AN Talla, a café and retail destination in Loch Ness exceeded expectations last month, with more than 10,000 visitors flocking to the visitor centre. Freda Newton, owner of Loch Ness By Jacobite boat tours, took over the former village hall in 2017 to create a visitor centre for tourists and locals.

Name: Freda Newton

Age: 55

Position: Managing director

WHAT’S THE BUSINESS CALLED?

An Talla

WHERE IS IT BASED?

The banks of the Caledonian Canal, Loch Ness

WHY DID YOU SET UP THE BUSINESS?

AN Talla, the Gaelic word for “the gathering place”, was a village hall. We ran boats from there. We have 300,000 people using boats and the village hall was in need of repair. We made an agreement with the landlord to develop it.

If you go back to my childhood my father, brother and sister all had their own businesses so it was natural I would want to run my own company too. The boat business was set up in 2002 so I had a bit of experience in running a firm and An Talla was set up in June this year.

We have 80 staff at the moment, 24 of which are at An Talla but there are lots of seasonal workers going back home in the next few weeks.

WHAT IS YOUR TARGET MARKET?

IT’S a seasonal business so in summer we have a lot of tourists and require support from the locals all year round. It’s a good place for people to have something to eat and buy presents. The customers are a broad spectrum of people. We have tourists from China, Spain, Italy, Australia and the US.

I have been overwhelmed by the reaction from the locals and visitors. People can walk, run or cycle to Inverness from the canal so it’s a popular destination. People appreciate the authenticity and how we work with local businesses.

HOW IS IT DIFFERENT FROM COMPETING BUSINESSES?

WE are looking at the quality of our offering and trying to differentiate our products. The Loch Ness Collection is only available at An Talla, we have paintings from local artists that you can only buy here and we are going to turn them into cards as well. It makes us stand out. The food is also freshly prepared and locally sourced.

We have developed our own tartan, cashmere, wool and throws. We are about to launch a tweed. We also use pottery to make our own dishes and crockery. We work with Scottish jewellers and also have the only Jo Malone outlet in the Highlands.

We use local producers for cheese, meat and beer. I knew about a lot of them because I live in the area and I managed to find some others when we set up. We use Bad Girl Bakery for cakes and luckily they have decided we’re suitable for their product as they have their own shops as well.

WHAT IS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE IN RUNNING THE BUSINESS?

GROWING from a small to medium sized business and the cost that comes with that expansion. It’s Difficult to keep that entrepreneurial flair and grow a business. We are using a facility to work between the management team so we can move forward together and everyone has a voice to detail our strengths and weaknesses.

WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT RUNNING THE BUSINESS?

SEEING visitors enjoying themselves. It’s nice to know that people are getting a nice gift and want to tell others. I go from the office to An Talla every day for lunch so it’s enjoyable to chat to the locals and tourists.

IS SCOTLAND A GOOD PLACE FOR THIS TYPE OF BUSINESS?

IT’S the best place in the world. There’s support for businesses out there if you go out and look for it.

We’re backed by the Bank of Scotland and we also got funding from Highland and Islands Enterprise.

I’m a member of Entreprenurial Scotland and the connections are good there. Sometimes Scots are not good at asking for help but if you need it is available.

WHERE DO YOU HOPE THE BUSINESS WILL BE IN 10 YEARS?

THAT’S a difficult one. It’s a long time and I’m nearly 55. I want to keep developing quality products in a sustainable way and keep up with trends without compromising on quality.