Case Study: How Epicor ERP Helped Scotch Whisky Distillery

9th June 2017

Logistics BusinessCase Study: How Epicor ERP Helped Scotch Whisky Distillery

Founded and headquartered on the remote Isle of Islay in the Inner Hebrides in 1881, Bruichladdich is a globally renowned whisky distillery, mainly producing single malt craft Scotch whisky.

During its long history the distillery has had a number of owners, but prior to its most recent purchase in 2001 by Simon Coughlin and Mark Reynier, it was considered ‘surplus to requirements’ by its bigger establishment whisky manufacturing owners and had been closed since 1994. Simon and Mark were keen to embrace this challenge and embarked on a transformative journey to not only build on Bruichladdich’s heritage in the whisky sector, but also recreate it into the Progressive Hebridean Distillers they are today.

Armed with a passion to innovate what they felt had become an increasingly conformist industry, the owners were especially keen to distil whisky that gave a nod to its Islay heritage and was created with authenticity, but was still a contemporary whisky brand. The owners wanted to move beyond the industrialisation and self-interest that other organisations were exhibiting and focusing on quality, people and provenance.

All of this was achieved by restoring the original Victorian machinery and ensuring that the barley remained 100% Scottish. This is how the owners saw the opportunity to progress within the whisky industry and it remains the pillar of the company’s philosophy as they continue to look to the future.

The challenge

Reinvigorating the business back in 2001 was challenging for Bruichladdich. It was breaking into an industry that had become dominated by a few key players. Despite this, Bruichladdich felt that the market was shifting in terms of what consumers wanted and saw a gap when it came to offering an authentic and craft whisky, one where the people/artisans are involved in every aspect of the production process. The brand boasted the legacy of a whisky distillery and the rejuvenated energy of a company seeking to challenge the market, but was lacking the technological infrastructure to expand the business.

A significant sticking point when starting out was regulatory compliance. As is standard protocol with any company producing goods with duty, there came many additional stringent regulations from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) that needed to be adhered to. It was vital that Bruichladdich could show that it could control and track every single litre of alcohol at any one moment throughout the production process—from maturation, to bottling, to dispatching. However, back in 2001, armed with only a basic stock control system and reams of spreadsheets, the relentless task of compiling forms, detailing every alcohol order dispatched and received, became extremely laborious for the small team. Considering that reports had to be filed daily, weekly, monthly and yearly, something that should have been an easy task ended up becoming a mammoth reconciling operation that often lead to the team working nights and weekends to meet deadlines. With timings slipping further and further as the months went on, Bruichladdich began looking for a more effective way to work.

As part of the brand’s ambition to become an entirely Islay-run business, Bruichladdich needed to move the process of bottling from a third-party warehouse based in Glasgow, to managing the entire process in house, on Islay. However, the company’s legacy stock control system, inherited from the previous owners, just wasn’t fit to handle this additional process as it didn’t have the capability to incorporate bottling as a process into the system. Hence, it was essential that a new system had a bottling module integrated from the get-go.

Taking the next steps

In order to meet the company’s plans for growth the business needed to look for a solution that would not only incorporate bottling, but help move financial reporting from single-entry spreadsheets to an automated and reliable system. A big part of the change was prompted by the need to streamline processes. Bruichladdich knew that this needed a significant investment in industry-specific manufacturing software—an investment that seemed out of reach at the time due to the company not feeling large enough to warrant such an advanced technological solution. But it was an investment that could support the business to look forward and grow in line with ambitions. The management had become used to throwing more and more people at the old system but it was time to look at offsetting the escalating labour cost with the cost of investment in a new system.

After searching for a suitable system, one that has UK Customs and Excise approval, Bruichladdich selected Epicor Tropos. The solution was particularly suited to Bruichladdich as it was advanced enough to incorporate bulk stock control as well as bottling functions, so was the stand-out choice to deliver for the business’s needs. This choice was further reinforced after attending a user-group and hearing about the experiences from other distilleries using Tropos, it was evident that the system would alleviate the current challenges facing Bruichladdich and was advanced enough to meet the future plans for the brand’s transformation and growth.

Adjusting to a new way of working

Whilst Bruichladdich realised that it didn’t necessarily need all the features incorporated into Tropos immediately, ambitious plans for future growth meant these features would imminently become very useful. Fundamentally, it was important that the investment was made early in the business’s growth to best prepare its technology and manufacturing processes for its long term goals.
“We were always looking over our shoulder and just about coping to keep on top of things. As soon as Tropos was fully installed and the whole business had become comfortable with using it, we finally had the time and resource to start looking towards growth and how we can push the business forward,” says Simon Coughlin, chief executive officer, Bruichladdich.

Now that all the financial and accounting information is interfaced with the Tropos system, it has become easier for members of staff to pull reports and actionable data at all levels of the business. It tracks every purchase order going through the business, from orders in the distillery, to a bulk order of lids, to keyrings in the gift shop. It also provides greater transparency of business data, equipping managers with real-time information to make informed and accurate decisions as the business develops. The fact that all this information is available in one system not only makes reporting easier, but increases collaboration and unity across all departments at all levels.

“We can now actually trust all of our reports and numbers. Previously if margins weren’t quite right we couldn’t find what had been missed off and from where. The beauty is that we can now pinpoint any discrepancies in reports quickly and effectively, which reduces the risk of any issues escalating. It’s just reassuring knowing that we have the tools to identify the scale of potential issues, such as if we were to send out an order with the wrong lids. It gives us a level of security and assurance that we previously didn’t have when working from spreadsheets. This in turn has helped inform our business decisions. It’s fundamentally changed the business for the better,” continues Simon.

Looking to the future

With the 15-20 users now able to access the system remotely from a variety of devices, the team at Bruichladdich continues to use Epicor Tropos as the backbone of the distillery operations. Since implementing Tropos, the business has grown drastically. Originally distributing to around 20 countries, the business now distributes to more than 60, and growth shows no sign of slowing down. In fact, the forecast is that in 2017, it will be distributing 320,000 cases around the world, a colossal increase from the 5,000 cases it distributed in 2001. The introduction of Tropos means that there is greater automation in the business’s processes, such as automatic billing and order placements, enabling the company to streamline the way it works and prepare for future technological opportunities like Industry 4.0.

“We’re focussing on growth and with Tropos in place, we are able to continue looking forward, and that is the beauty of it. It’s supported us along the way and it will continue to be a vital resource in our future,” concludes Simon.