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Highland business celebrates 20 years of relationship building

By Rachel Smart

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Eric Innes, Managing Director and Stewart Milton, Operations Director. Picture: James Mackenzie
Eric Innes, Managing Director and Stewart Milton, Operations Director. Picture: James Mackenzie

A Highland firm is celebrating a milestone achievement in 2024: 20 years in business! Eric Innes founded Innes Pipes when he decided building and maintaining customer relationships would be the key to running a business in the Highlands and Moray.

Relationships are still at the heart of the business and why the team believes they are entering their third decade.

Managing director Eric said about the momentous occasion: “It’s been a quick 20 years, that’s for sure!

“It’s a great achievement, and it’s all thanks to our customers across the area who have supported us all these years.”

Stewart Milton, operations director added: “It’s a great achievement – 20 years is amazing!

“People like stability in this industry and we are here for another 20 years and more! We are in a great position as an independent merchant in the region and we are continuing to grow.”

Having taken a leap of faith in starting his own company at the age of 31, Eric has seen the company move from strength to strength.

Eric Innes, Managing Director. Picture: James Mackenzie
Eric Innes, Managing Director. Picture: James Mackenzie

He continues: “When I first started, a client gave me a yard to work from free of charge for six months and I got a Portakabin and forklift just to get me going.

“I was gung-ho and fearless, but the success was mainly down to our customers paying us on time and sometimes early to help cash flow.

“We didn’t have a huge amount of money and we are very fortunate that local businesses supported us which enabled us to survive.

“Over the years we’ve built strong relationships with our customers and can react quickly to their needs.”

The humble beginnings for Innes Pipes saw Eric driving around in his Land Rover and trailer, dropping off deliveries to clients; but now the business has a fleet of vans, lorries, and three premises across the north of Scotland.

With bases in Alness, Elgin, and Nairn, Innes Pipes now stocks a range of products for drainage and builders’ merchants, specialising in the supply and distribution of underground pipes and associated products for use in ground works associated with civil engineering, building, agriculture, and forestry.

However, it hasn’t all been plain sailing for the business as it has had to overcome various challenges over the years.

Eric said: “There have been some difficult times and one of the main ones was in 2009 when the oil industry crashed. Our sales halved overnight and the phones stopped ringing.

Innes Pipes lorry. Picture: James Mackenzie
Innes Pipes lorry. Picture: James Mackenzie

“But I think one of the reasons we were able to survive is that we have kept operating costs at a minimum.

“We are fortunate that the other director, my father who is an accountant, kept us grounded. He made us put money away and not spend it. The profits were never spent and they were invested back in the business and stock to be able to operate. The tough times were survivable because of this!

“But when we first started I wouldn’t have been able to see that, it’s certainly thanks to my father who made us go down that road, and I appreciate that now!”

Innes Pipes started with just two staff: Eric seeing customers and doing deliveries Jane in charge of the office. Now the business has 10 staff and has an annual turnover of around £3 million.

He added: “It’s been a gradual progression and not a quick thing.

“When we opened our premises in Elgin in 2007 and Alness in 2020 it showed our commitment to the region and to our customers. These were very big milestones.”

The biggest lesson Eric has learned over the years is to put the customer’s needs first. He says knowing who the client is and what their needs are is the most important thing you can do.

He explained: “Knowing who our customers are is so important, so when they phone up, they are recognised. We know who they are and how they operate.

“We’ve got to be flexible too. If a customer has operational issues, we try to help make life easier.”

Stewart echoed the same sentiment. He said: “Getting to know the customer and their requirements and if they need anything else is so important.

Eric Innes, Managing Director and Stewart Milton, Operations Director. Picture: James Mackenzie
Eric Innes, Managing Director and Stewart Milton, Operations Director. Picture: James Mackenzie

“For myself, who has just been with the business for seven years, building relationships with suppliers is massive, so we have the stock profile here for the customers.

“People deal with people in this industry. They need to know if they phone us, they will get exactly what they need.”

Over the next 20 years Innes Pipes hopes to extend its reach in the north of Scotland and reap the benefits of opportunities coming to the Highlands, such as the Inverness and Cromarty Firth Green Freeport.

“We want to see continual growth for the business and we would like to open some more depots across the region over the next five to 10 years,” said Eric.

“There is so much opportunity in the Highlands and we would like to be at the forefront of what is coming, including housing projects and the expansion of the renewables industry.”

He concluded: “It took a while for the bigger customers to recognise us as a potential supplier and over the years we’ve become a household name.

“People know the business and that only comes with time and reputation. I feel that we’ve done that well – we are so thankful to our customers who keep supporting our business!”

Innes Pipes - Elgin

Unit 10, Milnefield depot,

Ashgrove Rd, Elgin

T: 01343 549500

Innes Pipes - Alness

Crosshills Farm, Alness IV17 0XX

T: 01349-882729

Innes Pipes - Nairn

Unit 4, Grigorhill Industrial Estate,

Nairn, IV12 5HX

T:01667 459460

W: www.innespipes.co.uk

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