Having battled my way through Glasgow’s rush-hour traffic, via the notorious Kingston Bridge, I finally arrive at the Filshill depot feeling rather less than refreshed for my 9am briefing with managing director Ronald Hannah.
As he gives me a tour of the warehouse, he assures me that I will get to know it much better by the end of the day with the delivered wholesaler. With a cheery good morning to every member of staff, he adds that they are a good bunch.
And so the day begins. First, I spend a couple of hours with the telesales team. Watching Lyn, who has been with the company for more than 20 years, rapidly input a convenience store’s order of hundreds of items for delivery in the next few days, is intimidating to say the least.
Then it is my turn. Suffice to say, the hours spent on my Mac computer at work have not equipped me well - 120 words per minute is nothing compared with the speed required for this job, it seems.
Between orders, Lyn tells me that she enjoys the mix of customers - Filshill delivers to convenience stores, including the 98 Key Store symbol members around Scotland, garages, schools and universities.
She says: “It’s never dull around here as we serve a good range of people and you get to build up a good rapport by calling the same customers every week for years.”
Lyn tells me she has also enjoyed being part of an expanding company. The Filshill depot was established 129 years ago and is now being run by the fourth generation of the Hannah family.
Filshill was originally a wholesaler and manufacturer of confectionery but now the main business is delivered wholesale, with the projected turnover for 2004 being £150m. “It’s been quite amazing to watch Filshill get bigger and bigger,” says Lyn. “When I started, there were just two vans doing the deliveries. We were originally just confectionery and cigarettes and then alcoholic drinks.”
Today, Filshill offers customers a one-stop shop service, and groceries, cigarettes and alcohol deliveries are shipped out on the company’s 30 HGVs across Scotland every day. Milk, chilled and frozen deliveries are done through a third party.
After the telesales team has finished inputting the order, the dispatch team prints off a picking list for the boys on the warehouse floor.
The picker’s job is not for the faint-hearted. After two major extensions in the past 10 years, the warehouse is now 235,000 sq ft - with a further extension currently under way - and in any one shift a picker can cover this area 10 times over.
The team of pickers loads 50,000 boxes onto pallets every day. I think my feet and I get away lightly - all I have to do is put together an order of 45 items, which include confectionery, snacks and drinks. The warehouse is extremely well laid out and technology is a wonderful thing to help even a complete novice such as myself locate in seconds a box of Quavers from a sea of 8,000 products.
The orders keyed in by Lyn and the telesales team are downloaded on to a scanning gun so as I key in the order number, up comes the first item on the list, along with aisle number, bay number and how many cases the customer wants. Fortunately, most items appear on the gun in the same order as they are found in the warehouse, thus keeping the old legwork to a minimum.
Shift supervisor Colin Laird is on hand to keep me on track the whole way though. With eight years of experience in the job, he says that he can put together an order with his eyes shut.
However, as fast as the pickers are picking, the goods-in team, led by Mark McDaid, are checking in lorryloads of new stock. Mark and I check in the last delivery of the day, which happens to be about 20 pallets of confectionery from Cadbury.
As the lorry driver unloads the pallets, I use another gun to scan in the items and number of units in the delivery.
Fortunately, Mark’s mental arithmetic is better than mine so together we check off the delivery pretty quickly. Any discrepancies
between the invoice and actual delivery are flagged up on the gun.
While I’m at the back door, Gerry Barr and I sort through damaged goods, including customer returns and warehouse breakages, to salvage what can be resold and make sure the rest is recorded as waste.
After that, I join Alan Hay on the replenishment team to transfer the deliveries from the back door and onto the warehouse shelves. We fill the Wrigley’s chewing gum bay. It’s a pernickety job, but Alan takes pride in it and makes sure I rotate the stock and lay it out to make the pickers’ job easier.
If the goods-in, picking and replenishment teams don’t all gel together, the whole operation can go horribly wrong, says warehouse manager Robert Ion.
“Basically, it’s our responsibility to make sure that every item of stock that comes in to the warehouse gets on to the right shelf so it’s available to be picked and sent out to the customer.”