From Scotland, with Love – The Herald Scotland Business HQ

Amy McCusker, the founder of WeeBox, reveals the inspiration behind the special subscription gifts service that’s become a global phenomenon.

When she was a wee girl, Amy McCusker spent long periods living abroad, thanks to her dad’s job in the US Navy. “We moved around a lot but wherever we went my granny back in Airdrie would always send us a box of things from home – wee mindings, really like a box of shortbread, or some tablet,” she says. “Once she even sent some Lanark tomatoes, which was hilarious. Everything was wrapped up in pages of newspaper, so you could unwrap the gifts and read all about what was happening at home. It was fantastic.”

Those little parcels popped back into Amy’s head when, years later, she wanted to send some reminders of home to her brother in Australia.

“When I went to post them, I could not believe how expensive it was,” she recalls. “So I hunted around to see if there was any kind of subscription service that would do it for me and there wasn’t. I decided to do it myself. Fast forward a few months and I had a company, a logo, a brand name, and a launch in New York.”

Amy is the founder of the award-winning WeeBox, which spreads a little slice of Scottish happiness to more than 25 countries, helping 350 small businesses and makers reach a global audience.

Customers range from Scots living abroad to those who have fallen in love with the country after a trip here.

“We also have many subscribers who have never visited Scotland but would love to one day, and those who have become intrigued by the place through watching shows such as Outlander and Shetland,” adds Amy. “The reach of these programmes is enormous.”

Amy – who now lives in Lenzie with husband Gerard and children Max, 18, Leo, 16, and nine-year old Charlie – was a management consultant in “a previous life” but had decided to change careers before the idea for WeeBox took hold.

“I worked for one of the big global companies, so I was travelling a lot, and I had just had my third baby, and really, I wanted to do something that could fit round my family life,” she explains. “I knew I could build on all my previous experience of e-commerce, sustainability, and community work, and it was important to me to support small businesses. I got great support from Glasgow Chamber of Commerce. I went to them with my idea and they suggested I take part in their big St Andrew’s Day event in New York.”

Amy became a member of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce’s Made in Manhattan cohort of businesses, and the event – the 206th St Andrew’s Banquet held by the St Andrew’s Society of the State of New York – was a huge success.

“It was incredible to be part of it and that really was the launchpad,” she says. “We started trading in January 2017 and we have not looked back since. It was daunting, absolutely, to go out on my own, and I spent many a late-night thinking had I done the right thing, leaving a good corporate job and all that security? It was terrifying at times, in fact. But I knew I needed a better work life balance, and it’s been worth the risk.”

Each month subscribers to WeeBox receive a themed parcel of five items, most exclusive to Scotland and unavailable to buy elsewhere (and worth much more than the cost of the monthly fee) plus a magazine produced in conjunction with The Herald, with photos and articles all about Scottish history, tradition, and contemporary history, tradition, and contemporary life. Previous themes have included Burns Night, Halloween, Outlander and Christmas.

“It’s about creating a Scottish experience in your home, whether that’s afternoon tea, Scotland-style, or becoming the lady of your own castle,” says Amy, “and it is absolutely not twee. I didn’t want to go down the purely tartan-and-bagpipe-history route – I wanted to make sure we were representing the Scotland of today. Scotland is amazing, it has so much to offer and on top of all the history we celebrate, this is a progressive, modern country with amazing makers and a warm and welcoming outlook.”

Amy is always on the look-out for new makers to include. “I keep my eyes open, wherever I go and if I hear of something or just like something, I’ll make a note. We are now in the fortunate position of being quite well-known so often makers will contact us too.”

December’s theme is Hogmanay, so expect a collection of lovely items relating to Scotland’s end year celebrations. Although admits Amy, her idea of including a piece of coal has been abandoned.

“I thought it would be a good idea, but trial runs just ended up with my having to explain what on earth it was all about,” she laughs. “So I have beautiful Hogmanay shortbread, especially created by one of the makers, instead.”

Subscriptions can be purchased as gifts for friends and family, and a few times each year a pop-up “emporium” appears on the WeeBox website offering customers the chance to buy individual items from previous boxes.

Amy is already planning a busy year ahead, with a return to New York planned for Tartan Week’s 25th anniversary.

“I love Scotland – I love the people, the scenery, and the passion we have here for the things we love – and that’s what I want to capture in a WeeBox.”

by Ann Wallace