Edinburgh business owner nominated for top UK award after success of virtual events

Steve Johnstone, owner and managing director of RobertGraham1874

The owner and managing director of an Edinburgh-based whisky and cigar specialist shop has been shortlisted for the Business Hero category of the National SME Business Awards 2021 after creating a series of popular online events during the pandemic.

Steve Johnstone owns Robert Graham 1874, one of Scotland’s oldest, award-winning independent whisky bottlers, and worked hard to think outside the box to keep the business afloat after lockdown forced its Edinburgh, Glasgow and Cambridge stores to close.

Steve developed a fresh and unique take on online events by giving customers the opportunity to blend their own cigar from their own home, arguably for the first time ever, while hearing secrets from industry experts as they guided them around the world’s most renowned overseas cigar makers and Scottish distilleries.

The interactive experience was accompanied by music from some of the UK’s best session musicians and, to date, over 1,500 customers have enjoyed virtual tours from cigar brand owners as far and wide as Nicaragua, Mexico and the Dominican Republic.

Steve Johnstone, Owner and Managing Director of Robert Graham 1874, said: “I am honoured to be nominated. This nomination is as much for me as it is for the Robert Graham team and highlights how we managed to adapt to the new way of working and circumstances we found ourselves in.

“When the pandemic hit last year, we were all in shock, but we quickly realised that to survive we must adapt and keep going. I am so lucky to have my amazing team whose knowledge, drive and passion makes Robert Graham so unique. They are fantastic people and the reason why we have such a strong base of ever-growing returning customers. Without my team’s determination and our customers’ loyalty we might not have been here today.”

Linda Marks, General Manager at Robert Graham 1874, added: “These virtual gatherings have been so popular because they brought the sense of excitement and belonging to the community in the times when social life had been so abruptly stopped.”

The Business Hero category is open to a public vote. To vote for Steve Johnstone and Robert Graham 1874 visit www.smenationalbusinessawards.co.uk/public-vote/. Voting closes early June 2021.

SME National Business Awards will celebrate their 5th anniversary this year. The awards were created to raise the profile of the hardworking small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) across the UK.

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