Craig Brown is the chief sales & marketing officer at JW Filshill
What have you learned from the past 12 months from the perspective of running a wholesale operation?
At JW Filshill we have a reputation in the trade for thinking on our feet, acting quickly and pulling our teams together to do whatever needs to be done at any given time – and this put us in good stead for dealing with the challenges of Covid-19.
With that all-important team spirit in abundance and with great relationships with our customers and suppliers already in place, we were able move quickly to secure supplies and ensure that our customers had access to pretty much everything they needed.
I think Covid has reinforced the need to be flexible and agile when faced with a fast-moving situation that is evolving often on a daily basis. And it has also reinforced the importance of great customer service.
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Obviously health and safety came to the fore with all the Government guidelines on social distancing and hygiene confidence being implemented in our customers’ stores for the benefit of their staff and shoppers, and within our offices and depot at Hillington.
However, we realise that the health and safety remit goes much further and Covid helped us look more closely at the needs of our staff. So, we broadened our focus to include areas such as flu vaccinations for staff who wanted them, mental health support and offering our colleagues flexibility around working from home where possible, childcare and looking after relatives who are shielding.
How has your business changed since the pandemic hit?
We introduced our Click & Collect facility in summer 2019 and in the run-up to Christmas that year it proved extremely popular, leading to significant sales increases and efficiencies for us during the key pre-Christmas trading period.
With our customers really embracing technology they were ready to use Click & Collect to its full advantage when Covid arrived. Delivered customers experiencing an uplift in sales as their customers pulled away from the supermarkets and shopped locally used Click & Collect for top-up supplies and to meet what was often unexpected demand – our business through this channel has continued to grow and that is one of the biggest changes for us.
“Retail is, of course, a close-knit community and we found quite early in the pandemic that ‘word of mouth’ was leading to a lot of new enquiries from customers who had been told we were offering not only great customer service but a much more comprehensive range than others – and also that we could guarantee supply of particular products.
Due to our health and safety procedures along with our guidelines on social distancing and hygiene confidence we were able to continue store refits both for existing and new KeyStore and KeyStore More customers.
As we hopefully head into a post-Covid world, what advice/tips can you offer from what you’ve experienced?
Our Covid experience has reiterated the need to be flexible – at Filshill we always understood that there is never a ‘one size fits all’ approach because our customers have different requirements due to the size of their store, type of business, customer demographic and geographical location.
It’s also about constantly seeking out new opportunities and solutions, considering alternative approaches to the way you usually do things and, crucially, listening to your customers.