Scottish Wholesale Association Helping Scotland’s wholesalers realise their full potential

Kate Salmon, Executive Director of the Scottish Wholesale Association is currently celebrating 35 years with the organisation. Kate talks about the SWA’s role and activities, the changes she has seen in the industry and how Scottish wholesaling is in a strong position going forwards.

When was the Scottish Wholesale Association set up?

It was set up in 1940. Today, our main role is to provide an effective communications channel between our members and the 15,000-plus people employed in the Scottish wholesale industry.

How has this role changed over the years, and what are your current areas of interest?

What we do and how we engage with members has evolved with the industry. For example, we are heavily involved in lobbying and contribute to the key debates affecting our members.

Changes to Scotland’s licensing laws have brought huge challenges for wholesalers and their customers. We engaged with the Scottish Government to ensure the legislation is as clear as possible. We also influenced the tobacco legislation introduced under the Tobacco and Primary Medical Services (Scotland) Act.

More recently, we have been involved in shaping minimum unit pricing (MUP) legislation and discussions surrounding the introduction of a deposit return scheme (DRS) for Scotland. Employment law is ever changing and our colleagues at 121 HR Solutions provide regular members’ updates. We’re also working with tobacco manufacturers and HMRC on the forthcoming implementation of Track and Trace.

What other services do you offer your members?

We work closely with suppliers to ensure they fully understand the market in Scotland. We also offer industry-led training programmes for members, often in partnership with suppliers. Our mentoring programme was launched in 2012 and gives suppliers the opportunity to mentor wholesalers. It’s been hugely successful and a benchmark for other mentoring schemes launched on the back of our initiative.

Do you work with other industry bodies?

We work very closely with the FWD. I sit on the FWD’s Council and FWD chief executive James Bielby is a member of our Council. Not only is this a useful way of sharing information, it allows us to highlight differences in the Scottish market – and legislation – that not everyone knows about.

We also work in partnership with the SGF (Scottish Grocers’ Federation), SLTA (Scottish Licensed Trade Association), Scotland Food & Drink and STA (Scottish Tourism Alliance) among others. Certain issues require a collaborative approach and we work with others as appropriate to achieve the best for our members.

What is the structure of the Association?

Our current President – and first-ever woman to hold the post – is Julie Dunn, operations director of Dunns Food and Drinks. We currently have 11 Council members, all industry volunteers, a Foodservice Group and a Retail Group. Our Business Operations Co-ordinator is Joanne Mathieson.

How many wholesale members are there?

Our 33 members include single-depot, family-owned business and national wholesale groups. We also have 77 supplier members, including high profile, national and international FMCG companies as well as small, independent organisations.

What members’ events do you arrange?

Our Scottish Wholesale Achievers initiative and the SWA Annual Conference are our two biggest annual events. We also run several training events and occasional networking events. The Achievers event, taking place on January 31, 2019, is now in its seventeenth year and recognises professionalism and excellence across the industry.

Our conference – the trade’s only family-friendly one – is very longestablished and offers a unique opportunity for members to share information, discuss the challenges facing the industry and network informally. For suppliers, the event gives them the chance to meet wholesalers they haven’t dealt with before and catch up with existing customers. We’re currently organising next year’s programme so put May 31- June 2, 2019 in the diary.

What are the particular characteristics of wholesaling in Scotland?

We have our own Government and Parliament, and our own legal system. Some members service customers in remote areas and day-to-day business can be severely hampered by bad weather and ferry cancellations.

What changes have you seen in Scottish wholesaling over your time?

There’s been a big shift to foodservice and catering and our members have changed focus to reflect this. Some wholesalers traditionally weighted towards retail are now placing more emphasis on foodservice to satisfy demand for out-of-home eating. Our members are highly innovative, coming up with new ideas and using technology to drive their businesses, be that online ordering, warehouse automation or social media.

How did the collapse of Palmer & Harvey affect wholesalers in Scotland?

No-one wants to see competitors disappear but when there was much uncertainty a number of members stepped in to ensure deliveries to P&H customers. In Scotland, wholesalers are respectful towards each other even as rivals. Some P&H staff have secured employment with SWA members.

Women have come a long way in wholesaling. What changes have you seen?

SWA is a shining example in that Julie Dunn is our current President – and our first-ever female President. There are more women now in senior roles in both wholesale and suppliers and it is important that employers continue to nurture, encourage and empower female staff. However, I believe jobs should go to the best-qualified individual – gender shouldn’t come into it.

What are your members’ biggest concerns?

One of the biggest concerns is attracting and retaining good people. There is still work to be done in convincing people that wholesale is an excellent career option.

What do you look back on as your biggest achievements?

Launching Achievers has probably been the biggest – and the fact it’s going from strength to strength and is in its seventeenth year is very gratifying. I am also very proud of our mentoring programme – others in the industry have copied it, which is very flattering. There are many other high points, but it is really the people I have met and formed lasting relationships with who have made my job so enjoyable.