Virtually Connected: with Simon Hannah

CEO of JW Filshill Ltd

Simon Hannah is the CEO of JW Filshill Ltd, Director of Clan Brewing Company Ltd, Chairman at Unitas Wholesale and Non Executive Director at

We grabbed 15 minutes with Simon to get his thoughts on JW Filshill during COVID-19, how they have approached trading during this time and his advice for businesses in Scotland as we all look towards the future.


So Simon, what is happening within JW Filshill right now? What’s changed in the business during lockdown?

I think a more appropriate question could be 'what hasn’t changed?!'

The business is busy due to increased demand for convenience shopping due to lockdown and we, like every other business, have had to adapt quickly to the significant change in circumstances.

We’ve got office staff going out to help with deliveries – we’ve got the sales guys working in the warehouse - we’ve got directors packing shelves and helping with click and collect. It really has been 'all hands-on deck' here for everyone!

"There are some areas in the country where the shop that we supply to, is the only shop in town! I think that’s why we care so much..."

That does sound like a big shift in how you would normally operate at this time of year! Is there anything that you have learned about the business that you maybe didn’t know before?

I wouldn’t say I didn’t know how committed or able the team were before, but I honestly couldn’t be more impressed with the commitment of everyone here at Filshill. Wanting to do well in your work-life is a natural thing but what I’ve seen over the past few weeks goes deeper than that. Our team very much see this as their ability and opportunity to 'do their bit' for the bigger picture.

While they may not immediately be on the front line, being able to provide communities with essential items via their local store has been really rewarding. There are some areas in the country that the shop that we supply to, is the only shop in town! I think that’s why we care so much and why we have been able to do so much, so fast. It really has been inspiring.

The way we shop has changed dramatically over the past few weeks. Do you think this is something businesses will need to think about to going forward - post crisis?

Without question. Things have changed already, and these measures are not going away any time soon. Even after lockdown comes to an end, there might well be a generation of people out there who are nervous about going out and about. We will see shopper decisions being based in some part on hygiene factors. If you or I were to walk into a shop, a restaurant or a bar and the front of house wasn’t up to our own individual personal standards of cleanliness, then of course we are going to vote with our feet and go elsewhere.

So, I think the big focus for businesses, within those sectors, will be hygiene. They will be judged, by all of us, as customers, by how they approach our safety, and the safety of their own staff. We have supported our customers to ensure hygiene confidence is something that their shoppers will have. This is a trend that will be here to stay.

We are seeing a much greater emphasis on 'supporting local', so there is a terrific opportunity to keep that focus at the front of mind for shoppers post crisis.

"It has been fantastic to see how proactive the independent businesses have been in supporting their local communities..."

Has there been anything that has surprised you during this time?

All the things that have ‘surprised’ me have been positive. One of the things that I maybe didn’t foresee at the very beginning of lockdown was just how collaborative our sector could become – virtually overnight.

Everyone started to pull together in ways they would have never did before. You had wholesalers buying stock from one another or from the pubs who had no time to react to the new sudden measures that were put in place. Everybody seemed to be on the same page and wanted to help.

It has also been fantastic to see how proactive the independent businesses have been, in supporting their local communities, food banks and charitable organisations when they need help most. There are some great examples out there of what people have been doing and that has been widely recognised by their communities.

One thing that has really surprised me is just how disciplined the shopper has been during lockdown. We all stay two metres apart, we all stand and wait, we don’t mind the extra 10 minutes in the queue. There will always be individuals who push the boundaries, that’s to be expected, but most of us have adjusted well to the ever changing circumstances.

"I think this will open up opportunities for us in the future in terms of how we recruit and how we consider future potential candidates with regards to their location."

Do you envisage there being any positive changes in how we approach business-life post pandemic?

Our collective use of new technology has been a positive for me and has made us realise that there is less reliance to travel for business. As this episode digs deeper, sadly there’s going to be a lot of very talented people unemployed, and actually there is going to be a potentially infinite resource-pool of people out there, which platforms like MS Teams and Zoom will help with. Ordinarily, we would look to recruit someone that would be able to drive to work but if they don’t need to drive here, then why can’t we look further afield for talent? I think this will open up opportunities for us in the future in terms of how we recruit and how we consider future potential candidates with regards to their location.

How important is innovation right now to JW Filshill?

I recently read an article by a Professor of Entrepreneurship named Steve Black and in the article he writes “it’s almost inconceivable that a company will have the same business model today as they did 30 days ago” and that’s exactly it, that’s how quickly things have shifted for everyone.

Our business is 145 years old now, so we have to keep reinventing! We have to keep innovating and keep an eye out for 'the next big thing', because if we don’t, we could become stagnant, and slow and less able to react to change. Whatever that may be; a shift in a supply chain, a turn in customer values, or heaven forbid, something like a pandemic ever happening again.

"Success for me will always be our customer and colleague satisfaction."

Fast forward to 2021 and we are looking back on 2020… What do you think success would look like for the business one year down the line?

Success for me will always be our customer and colleague satisfaction. As a business for families, we have focussed on doing the right thing first and foremost and I would be confident that both our customers and colleagues would identify with that. We would recognise the incredible effort that all of the Filshill team put in during a pretty difficult time.

We’ll be moving operations to a new purpose-built building in Westway Park in 2021, and I think to be able to do that, to still be planning ahead and being able to be excited about such a huge move has been helpful during this time. It has forced us all to think innovatively on our feet and implement ideas quickly. This is a great mindset to maintain as we plan our move.

Our colleague engagement, our core values, and the culture that we’ve created here has really shone through, and it’s been rewarding to see. We are seeing the values that we as a business have being delivered every day by our team and every colleague really has stepped up to the mark and has taken on these challenges head on.

JW Filshill will be moving operations to a new purpose-built building in Westway Park in 2021.


Lastly: What advice would you give to B2C companies right now, that you think would help them going forward?

Engage with your network, there is a new mindset of collaborative support that has been created during this crisis, people will be happy to share their experiences, challenges, and successes. This is uncharted territory for everyone so shared experiences is key to all of our learning.

Be prepared to pivot quickly, innovate, follow the new shopper trends, and adapt.

Work even harder to build strong customer and supplier relationships. Communicate more than you ever have in the past; as strength will be created as a collective unit going forward.

Are you prepared for the changes ahead? Are you looking to surround yourself with the right network at this crucial time? Look no further, we've got you covered...

If a new and trusted network is what you truly need right now - check out our new Saltire Leaders Catalyst Programmes, Innovation and Growth Post-Crisis and Conscious Leadership, which launch October 2020.

You can also follow ES Momentum. Which is a series of panel & speaker events / blogs / videos and online discussions that Entrepreneurial Scotland has put in place to support our community during these challenging times. You can find all upcoming ES Momentum virtual events here.