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70-year success story is due to Cairngorm Group's ability to 'adapt and thrive', says former MD on landmark anniversary

By Philip Murray

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David Dowling (right) handed over the reins to his sons Scott (left) and Chris in 2020, but still works for the firm as group chairman, consulting for the company on a part-time basis.
David Dowling (right) handed over the reins to his sons Scott (left) and Chris in 2020, but still works for the firm as group chairman, consulting for the company on a part-time basis.

An ability to adapt to the future while also maintaining the traditional core products on which it was founded are a big reason behind the long-running success of the Cairngorm Group.

That's the view of its former managing director, David Dowling, who ran the family business for more than 20 years before handing the reins to his sons in 2020.

Four generations of the Dowling family have steered the business to ever greater levels of success during its 70-year history – embracing new opportunities to diversify and expand along the way.

From the move into double-glazing in the late 70s, and then on into the fledgling PVC window market in the 80s, and the solar panel boom of the 2010s – the Cairngorm Group has been determined not to simply rest on its laurels.

And for David that, and the family nature of the business, are a key part of the recipe to its success.

Related: Inverness managing directors discuss following in the footsteps of generations

Related: Cairngorm Group celebrates 70 years of serving the Highlands

Related: CASE STUDIES: Skills, experience and decent wages: why the Scottish Government's Developing the Young Workforce (DYW) initiative has proven successful to young Inverness workers

"We're always looking to see what more we can do, such as new products. We like to ask ourselves 'can we make these ourselves instead of bringing them in from another supplier?'. We will always be open to seeing what is going on in the world.

He added that the big milestones like the production of their own double glazing, PVC windows and solar panels each served to "catapult us into the bigger size employer we are today".

Indeed, when they began producing solar panels in 2011 they enjoyed instant success with them - selling £2.7 million worth of then in that first year.

The move helped them better weather the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis than many other employers.

And he added that this diversity helps ensure that there's always an area of the business enjoying growth even through the toughest of times.

Take the current cost-of-living crisis and post-Covid world. Mr Dowling says house sales have been proving sluggish of late, with housebuilders across the UK facing leaner times than prior to 2020.

But while on paper you might think this might have a knock-on impact on producers of windows, it is actually fuelling other parts of Cairngorm's business.

"Housebuilders are selling less houses but interestingly our retail sales are well up," he explained.

"People are deciding not to move at the moment but when they choose to do that they decide to 'do up' their existing homes instead - improve their glazing, add a conservatory etc.

"So our retail is actually up. Being aware of what is going on and seeing what the market is saying is a big part of our success."

He added that the drive to tackle to rising energy prices is also prompting customers to invest in better efficiency windows for their homes that trap more heat and lower domestic bills.

"People have also re-evaluated their lives," he continued. "People are not wanting to spend their retiral putting in all sorts of home improvements - they want to sort those issues now so that their homes are as maintenance free as they can be by the time they retire."

He also believes the Highlands are proving more resilient than most other parts of the country to the slow down in new home construction and the wider housing market - with people re-evaluating their lifestyles in a post-Covid world.

Inverness's strong connectivity with the wider world - both in terms of its wi-fi connectivity and key transport hubs like Inverness Airport, mean that many people are choosing to work remotely and find a life for themselves in the country.

This in turn has helped to keep the local housing market more buoyant than elsewhere - a factor which was already fuelling a construction boom in the Highlands long before Covid first struck.

"I dio think new housing sales will come back," he explained. "There are 9000 people on the waiting list for homes the area. It shows a huge demand for housing in the Highlands.

"Lots of people are still moving here. There are a number of people up here now having first moved here for work - people initially on short-term contacts who are then wanting to remain longer-term because they love the place."

Mr Dowling added that there are two other key parts behind the firm's continued success. Ther first of these is its people, with the family-run business' staff also feeling like an extended family - with some employees having worked for Cairngorm for well over 30 years, and many more having been with the company for more than two decades - and counting.

And the second is the company's move to produce its products locally, instead of sourcing them in from elsewhere.

"A good part of our success is that people like windows that are made in the Highlands - a lot of folk like to see that.

"It's something we are very proud of."

And with a 70 year track record of delivering for its customers again and again, Cairngorm Group shows all the signs of a rosy future to come.

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