By the time they were both 25 years old, Barbara Henderson and her husband Sam were running a sandwich-manufacturing business producing 15,000 packs a day and employing around 90 people. More than enough to be keeping busy with, you might think, but the couple – who met while studying accountancy in Glasgow and got married aged 19 – also had three young children.
“We started that business in 1991, because we could see that the lunchtime market in the UK was growing at a rapid rate,” she says. “But despite our success, it was a tough market – it was not mature and the lunchbox mentality was still very much dominant. I guess,
in a naïve way, we thought we were invincible, which is why we started a family while running the business.”
In 1996, the couple sold up, but a year later they set up Lomond – The Wholesale Food Co. “We could see that the lunchtime market was still growing, but, at the time, many of our competitors were chilled, frozen or ambient distributors. So we went out and bought a multi-temperature vehicle. We wanted to be that one-stop shop for customers.”
Lomond has a projected turnover of £28m for this financial year, employs around 140 members of staff and runs a fleet of 41 vehicles, serving around 2,500 ‘live’ customers with its range of around 3,000 foodservice products.
The wholesale operation is run from a 26,000sq ft site just outside the centre of Glasgow, and supported by satellite depots elsewhere in Scotland: Aberdeen, Inverness, and Locharbriggs. Meanwhile, a separate 19,000sq ft site in Glasgow is dedicated to the firm’s associated manufacturing company, Cake.
Lomond delivers all across Scotland, right up to the Shetland Islands, while Cake distributes all over the UK. The latter firm has given the wholesaler a major new weapon in its arsenal, allowing it to grow in new areas.
“Up until about five years ago, we were still predominantly ‘lunchtime’,” Henderson says. “But we brought in our Cake range and developed what has become a massive side of our business – ‘coffee shop’. In the same time period, we acquired Hall’s Direct, which has allowed us to move into butchery and independent retail.”
Henderson’s goal is clear – she wants to grow from a turnover expected to be in excess of £30m next year to £50m in five years. From an independent wholesale perspective, she wants to dominate the Scottish market.
Despite this ambition, she and her husband are anything but parochial. “In recent years, we have spent a lot of time identifying where the next phases of growth will come from,” Henderson says. “There is no doubt that food consumption and food wholesale in the UK are changing. Sam and I have travelled the world looking at food-to-go trends and where the market is changing.
Unless we challenge ourselves with new and innovative products, concepts and solutions, we will fall behind
We went to New York and Dublin, which I would say is about 10-15 years ahead of us; we took our 12-strong field sales team to Borough Market in London, too, to look at the food-to-go scene there. Okay, it will not all come up to Scotland, but versions of it will.”
She adds: “We also went to Melbourne in Australia to look at the coffee scene there, as it is the coffee capital of the world. They sell the same things, but better presented, and there is more diversification in the flavours.
“Scotland is particularly bad at dumbing down to what we expect the palate to be. But kids are travelling more than ever before and the world is becoming a smaller place. So, unless we challenge ourselves with new and innovative products, concepts and solutions, we will fall behind. And that, I think, has driven the growth.”
It is all about mindset, Henderson emphasises, noting that the company does not want to be involved in a race to “sell brown boxes cheaper than anyone else”.
“Sure, we are price-competitive and seldom do we walk away from a deal because of price,” she says. “But we focus on quality at the right price, therefore delivering good value.”
Service is a vitally important consideration for Lomond, with Henderson proudly pointing to the fact that the company holds the keys to many of its customers’ premises, so drivers can let themselves in to put away purchases.
“Doing things like this allows the customer time to do the school run or maybe even just have 20 minutes more in bed,” Henderson says.
She is keenly aware that independent retailers and cafés do not have the same resources as the likes of Costa and Starbucks, and of how important this is in an age when consumers are becoming more demanding about how products look, as well as the allergens, calories, protein and so on that they contain.
To help out, Lomond gives its customers step-by-step guides to putting together on-trend food-to-go offers, with crib notes ensuring that even rookie seasonal staff can get to grips with them with minimal fuss.
Naturally, the belt has had to be tightened somewhat in order to achieve such impressive added-value services. One way Henderson and her team have achieved this is by launching a fleet of 17 hybrid refrigerated vehicles, which use a light battery rather than red
diesel to recharge the refrigeration system.
The firm has also introduced insulation that is a fifth of the previously used material’s thickness. This has allowed Lomond to get an extra 1.2 tonnes on these 17 vehicles every day.
“We have a creative team, an NPD team and a technical team,” Henderson says. “A lot of independent wholesalers do not have that. But we are continually challenging ourselves to make sure we are as slick as possible so that we never become too expensive.”
The next generation of Hendersons have made their way into the business. One daughter, Lauren, is the bakery manager, while her sister, Megan, works in telesales and helped to organise Lomond’s recent trade show, which was at full capacity.
Henderson’s enthusiasm is stronger than ever. Looking to the future, she says: “The business is like our fourth child. Our daughters share that passion and enthusiasm, and we are all excited for the next chapter.”
60 seconds with Barbara Henderson
What is the best piece of business advice you can offer?
Work with good people – suppliers and staff with the right skills.
What is your philosophy with regards to work?
Work hard – take every opportunity and embrace it, as you never know what is at the end of it. That works either way, but sometimes even a little rainbow carries a big opportunity at the end.
Who has had the biggest impact on your career?
Both my husband Sam and I read a lot and heed the advice of our peers in our buying group, Landmark. But we both bounce off each other very well. We will have been married 30 years next year and we are a very strong team together. So, that shapes what I do and what we do as a business.
What do you get up to in your spare time?
We go to Mull up to five times a year. We love it there. Sam has a boat, which we take out fishing. I also knit. I used to knit before the children were born, but a few years ago I took it up again to help switch off. I found that while we went to Mull to switch off, I would get there and say to myself, ‘Right, now is the time to switch off.’ But, inevitably, my brain was still going at 100mph. So, I needed an activity that occupied my head, my hands and my eyes. I knit big cable throws to go on the end of beds.