The Edinburgh decorating company is recovering after the hammer sector of the pandemic


Barrie and Ewan Nicolson.


53 and 47.

What is your company name?

George Nicolson (Decorators) Limited.

Where is it based?


What does it produce, what services does it offer?

We are a second generation family business, started in a locked garage in 1972 by our father George Nicolson and his friend Bill Paterson.

Working directly with clients, designers, surveyors, prime contractors and architects, we deliver a complete painting and decorating package.

Who is it selling to?

Our focus is mainly on the commercial market through the renovation of restaurants, hotels and offices. For the past 20 years we have specialized in being the prime contractor in the hotel, restaurant, hospitality and small to medium sized office markets.

A few years ago we acquired another painting and decorating company, Henderson & Paterson, originally established in 1932, which allowed us to enter the residential and residential markets as well.

What is his turnover?

£2.5 million.

How many employees?

30, including the two of us.

Our shop was closed for around three months during the first Covid-19 lockdown, all staff being furloughed and then gradually brought back. Despite the support of the furlough scheme, the lockdown and subsequent restricted trade for many months thereafter, including a number of employees self-isolating, had a severe financial impact on our business.

The workforce is slightly lower than before Covid-19, although we have since hired three trainees who are all doing very well.

Why did you take the plunge?

We never really considered working anywhere other than the family business, so we joined the team straight out of school as an apprentice painter and decorator and junior office. Since then everything has been running smoothly and after the death of our father in 2010 we became joint managing directors.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

We were students at Portobello High School.

How did you raise the seed funding?

There was no seed funding, just trading income that was reinvested in the business.

What was your biggest breakthrough?

Probably the overseas work we gained first in the Republic of Ireland through Jury Hotels and then Scottish & Newcastle Brewers when they opened a chain of Scottish pubs in the 1990s. We did about 17 projects in Italy, which were then interspersed with projects in Holland, Spain, Sweden, South Africa and Israel. This was a fantastic experience for both the company and all of our tradespeople involved.

An important result was that it gave us the skills and not least the confidence to undertake projects and later become prime contractors here in the UK. It is not common for a painting and decorating company to use subcontractors in almost every other industry, but this is how we have developed and built many successful relationships with clients.

What was your worst moment?

Losing our father on November 10, 2010 at the age of 64. He had built the company from nothing but an idea and left us a great legacy. He always listened to both of our opinions on how things should be done, but his wisdom was the linchpin of the business. The deaths of Freddie Blues in June 2011 and Tam Blyth in March 2020, who were both valued and longtime members of the company, was tragic for their families and everyone associated with our company.

What do you enjoy most about managing the company?

Business can be tough at times, but work with an aesthetic value means you can be proud of what you produce. It’s harder to achieve the same sense of satisfaction when working in the office, but it’s always gratifying to win new contracts and then close them for happy clients. It is also a pleasure to observe the personal development of our trainees, both professionally and personally. Our business is constantly evolving and we pride ourselves on reinvesting profits into training to help our people develop their skills and become fit for higher positions within the company.

What are your ambitions for the business?

This year marks the 50th anniversary of our founding as a family business. Together we have seven children between the ages of 10 and 22, none of whom at this point are interested in following us into the business. We don’t blame them because it can often be a tough gig. As for the future, we are open; We’re not making conclusions or rulings out, but with a good trading year just behind us following the difficulties of Covid-19, we’re confident that the stronger your business, the more opportunities you have for its future.

What are your top priorities?

Maintaining the standards of service that have earned us a strong reputation in the industry and, we believe, the respect of our peers. Equally important, we continue to grow and develop with our shareholders, including Director Jeremy Tempest-Mitchell, Contracts Manager Andrew Scotland and co-shareholder and site director Robert Oliver. Michael Taylor, Site Manager, joined us when he was just 18, his late father, Bill Paterson, was a close friend of George’s and without him there probably would not have been a George Nicolson Decorators. Crucially, we will continue to work with our long-serving employees and trainees: we know we would be nowhere without them, and we hope to expand our highly qualified cadre should the right people become available. Finally, we wouldn’t survive the uproar if we didn’t also extend a shout out to our amazing mother, Margaret, 75, who still works in the office from time to time.

What could Westminster and/or Scotland governments do to help?

The Scottish Government could do a lot more to help companies in the construction sector by encouraging young people to take up an apprenticeship at school. We feel that our industry and particularly the painting and decorating sector, one of the “biblical crafts”, is not being promoted as it should be. Young people should be made more aware by schools that painting and decorating is an important profession that leads to a fulfilling career for those with the right attitude. Today there are 13 employees in our company who have completed their training with us and fulfill roles within the company ranging from trained businessman to managing director/shareholder.

What was the most valuable lesson you learned?

Building trust and communicating with people is crucial. We both have mental health first aid training which really shows you the importance of listening to people and never giving up on them too soon.

How do you relax?

Spending time with our families, playing golf and enjoying the successes and, perhaps not so much, failures of our beloved football team.


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