Great Scots: Hughson Brothers, Shetland Islands

    Tesco has announced plans to roll out home delivery to Shetland but Hughson Brothers’ Carl Cross is not fazed.

    Carl Cross, director,  Hughson Brothers
    Carl Cross, director,
    Hughson Brothers
    With exceptional service levels and 15% of sales going to ships, this unique wholesaler offers everything from general grocery to hardware. While its remote location can be a challenge for some suppliers, the company just had its annual trade show, which “smashed” sales from the previous year.
    Had did your annual trade show go?

    It was brilliant! We’re based in Shetland so it’s quite a long way for suppliers to come but we had some great feedback: AG Barr sold 1,700 cases compared with 1,300 last year and Nestlé Confectionery sold £11k compared with £6k. We are Today’s members so the show was run in conjunction with the ‘gold rush’ theme and it looks like we have totally smashed our sales orders for last year.

    What’s the most interesting part of your business?

    Probably that we supply ships. We also supply the boats that surround oil rigs – they could be out at sea for weeks or months and are on standby in case of an emergency evacuation of the rigs, which hold between 50-200 men at a time.

    What do your ship customers usually buy?

    Cooking oil, litres of juice, large volumes of frozen meat, fruit and veg, and lots of bottled water – everything they can pick up from a shop but in larger quantities. We often get requests for items we do not stock, such as rope, light bulbs or ladders, but we always do our best to get them.

    Fast Facts:
    Size of depot: 15,000sq ft
    £7.5m Turnover
    Buying group: Today’s Group 
    8,000 SKUs
    80% delivered; 
    20% cash & carry
    Customers: retailers; hotels, pubs and clubs; care centres; schools; ship stores
    What’s the biggest challenge to your business?

    Over the bank holiday weekend, we didn’t receive our delivery from Coca-Cola Enterprises, which meant my £25k order was lying around for two weeks and we couldn’t satisfy our customers’ orders. It had a massive impact on sales. We had a good bout of weather, too, so we missed out on a big opportunity. CCE recently closed a depot in Scotland, so everything is taking longer to get here.

    How do you overcome problems with availability?

    We use another wholesaler sometimes – Simon Hannah and staff at JW Filshill, a fellow Today’s Group member, have always been very supportive. If a supplier fails to get its stock to us because of how remote we are, we can always rely on them. Simon also helped us to get access to certain suppliers where it was difficult for us to fulfil the minimum order. 

    Are the multiples a big threat to business on the island?

    Tesco has just announced they are going to start doing home delivery – that’s not good for the island but our retailers don’t feel too threatened by it. The large retailers don’t have the personal touch that our customers have. Plus, due to their scale, service levels are not as good – deliveries are more likely to be late, incorrect or damaged.

    How are you supporting these retailers to compete?

    We are members of Today’s Group and have 17 retailers in our retail club, which gives them the tools to compete with the supermarkets – there are only 44 independent retailers in Shetland so that’s quite a lot. We have three with a Today’s Local fascia and we plan to change them all eventually, to tie in some loyalty.

    What advice would you give to your other retailers?

    Independent retailers need to think about their future – they need to reinvest their profits back into their shop by re-merchandising and join a retail club. 

    My other message would be: don’t try to beat the multiples – just try to offer a better service all around. Customers know my door is always open for them to come in and have a chat, or a moan, and I’ll always go out of my way to get them whatever they need. 

    In part 2 of Great Scots, we speak to Colin Kirkpatrick, director of wholesale company James Wilson. Here’s what he had to say.


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