STARTING today we're showcasing the six nominees for the title of Glasgow's Favourite Business 2017.

The coveted award, sponsored by the Evening Times, is part of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce's annual Glasgow Business Awards, now in their 20th year. The headline sponsor is Royal Bank of Scotland.

We'll feature two more nominees tomorrow and the last two on Friday, when we'll let you know how you can cast your vote for your favourite.


“MY favourite shop in Glasgow”, reads the Facebook posting by one Deano McInnes.

“You must pay it a visit, and leave with a disguise, magic trick, and a rubber chicken …I saw Jerry Sadowitz paying a visit today, as I bought a superbly engineered piece of conjuring equipment”.

Tam Shepherds has had many such testimonies over the years - and, given that it has occupied the same Queen Street premises since the days when Queen Victoria was on the throne, that is a very long time indeed.

The shop was established by Tam Shepherd in 1886 and has been run by the Walton family for the past 75 years.

Roy Walton, 85, and his wife Jean, 80, still work behind the counter, as do their daughters, Julia and Sarah. Roy himself is a renowned magician, and has published three volumes of card tricks.

“It’s quite nostalgic for a lot of people”, Sarah Cameron says of the shop, which was established in 1886. “I suppose it must appeal to their inner child.

“We get so many people coming in to look at all the jokes, novelties and magic tricks that have been here for a very long time, and we are also fortunate in that we get newer generations coming in, too.

“Children are really into their technology but this sort of shop is something really different for them.

“The shop hasn’t changed dramatically in its 130 years. There aren’t many shops left like this one, where you have to have a really good look at everything.

“You’ll get grandparents coming in here with their grandchildren and telling them, ‘I used to come in here with my dad’ and they’re amazed that we are still going strong”.

Lots of things for sale in Tam Shepherds may be long in the tooth but have never lost their appeal. Squirt flowers, rubber chickens, whoopee cushions and sets of chattering teeth, joke biscuits and fake coins have all been around for a long time - yet still they walk out of the door.

“It’s amazing when you think we have been in the same premises for generations and have been through two world wars and so many monarchs and all the rest of it”, adds Sarah. The shop has moved with the times and has established an online presence.

“There are people who have emigrated to America or Canada and who look at the website and message us to say, ‘I’m glad you’re still there”. And when they visit Scotland again they come and see us and say, ‘I can’t believe you’re still in the same premises and looking more or less the same. And my dad is still behind the counter after half a century”.

Tam Shepherds is always on the look-out for new novelty items. One of the latest is a faked cracked screen that fits over mobile phones. And, so far as magic is concerned, there is a stream of new routines and new books arriving all the time. The shop may be old - but it never stands still.

JUST a few years ago, Stefan Hunter, a business enterprise graduate from Strathclyde University, and his business partner Brian McGuire began to do some serious market research.

It involving talking to “hundreds and hundreds” of people about their experience of buying glasses.

“I asked them”, says Stefan, “how they found the experience, how much they paid, what they felt about it all, from the eye-test to getting their hands on the finished product”.

The result is IOLLA, a brand of eyewear that sells online and has a showroom on Glasgow’s Argyle Street, close to Kelvingrove art galleries.

The partners are Stefan, who is 26 at the end of July, and Brian, an SME co-founder with whom Stefan had been put in touch while in his final year placement at university.

The name IOLLA means ‘sight’ in Gaelic.

“We chose to focus our research on the optics market due to Brian’s background as an optician", Stefan said. “Our goal was to make every part of the optics experience better, and we wanted to do this by creating something completely new and unique.

“The goal after the research was to design around 120 products, create a website and launch the brand.

"We always knew it would be online but we came to realise that people like to physically try on glasses before buying, and that was how the idea of the showroom was born”.

One innovative way of getting their self-designed glasses out to people at the start was through a party-plan method, he adds.

“We popped up in people’s living-rooms and offices and showed them the product and asked them what they thought about the whole experience, the product and our pricing - they thought it was great."

“Since launching, the business has grown arms and legs. In under two years we have built a community of over 7,500 customers and received over 200 five-star reviews across Facebook and Google.

“As well as the great growth seen in our showroom, a strong proportion of our sales have come through our website as well. We now have a team of 12, and just recently opened our own optical workshop in Glasgow.” IOLLA is now studying plans for expansion.

“I believe the magic at IOLLA happens when you see people genuinely happy with their purchase”, adds Stefan. “We’re not only trying to revolutionise the way that people buy glasses, we’re also trying to pioneer a new way in retail as a whole.

“We believe that the people who buy things and the people who sell things are in a kind of partnership, whereby they both want to win."

“We need to offer people great products, we want our employees to have great job fulfilment and we want to create an enterprise that does social good."

“We also want to create a performing company but most of what we do is centred on the customer. That is something that is unique in retail and optics - we have this absolute focus on pleasing customers and giving them something they can be proud of wearing."