Q1. Gilbert, tell us a little bit about your background and what led you to opening your business in Milngavie
Marion and I have lived in Milngavie for 22 years. Previously I was a company director in my family’s heating and ventilating business and Marion was an air stewardess with Gulf Air and British Airways.
I thought up the idea of Travel Lite when walking my dogs on Drumclog Moor and noticed the walkers coming up the hill with their heavy rucksacks. Once I had devised the idea for Travel Lite I realised I needed an office space. My wife and I purchased McFarlanes Ironmongers and took on the shop as a cookware and hardware specialist, as well as a new office for our baggage transport service.
Q2. Tell us about your Travel Lite business and what you offer
Since 1995 we have offered a service of bag transportation for the west highland way either for the full walk, part walk or stage by stage. We can collect baggage from Milngavie’s array of B&Bs and hotels for those staying the previous night in Milngavie. The majority come to the van at the start of the West Highland Way on the morning they start the walk giving us their list of accommodations which are then detailed on a label tied on to their bag. Their luggage is then moved stage by stage to their varying accommodations ready for them arriving after a hard days walk. This saves the walker carrying the weight of a full rucksack and protects their belongings from any adverse weather conditions.
Q3. How difficult is it coordinating the pick up and delivery of baggage from different people at different locations along the way?
Not difficult as long as we are given the correct information as to where the bags are to be dropped off. Difficulties occur on the A82 when accidents shut the road completely. The only diversion is 90 miles via Callander.
Q4. What countries do most of your travel lite customers come from?
The majority come from the UK. Ironically the flat countries of Belgium and the Netherlands have a surprising amount of walkers, as does Israel.
Q5. Have you met any interesting customers over the years- who stands out?
Every customer is different, and therefore interesting. I now have numerous regulars who have become good friends over the years.
Q6. What percentage of your customers actually complete the entire 95 miles of the West Highland Way? What advice do you have for people considering walking it?
Roughly 80% complete the walk. Our advice to walkers would be to read all the websites on the West Highland Way thoroughly, most walkers do not do enough preparation work e.g well-walked in boots and accommodation locality. As May is the busiest month, the best bit of advice for people wanting to walk then is to book all accommodation by the end of January.
Q7. What is your favourite part of the West Highland Way, and why?
The Bridge of Orchy to Kings House section, as this is very remote and you walk across Glencoe. In this section you walk along the old drovers road past Queen Victoria’s Hunting Lodge. I love it because the wildlife here includes osprey, various birds of prey and herds of deer.
Q8. When are the busiest times of the year for your business?
May is the busiest month due to the two bank holidays at the beginning and the end. July to August are very busy with the foreign visitors. In September the UK visitors are plentiful as again there is a bank holiday.
Q9. Describe your typical day with travel lite?
The van starts in the private car park at the start of the West Highland Way. Walkers arrive from 8am till 9:45am to drop off their bags. It then travels round the B&Bs and hotels of Milngavie to pick up extra bags. We then deposit and collect bags all the way to Fort William. We arrive at Fort William by 5pm, in time for people to pick up their bags and get the train or bus back south. Finally the van takes a straight route home to Milngavie with a round trip of 250 miles.
Q10. Tell us about your other business the Iron Chef?
The Iron Chef is a specialist cookware and ironmongery shop. We stock top brand quality cookware such as Joseph Joseph, Stellar, Delia Online, kitchen craft, t and g and ICTC. We have an extensive line of hardware in the back shop as well as camping equipment, gases, stoves, tent pegs and migie repellent. We also have many ranges of cleaning products, dylon dyes and pest repellents.
Q11. What are some of the problem/risks with running your business?
I created travel lite 18 years ago – 11 years ago a company copied exactly my idea and produced an identical website. In 2013 the exact same happened again which has put my business under more pressure.
Q12. What would you do to help local businesses?
We verbally promote individual businesses in Milngavie at the sales point. We suggest to the customer where to purchase the item they are looking for in the village. We personally support the Allander Rotary in Milngavie and 2 years ago I walked the West Highland Way with 20 other local business owners for Maggie Cancer Care charity.
Q13. How much do you enjoy owning your business and why?
For the past 30 yearsI have been self employed. It is very hard work but I enjoy the challenge, however each year you have to re-invent and go up a gear, in order to keep up with the competition. I am constantly trying to think out of the box to be one step ahead.
Q14. What are your plans for 2013?
To keep on being successful as we have been so far in business .
Q15. In closing, is there anything you would like to say to the people of Milngavie?
As we have been in business for a lengthy time, we have a long relationship with our suppliers and their discount is then passed on to our customers. It is an assumption that we are dearer than the supermarkets. Many items in our shop are cheaper and our vegetables are quality and have a long shelf life. We thank our customers for being so loyal and shopping in the village.
Thanks Gilbert. If you want to find out more about Gilbert and his business then you can visit his website and follow them on Twitter and Facebook: