Last week we had thirty inches. Yes, that’s two and a half feet. 75cm. And temperatures in the glens fell to arctic lows below -20C (-4F) and not much higher in the cities - for days on end. It’s the worst freeze since at least the 1960s. And this in a climate that, despite our northerly location, is normally remarkably mild thanks to the Gulf Stream ocean current that skirts our coast.
The result has, in short, been chaos. Hundreds of drivers spent not just one but two nights stranded in their cars on the M8 motorway connecting our two largest cities, which stayed closed for days. Almost half the population (including vital service providers) never got to work. Public transport ground to a halt. Filling stations ran dry. And bread and milk (amongst lots of other things) have disappeared from many shelves. The army has been called in to clear paths to vital services. And there have of course been the inevitable and tragic deaths and injuries.
It’s hit our business too. One of our main courier companies (DHL) announced yesterday (9 Dec) that they were accepting no more parcels for pre-Christmas delivery as their depots are full to overflowing and they cannot shift what they’ve got. Fedex too turned up for their normal daily collection just once within ten days. And the post became a distant memory for days on end. (But despite this, we’re still expecting to fulfill on the vast majority of our christmas deliveries… and we’re still even accepting orders for custom-woven kilts.)
Our customers in Canada and Finland tend to be the least sympathetic. “What’s all the fuss about?” they say. “We get far worse every winter.” Well, yes. But the predictability and duration of your weather means you have an infrastructure to cope with it. You have snow chains for your tyres, and service distribution systems designed around that pattern. But snow chains don’t work for scatterings of snow that normally come and go in a few hours. Normally.
So I’m writing this piece partly just to record how immensely proud I am of our own team. One customer service advisor’s normal 20 minute commute took her three hours. But she got here. Our manager waded through several fields of thigh-high snow to reach a transport axis with anything moving, his own car being buried in drifts. But he got here. We had to implement emergency arrangements to get everyone home when the buses were called back to base. But they got there. In fact I think we lost only one person-day through the whole period (so far) on the first and worst morning.
You might even be asking yourself why. It’s called team spirit. It’s the Christmas season, and we have hundreds of customers anxiously awaiting their special packages from Scotland, to give to their loved ones on that special morning. And none of us want to let them down. This may sound corny. But it’s just how we run our business.
Regretfully we know that some are likely to be disappointed anyway, despite our very best efforts. The courier companies have a lot of catching up to do, so I myself will be driving around the country next week, ferrying boxes between our mills and our manufacturers to try to get everything made, and away, in time. The team will be working seven days, and into the evenings. We’ll upgrade shipping methods at our own expense where we have to. But with the mess so many people’s business systems are in, we know there will be some we just can’t do in time. And to all those we deeply apologise. I hope, having read this, you may just understand.