Barabara Henderson on Lomond’s journey through Covid, and her plans for the family firm’s future.
LOCKDOWNS presented many businesses with challenges, with the wholesale channel hit particularly hard.
Covid hasn’t been easy for anyone, but the team at Lomond Wholesale has turned a crisis into an opportunity.
According to Lomond director Barbara Henderson – who founded the firm with husband Sam in 1997 – preparation was key.
Henderson described the days proceeding the first lockdown last March as hectic, but she reckons those early efforts have stood the firm in good stead.
“In those meetings, we were figuring out what this all meant with all the scaremongering going on at the time, but Sam and I were very clear from day one that the impact from Covid was not going to be just a blip.
“There was a lot of chat like that at the time but we knew it would be for the long haul so we very quickly created an operation model and financial model that would set us up to get through what would be a minimum of a year.
“We built that around about what we thought would happen after lockdown, and we hoped to be back to about 75% volume by the end of 2020 and that remained our hope very early on,” she said.
Lomond’s extra preparations did help the wholesaler maintain reasonable stock volumes throughout lockdown, with levels never dipping below 45%.
The business even exceeded Henderson’s initial projections, bouncing back to 65% volume by the summer before surpassing its 75% goal by hitting stock volumes of 85% in August.
Lomond’s success wasn’t limited to availability, the firm was also able to capitalise on pandemic trends, in part thanks to its acquisition of Hall’s Direct in 2017.
Previously part of Browns Food Group, Hall’s Direct’s customer base included many local businesses that enjoyed a sales bounce as restrictions forced consumers to stay closer to home.
Henderson said: “In the Hall’s acquisition, we acquired a lot of high street butchers as well as some in retail and then the Covid world became about staying local, buying local and sourcing local.
“With all of this, our butchery meat went through the roof as did our retail business and massively compensated for a chunk of the reduction in our food service business, hence the 45%.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, restrictions keeping consumers at home led to a boom in sales of bacon in particular. Henderson said that volume sales were at 600 packs per week when lockdown hit, jumping to 1,600 packs by August 2020.
The wholesaler has managed to grow from this base, and Henderson said Lomond now sells 2,300 packs a week.
In cash terms, turnover has remained high for the wholesaler, and Henderson praised the efforts the Lomond staff that made success possible.
“This year, despite being down about £5 million for the first five months, our turnover will be in excess of £23 million which shows that we have worked very hard, not just the family, but everyone involved in this business.
“As a whole team, we have left no stone unturned,” she said.
Bringing home the bacon wasn’t the only success for Lomond during lockdown. Henderson said that despite the challenges, the wholesaler was still able to progress with its sustainability-focused activities.
The wholesaler has invested in more environmentally friendly trucks and electric company car, building on a pilot scheme with American car brand Tesla.
Two years ago, Lomond participated in a scheme that saw it acquire a Tesla company car for its Glasgow rep.
Since then, thanks in part to improvements in electric car technology, Lomond has replaced 80% of its company car fleet with electric and hybrid vehicles.
Lomond has also worked to replace its truck fleet with more sustainable options and now counts more than 20 electric vehicles in its fleet.
It wasn’t a simple case of purchasing new trucks from a showroom either, with Lomond instead opting to upgrade existing vehicles with greener tech.
Henderson said: “For our fleet, we piloted two vehicles with electric refrigeration back in 2017 and since the government does not monitor emissions from refrigeration units which are driven by red diesel engines, these can be six times more pollutant than standard engines.
“We looked at this and thought, the technology is there to replace the engine with an electric one so what we did was remove the red diesel tank and engine and fitted a battery and new technology within.
“At the same time, we improved the insulation for the vehicles, so it was twice as insulative at a fifth of the thickness.
“This meant that the weight is removed from the vehicle allowed it to carry more stock.
“Rather than being able to carry 1.6 tonnes, which is normal for a 7.5-tonne vehicle, we can now carry 2.9 tonnes, which overall meant that we are more efficient in what we are carrying.
“It has also reduced our carbon output by 162.5 tonnes a year as well as reduced on noise pollution as well which has been very appreciated when we make deliveries to places such as care homes.”
Lomond has managed to replace its entire fleet of 20 trucks with refrigerated and insulated vehicles and has also acquired its first fully electric delivery vehicle.
The fully electric van is smaller than the rest of the fleet, but Henderson reckons it will still turn heads thanks to green branding that highlights its sustainability credentials.
Sustainability isn’t the only area where Lomond has introduced innovation during the pandemic.
Like many family businesses, Henderson said the next generation has started to shake things up, pitching in to push the business forward.
“Our two girls are both involved in the business, Lauren heads up the bakery and has been promoted as the director of Cake and Megan is our head buyer and has been working on some challenging business lately for product sourcing.”
Lauren, who runs Cake as a separate business with its own site and staff, has been busy developing new flavours for the brand.
The Cake boss has revamped old recipes produce NPD including new Biscoff Rocky Road traybake, Nutella Brownie, and Freckle Cake, as well as a new range of tarts scheduled to launch this month.
Henderson was bullish about the prospects of Cake, suggesting that turbulent economic times are unlikely to impact on demand for sweet treats.
“The good thing about cake is that it’s recession-proof, during a recession people might not go out and buy a new car but they’ll always go out and buy a slice of cake if they’re looking for a small treat.
“It’s very robust and resilient through any kind of economic movement. Cake, as far as volume goes, is in the excess of 25% up to the extent where we’re struggling to make enough of the product because we’ve got exceptional bits of business on sale,” she said.
On the back of a successful 18 months, Lomond is now preparing to welcome customers back with the return of its trade show, set to run over 18 and 19 May 2022.
The trade show coincides with the 25th anniversary of the business and Henderson said Lomond will be celebrating its quarter-century.
“We are invested in the tradeshow and beyond, with a whole local Scottish tent at the tradeshow for many of the locally sourced suppliers we are working with currently, who many of which are in their infancy and just starting up and might struggle to engage with buyers.
“We will be doing a big piece for the 25th anniversary, our logo has been updated and we have a 25th-anniversary brochure coming out.
“We’re doing a lot to help promote the anniversary, to show how we’re a family business at our hearts and to help celebrate the team that helped us get through such a challenging 18 months,” she said.