Great Scots: William Yule and son, Kirkcaldy

william yule

Better Wholesaling heads to Kirkcaldy to speak to Mike Patterson in the fourth part of our Great Scots feature.

Mike Patterson, MD,  William Yule and SON
Mike Patterson, MD,
William Yule and SON
William Yule and Son started life importing teas from the Far East to corner shops, but the business now delivers throughout central Scotland and is approaching its 150-year anniversary. The group positions itself as the premier supplier to independent caterers throughout central Scotland. 
Who are your main customers?

90% of our business is education and care homes, the rest is hotels and restaurants. A number of key contracts underpin the business – for instance, we are the main supplier to Fife Council and its schools and care homes. Contracts account for a third of sales.

How do you differentiate yourselves?

Our unique selling point is our focus on added value – our customers need more than someone who can just sell a case of beans. We analyse people’s menus and nutritionally balance them. We run stock control and budgetary systems. We are a foodservice company with the focus on ‘service’ rather than food.

How difficult is it to offer these extra services?

It’s a lot of work – it can take up to 24 hours to get one week’s worth of menus nutritionally balanced. Sometimes, I wish you could just press a button, but it does pay off in terms of customer loyalty – we have people that have been with us for 20 years. 

You seem to be winning an award every year
Fast Facts
Size of depot: 27,000sq ft
£7m Turnover
Buying group: Landmark
3,000 SKUs
43 members of staff
Customers: 90% education and care sector; 10% hotels and restaurants

Yes, we won the Landmark Foodservice Member of the Year Award eight years in a row so we asked them to change the rules. But now they’ve changed them so much, we don’t even get to be a runner up [he laughs].

What value does Landmark bring to your business?

We’ve been with Landmark almost since the very beginning and we rely heavily on it for a credible own-label offering. Initially, we didn’t fit its profile but now over 50% of its turnover is derived from caterers and delivered foodservice, and it is making strides to develop this side of its business. 

Have the multiples affected your business?

When the supermarkets started doing home deliveries, we thought that it would be a big threat to us, but because they under-priced themselves, they weren’t able to provide the good service that we do. Dates and products can be wrong, but when you are serving schools and nursing homes, you can’t afford to make those kinds of mistakes.

How’s your social media activity doing?

Social media is a new thing for us – I just wish people would use it more. We improved our website so that customers can order online and we’re running web-exclusive promotions in an effort to persuade our customers to shop this way. But because many of them are nursing homes and schools, which are not as social-media savvy, the uptake is small. However, the new generation of managers running these businesses is around the corner and they will want to order on smartphones, so we’re getting ready for this.

Why don’t you sell alcohol or cigarettes?

It is a deliberate policy. Twenty years ago, our biggest customer was the Salvation Army and the Church of Scotland, and both had a policy of not dealing with companies that sold alcohol or tobacco.

If you had £100k, how would you use it?

Our depot is 300 years old and needs a lot of work. We’d put all the money into a total depot refurbishment to help us to be around for another 300 years. 

Catch up on part 3 of Great Scots with Roy Williams of CJ Lang in Dundee.

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