Craig Brown talks retail, wholesale and a career-defining leap

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After several decades working in retail, Craig Brown made the jump into wholesale. He talks through what he loves about the sector

Retail was a massive part of my life from a very young age, as I had worked in the sector in various roles since 1989. So it was always hard to imagine ever leaving the industry – and quite the culture shock when I did.

I had been part of a Sainsbury’s team that delivered £12m additional sales annually, enhancing the retailer’s Scottish market share and achieving its highest-ever national market share. But I was ready for a new challenge and in 2014, I co-founded a retail, food and drinks consultancy.

That is when my passion for wholesale surfaced, as a result of collaborating with JW Filshill’s Craft Beer Clan of Scotland division to secure an £850,000 deal with Asda to stock a number of lines from nine of the Clan breweries.

As time went on, I learned more and more about Filshill and the wider wholesale industry, so when the opportunity arose to join the company as retail sales director – a completely new role for the business – I jumped at the chance. Working with managing director Simon Hannah and commercial director Chris Miller as a consultant for two years gave me real insight into Filshill, so I understood its strong family values and the pride it has in all aspects of its business.

Wholesale is a truly fascinating industry with many different facets. In Scotland, wholesale is a hugely competitive marketplace. Not unlike retail, you need to identify your point of difference and we have that at Filshill – the Craft Beer Clan of Scotland, of course, and my big passion at the moment, our new KeyStore More premium fascia.

People fuel my passion

The convenience sector is growing and evolving, so we need to react quickly to change. We can do that with our multi-format offer comprising our KeyStore and KeyStore Express fascias, but KeyStore More further bolsters our armoury. It is hugely satisfying to see progressive retailers, such as Wilson Rea in Lanark and Alex McIntosh in Kilmarnock, embracing the concept and really getting behind it.

Garry Haigh, an exciting young retailer in Peterhead in the north of Scotland, was among the first to go down the KeyStore More route and is really reaping the benefits. He also won a major industry award a few weeks ago and has piqued even more interest in KeyStore More.

It is also refreshing to spend time with long-standing KeyStore retailers and customers of Filshill such as Freddie Lalli and Jack Singh, who are excited to learn about new and innovative retail developments in the business and use this renewed focus to drive their consumer offerings in-store.

I am also excited about developing our offer south of the border. We see the north of England as a key strand of our long-term strategy to grow the KeyStore brand, so we have ramped up our presence there with the appointment of a new business development manager.

The first few months of the year have been incredibly busy for Filshill and we have made excellent progress in a number of areas. Winning two awards at Scottish Wholesale Achievers in February – Best Delivered Operation (Retail) and Best Marketing Initiative – was a real feather in our cap and recognition for the team’s hard work in two key areas of our business. Filshill was also runner-up in Best Symbol Group and Best Licensed Operation – again, great recognition for our people.

Wholesale has really got under my skin and I am looking forward to seeing Filshill grow and develop over the coming months as new projects kick in and existing ones make progress. No two days are the same and that is what makes this industry so exciting. But it is the people I work with – colleagues, retailers, suppliers – who fuel my passion.

There is something about wholesale that is unlike any other industry and I am very proud to be part of it.

Craig Brown is retail sales director at JW Filshill

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Stefan Appleby
As head of digital at Newtrade and editor in chief of Retail Express, Stefan sees, first-hand, all the newest product launches and developments and gets to talk to everyone across the retail sector, from independent retailers to managing directors. Stefan can be found on Twitter at @Stefan_Appleby

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