company. There are two sides to the business – decorating and paint manufacturing.

What’s your background?

I was born in Portree on the Isle of Skye. I never really took well to school and with my dad being a joiner, he suggested that I should get a trade. My uncle, John Angus Campbell, was a painter and decorator – one of the best I’ve seen in my life actually. It made me think that could be a possible career for me.  

I served my apprenticeship with a construction firm on the island that had a painting squad and I did the college side of things at Inverness Technical College as it was then. Once I had my City and Guilds qualification in 1993, I went to work for Bell Group in Inverness. I was made redundant about a year later, so I decided to return home and start up as a painter and decorator there. 

I was a one-man band for about five years, until I took on an apprentice, then another, until the company grew to 10 painters. 

What’s your speciality?

New builds. That’s pretty much all we do. A lot of it is in the private sector but we also work on social housing. I would say about 80 per cent of our work is in that area. I prefer the private sector as there is more decorating work to do. We also do some hotel work on the island. December is the month for that, so when they close down for the low season, we are in there refurbishing.  

We don’t spray at all – I know it’s probably quicker, but we are good at what we do and I like things as they are. I am happy with everyone using rollers. The finish is great and everyone knows what is expected of them.

When did you join the SDF?

It was in 2016. We had just started another side of the business – Isle of Skye Paint Company – and I wanted to join a trade body to give us a better profile, but also to find out what was going on in the industry. We are a bit isolated here on Skye, so having a window into the trade from here is a plus point.

What’s the best thing about the Federation?

I feel that there is a real personal touch with the SDF. If you want to ask a question, you just pick up the phone. There is such a wealth of knowledge. If they don’t know the answer, then someone in the membership will. Whether it’s an issue with a customer, a problem with paint or a financial difficulty – someone will have been through what you are going through and have a solution. It’s not a huge organisation either – you’re not a number to them. I like the magazine, Decorating Matters, because I get to see what everyone is up to and find out about new products. It makes me feel part of the organisation.

How has the Federation changed?

The membership magazine is a lot better than it used to be – there’s a lot more to read in it. 

What’s been the biggest challenge in your career?

It was the financial crash in 2008. Almost overnight, we lost 30 per cent on the price we were charging to do work. Because we were involved with new builds, some of the big construction companies could just say: “This is the price, take it or leave it.” It was four years of hard slog, only really breaking even on the jobs we were doing. 

We were at our biggest at the time and I had a lot of guys relying on me. I’m proud we didn’t have to make anyone redundant over that period, but those were tough times. 

It did make me realise that it was important to have some kind of back-up plan and it was then I started to think about starting Isle of Skye Paint Company. Just to have something that we could control. It was a long time before it materialised, but finally, in 2016, we had our own brand of paint as another side to the business. That was a different kind of challenge!

What’s been your favourite job?

I would say that if I was given enough time to complete a job to a high standard, that would be satisfying to me. We are always under such pressure to finish in less time than is really possible due to other trades going over their deadline. So a job with lots of time! 

I do love the work we do though with local builders R.House, as it’s a chance to use some incredible colours. Some of the new builds tend to be pretty neutral.

What would be your dream job?

See the previous question! If all the other trades finished on time and left the new build clean and tidy, then that would be a dream job to me! 

What are your long-term plans for the business?

There are no plans to grow the decorating business any more. I am getting a bit old to be climbing ladders all day! I do have ideas to expand the paint side of the company though. We are on the brink of launching a new product – something that is more conscious of the environment – so watch this space!

Tell us about life beyond work

I am married to Carol and we have two children, Megan (14) and Grant (11). I love to spend time with the family. When we go on holiday, we like to go to the US a lot. We were recently in Florida and we’ve visited New York to stay with friends. 

I go to Portugal once a year with my friends to play golf. I love that – there is only one golf course on Skye, so it’s lovely to have some variety and the weather too.

I’m a massive football fan and I go to all the Scotland home games. I used to go to all the away games too until the kids came along!

My son Grant has also got the football bug – he aspires to be a professional football player. My daughter is a keen musician and is hoping to make a career in that field. She’s a flautist in the Scottish Youth Orchestra, so we drive to Glasgow once a month to see her playing concerts.

With Carol being a Director of the Isle of Skye Paint Company, we constantly talk about work at home, so we need to try to get a better work/life balance. That’s why holidays are so important – it gives us a chance to switch off for a few weeks.  

Photograph courtesy R.House