Great Scots: James Wilson, Orkney Islands

In part two of our Great Scots series, Colin Kirkpatrick discusses the challenges his company James Wilson is facing.

Colin Kirkpatrick, director, James Wilson
Colin Kirkpatrick, director, James Wilson
Colin has recently stepped up his role at James Wilson – his father has been with the firm for 50 years and took over from the original Wilson family in 1996. Colin’s vision for the company is to modernise and diversify. There are exciting times ahead…
What’s new at James Wilson?

We are at a stage where we are looking at a lot of change in how we run our business. My vision for the company is to modernise and to diversify. We want shoppers to spend their money with our customers, not with the multiples – this is really important in terms of the island’s sustainability and we are in the process of developing new ways to address that.

What’s it like wholesaling on the Orkney Islands?

The recession has hit here slightly later than elsewhere, but it’s hit deep. In addition, we often have horrendous winters and everyone has to pay extra for electricity.

The irony is that Orkney is at the forefront of the development of renewable energy. We sell a lot of heat-generating foods.

Fast Facts:
Size of depot: 20,000 sq ft
£5.5m Turnover
Buying group: Today’s Group 
6,000 SKUs
Customers: retailers and foodservice; cash & carry and delivered 
What trends are you seeing in retail?

The number of independent shops has been shrinking over the past 20 years, but there are still quite a few really good shops – in Orkney, it’s the local pubs and retailers that bring the community together.

What’s the biggest challenge to your business?

The weather can make things very interesting – we keep our fingers crossed that suppliers can get products to us and that we can get them to our customers. This is particularly challenging during the winter.

How can suppliers help your business to compete with the multiples?

Freight in islands can be expensive and any help that suppliers can give us with this would be greatly appreciated. It would help us to compete with supermarkets, which don’t have to worry about these additional costs.

It can also make things like price-marked packs an inconvenience because we have to factor freight costs into the price of products.

Is there any additional support you would like?

We’ve got some great historic relationships with supplier sales reps but many are not allowed to travel as far and wide as they used to. You can’t beat face-to-face contact – we always benefited from this so it would be great to see more of these friendly faces back on the island again.

In part one of our Great Scots feature, we spoke to Hughson Brothers director Carl Cross. Click here to read what he had to say.


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