It’s been a busy few months for fast-growing Glasgow wholesaler JW Filshill, which operates the popular KeyStore retail fascia and supplies over 185 independent KeyStore outlets across Scotland and the north of England.

JW Filshill is a member of Unitas Wholesale, the buying group recently formed in last year’s merger of Today’s Wholesale and Landmark. Their export consolidator business JW Filshill International is Scotland’s leading exporter of craft beer and spirits. And just before Christmas their Customer Service Manager Joyce Johnston won the Customer Support Award in the 2018 FWD Gold Medal Awards. Craig Brown is the company’s Retail Sales Director. He spoke to Wholesale Manager.

“No two days in this job are the same,” says Craig, “but they usually involve meeting customers, visiting stores – both ours and other groups’ outlets – and contributing to supplier meetings.”

Reporting to Craig are three business development managers, eight regional development managers, one key account manager, one EPOS manager and one customer services manager.

JW Filshill Ltd is a fifth-generation, family-run business, independently owned by the Hannah family and is one of Scotland’s oldest independent food and drink wholesalers, with 1,400 regular customers, mainly operating with the independent retail sector. A growing business with 1,210 staff and 30-plus vehicles, the company turnover was £145m last year and is forecast to exceed £150m this year .

As a twentyfirst century business JW Filshill is up to the minute in every respect, but its roots go way back. The company officially began in 1875, says Craig, although records have since been discovered that suggest the firm was, in fact, founded in 1861.

Starting life as a confectionery maker, Filshill moved into the cash and carry business after 55 years and became a delivered goods operation in the 1960s, eventually pulling out of manufacturing to concentrate on its growing cash and carry and delivered wholesale business.

The company moved to its current premises at Hillington in 1994 and has expanded the warehouse since then to meet the needs of its diverse business, which now includes supplying the Scottish Prison Service in addition to its core cash and carry and delivered accounts.

Identifying growth opportunities in the export and craft beer markets, Filshill launched The Craft Beer Clan of Scotland in 2014 and, in 2016, the Craft Brewing Company. JW Filshill has been named the best wholesale business in Scotland, winning the Champion of Champions title in the Scottish Wholesale Achievers awards more than any other wholesaler.

JW Filshill offers comprehensive coverage of the whole of Scotland, including the Highlands and Islands. But they don’t stop there, says Craig: “We also have a growing business in Northern England reaching down to Doncaster at the moment. We deliver to other parts of the UK as well via carrier, including London.”

Tobacco and alcohol are the wholesaler’s biggest categories, with premium alcohol and protein the fastest-growing segments: “Our tobacco sales have been increasing despite the decline in the market. This is a trend a lot of our customers are also seeing.”

Healthy living and food to go are among the other key areas in Filshill’s product mix: “We have to respond to consumer trends, so all of these are very important to our business,” Craig points out. “We partner with the SGF Healthy Living programme and promote healthy living and eating through our KeyStore Community Fund – we also support School Breakfast Clubs through the community fund.”

The company also works with partner companies and suppliers to improve its health credentials in every category: “With some of our key accounts – the Scottish Prison Service and CalMac, for example – we have to comply with the Scottish Government’s healthy living guidelines.”

The KeyStore retail fascia scheme is an important part of JW Filshill’s operations, a retail-led business designed to give retail customers a framework comparable to multiple fascia standards of marketing, range and promotions. Filshill’s strategy is to create an aspirational fascia for independent retailers with the best store standards and levels of customer service and community engagement.

Craig Brown explains how it works: “KeyStore Express is targeted at smaller stores typically under 1,000 sq ft on high streets or housing estates that are a focal point of their community. KeyStore is our larger format fascia, usually a 1,000-2,000 sq ft community store offering a greater range of convenience goods for that top-up shop. KeyStore More is rolling out across the country with stores ranging from 1,500- 4,000 sq ft offering a full range of products and enhanced promotions, food to go, comprehensive chilled range plus enhanced services.”

The ranges are based on Today’s/Unitas Plan for Profit, overlaid with localised data from JW Filshill’s scanning system.

“We believe we are the most progressive, innovative, retail-led symbol group in the UK,” says Craig Brown. “We are about to reach 200 stores for the first time ever, and we are growing.”.

JW Filshill’s customer service manager Joyce Johnston won the Customer Support Award in the recent FWD Gold Medal Award: “We’re very proud of Joyce. She has transformed our service-led culture in the business, and is the “internal” voice of the customer.

Her ability to break down crossfunctional boundaries and do the right thing has been amazing in the last twelve months. It is important to have a team within the business that reflects our diverse customers’ gender, race and age profiles.”

JW Filshill work closely with both the FWD and the Scottish Wholesale Association. Craig Brown is also the company’s representative on the Scottish Grocers’ Federation (SGF), where he is a director.

In other initiatives, JW Filshill is currently working with Bolt Learning on development of various training modules for colleagues and customers. On the community involvement front, he wholesaler backed many local causes in 2018 through the company’s KeyStore Community Fund and also supports the Brewgooder Foundation and Social Bite, a high-profile social enterprise in Scotland.

Another growing aspect of Filshill’s business is the Craft Beer Clan of Scotland, JW Filshill’s international division, which was created after exploring new opportunities to diversify at a time when there was a need to drive additional revenue streams. It has since grown to become Scotland’s leading exporter of craft beer and spirits, with the Far East a major growth market. In November, the company participated in a trade mission to China taking Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Beijing and Shanghai, where Scottish products were showcased at a series of major food and drink events, including the Food and Hotel China trade fair. Directors Christopher Miller and Simon Hannah held meetings with existing customers and potential new importers.

“Craft Beer Clan,” says Craig, “was inspired by a presentation at the Scottish Wholesale Association conference in which James Withers, chief executive of Scotland Food & Drink, spoke about wholesaling as a vibrant route to market as part of the industry body’s task to promote food and drink as a world-class industry.”

Back at home, JW Filshill has invested heavily in IT in the last few years, and electronic order capture has risen from 45% last year to almost 70% this year. “Every customer can now order digitally,” says Craig Brown, “either through their till system, our website or our app.”

In a further major development JW Filshill is a member of Unitas Wholesale, the buying group recently formed in the merger of Today’s Wholesale and Landmark: “It was necessary to combat the increased consolidation in the market and can only be a positive move for retailers and suppliers alike to align the two groups and create efficiency for all. Work is now in progress on the exact plan for an own label solution, which would be the biggest benefit for the combined group.”

With so much going for the business, Craig Brown is very confident about the future: “We see JW Filshill set for further growth and expansion, and it’s firmly on our radar.”

“JW Filshill Ltd is a fifth-generation, family-run business, independently owned by the Hannah family and is one of Scotland’s oldest independent food and drink wholesalers.”

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