When the life-changing order came through, a small Perthshire producer thought it must be too good to be true.
Michelle Maddox runs the world’s only clootie dumpling shop, Clootie McToot.
At the start of last year she wrote a blog post in which she listed three dream retailers for her products – Fortnum & Mason, Harrods and John Lewis.
Then Covid-19 hit and Michelle became too involved in making adjustments to keep her Abernethy business going than to pursue new outlets.
Unexpected phone call
But her retail ambitions had not gone unnoticed. Out of the blue last September she was approached by Product Guru, a firm that helps producers make contact with large retailers.
“They contacted me to say John Lewis were interested in my clootie dumpling kits,” Michelle recalled.
“They arranged an event for me to pitch over Zoom and three weeks later John Lewis said they wanted to put my product on the shelves.
“Since then it’s been a rollercoaster and a big learning curve. I’ve never dealt with pallets or a wholesaler before.”
Huge boost to business
The order was confirmed in December and three pallets containing more than 500 kits were dispatched in January.
But Michelle still decided not to tell anyone until she saw her products listed on the John Lewis website.
“It just seemed too good to be true,” she said.
“It gave my team lots of work in a time that’s difficult for most businesses and we’ve got work from John Lewis throughout the year.
“There are two different kits on the website and they are looking to expand this range in the autumn.”
Previously turned down supermarket
The Clootie McToot shop opened in May 2018 after Michelle found success selling her dumplings at farmers’ markets.
The premises contain a cafe and shop area where dumplings and dumpling making kits are sold. People can also watch the products be made in a commercial viewing kitchen.
The business has nine staff producing over 20,000 clootie dumplings a year.
Michelle said she’d previously been approached by a supermarket at the end of 2019, but had turned the offer down “on a whim”.
“It was a difficult decision but I just knew it wasn’t the best place for my product,” she said.
“My product and everything I do is about quality, it’s not about quantity.
“I turned it down in the hope something else would come around the corner. Now it has.
“The John Lewis deal has been great for staff morale. We took on an extra member of staff before Christmas and will soon be adding a 10th employee through the Kickstart Scheme.”
Trading throughout Covid crisis
Last March, Covid-19 forced Clootie McToot to close its doors and Michelle took an innovative approach to introducing social distancing measures.
She hired a traditional sign writer to paint ‘We Can Do It – Social Distancing 2020’ onto the floor.
For the plastic screen at the counter she employed husband Alasdair to make a frame out of an oak beam that complements the rest of the shop.
The premises were further enhanced in October when Michelle won a competition for fashion designer Petra Storrs, who has previously worked with pop star Lady Gaga, to transform her window display.