A print and design firm based in Edinburgh has rewarded its employees with the keys to the business following their hard work during the global pandemic.

Launched from the living room of couple Bob and Joelle Kirkpatrick in the middle of the 2008 financial crash; Wee Blue Coo Ltd has established itself as a successful business, dispatching thousands of products globally each week and selling its products on multiple online marketplaces.

Bob and Joelle were both made redundant from their jobs in 2006 before setting up their business, creating posters from public domain images to retail on eBay. Fast forward 15 years, they now have a strong team of 30 members of staff – some of which have been employed for more than 10 years – and have an annual revenue of more than £2 million.

Having previously gifted a 10% shareholding to long term employee Allan Gray for his hard work and dedication, the three shareholders agreed that the move to employee ownership was in line with the company’s values by safeguarding the future of the business for the benefit of its employees.

The entrepreneurs began exploring the succession model in 2019 before enlisting the help of David Morrison of EQ Accountants. The owners began the process of transitioning to an Employee Ownership Trust at the start of 2021 with the move being facilitated by expert Carole Leslie from Ownership Associates as well as the teams at EQ Accountants and Anderson Strathearn.

Bob Kirkpatrick said: “There are perhaps more well-known ways to make an exit from a business, however, this was the only real option to ensure we safeguarded the futures of those who have contributed to our company’s success. The Employee Ownership Trust seems like a perfect and logical way to structure any business.”

Joelle Kirkpatrick added: “Being a people led business has always been the very essence of who we are, which is why becoming an Employee-Owned business was the only option that was seriously considered.

“Running our business this way has ensured we have a motivated and dedicated team who feel valued. That has always been more important to us than the bottom line. Relaying this news to our team has, without a doubt, been the highlight of my career so far.”

Bob and Joelle have always sought to take care of their staff with perks such as flexible working and providing private healthcare to all employees with more than one years’ service.

Naturally the couple felt this was the next step for their business. The team were shocked and delighted at the news and are very excited at being given the opportunity to shape the future of Wee Blue Coo Ltd.

Graeme Slater, Warehouse Manager, said: “Now that we are an employee-owned company it means that we all have a say in the direction the company takes in the future. This is a great opportunity to help us to grow as a company and offers us the chance to enjoy a more secure and prosperous future.”

David Morrison, Partner at EQ Accountants, said, “Having advised Bob, Joelle and the team for many years, it is great to see them safeguard the future of their business by handing control to their dedicated workforce.

“This is great example of using an EOT as a solution to succession, whilst ensuring that employees are rewarded for their hard work. We look forward to continuing to support Wee Blue Coo as they thrive as an employee-owned business.”

The Employee Ownership Trust was introduced in the 2014 Finance Act to encourage business owners to consider a sale to employees as a feasible succession solution.

Founder of Ownership Associates, Carole Leslie, who has worked on the transitions of more than 80 private businesses to the succession model, said: “We are continuing to see increased interest from a variety of different businesses across contrasting sectors in making the move to employee ownership.

“It is inspiring to see two entrepreneurs succeed in their business throughout the difficulties of redundancy and a global financial crash. It is testament to their hard work that they have reached this momentous milestone.

“Bob and Joelle have always looked to put their staff first, and this transition is another chapter for the couple and the business. I would like to congratulate Wee Blue Coo Ltd, and wish them all the best in their future endeavours.”

Ownership Associates works exclusively within the employee-owned sector, supporting companies on their move to employee ownership and working with established employee owned businesses enabling them to maximise the ownership advantage.