Landmark’s smiles ahead

Landmark Wholesale is celebrating 40 years of trading this year and while Martin Williams wasn’t actually there at the beginning, the group’s managing director is so passionate about his job and the company he works for, you could be forgiven for thinking Landmark was his idea.

Landmark Wholesale is celebrating 40 years of trading this year and while Martin Williams wasn’t actually there at the beginning, the group’s managing director is so passionate about his job and the company he works for, you could be forgiven for thinking Landmark was his idea.

Williams has every right to be proud of Landmark. Under his guidance the group saw combined member sales top £2.5bn this year with Landmark sales into depots rising by 18.6%…something he attributes to the group’s strong marketing and NPD activity despite the poor economic climate.

“Our bottom line cash profit is up 27%,” he told Wholesale News last month. “All the categories are doing well.”

Williams says the arrival of Chris Doyle as business development director two years ago has also helped Landmark grow the retail side of its business. “He’s worked hard on taking our retail offer to a new level of consistency for the range and really pushing it out there to consumers.”

And the success of the Lifestyle own label retail offer is replicated in Landmark member depots. Says Williams: “We now have a much fuller offer and better in-depot execution. We’ve done a lot of work at depot level to get products off-shelf with big displays encouraging sell through. We’ve got our ranging right and have done a lot of NPD. There’s also better merchandising and specific promotions on gondola ends. It’s all co-ordinated through-the-line with depots doing it at the same time as stores.”

The strategy is certainly working with Landmark own brands with sales this year up 27%. “People are looking for more value and that definitely has a bearing,” says Williams.

Despite Landmark’s recent successes, Williams is well aware that there’s no room for complacency. “I think the multiples’ move into territory traditionally held by small stores is the over-riding threat. Morrisons and Waitrose are doing it now and their standards are a lot higher than the independents in general.

“Manufacturers can walk into multiple-owned outlets and dictate what stock should be there and what it should look like and that’s making us raise our game and look harder at what we do.”

He says the key to independents competing effectively is to join wholesaler retail clubs. “Pure independents that are not part of a symbol group will struggle. Us, Bestway, Booker….we’re all driving the symbol group agenda and jostling each other to win over independents.” However, Williams says what he really wants to encourage is not retailers hopping from group to group, but actually investing in their businesses by upgrading. “Some will play a game and hop around but that actually doesn’t do any of us any favours.”

Lifestyle Express now boasts just over 2000 stores and Williams says one of its key USPs over rivals is that Landmark doesn’t insist on store owners converting their fascias. “While 75% of those outlets do carry the Lifestyle Express fascia, we acknowledge that a lot of retailers are proud of the family name.”

What Landmark does push is its range of more than 800 core products that every store should stock and own-label promotions. “As long as they stock 87% of what you advise you’re onto a winner. We do call on them to check on compliance and encourage them to stock the full range – but it’s still their shop and you can’t force them.”

What next for Landmark?

Williams isn’t giving very much away but it’s clear he’s unlikely to be taking his foot off the pedal any time soon. In the past year Landmark has recruited five new wholesaler members bringing the total to 32. “They’re all quality wholesalers, which share the Landmark values. We’ve never chased members but instead strive to create a great atmosphere in which to do business together.”

 

Williams on…

Duty Fraud: “We’re 100% supportive of the FWD’s campaign for duty marks. It’s massively affected our members. One East London depot simple saw beer sales grind to a halt. Business just stopped.”

Tobacco display ban: “The idea that if you see another customer with 1,000 Benson amp; Hedges in their trolley it will make you smoke is ridiculous.”

Tobacco plain packaging proposals: “Plain packaging will be a licence for fraudsters and counterfeiters. But organisations such as ASH are incredibly powerful we can fight, shout and protest but inevitably it will happen at some point.”

The economy: “The recession teamed with the multiples’ erosion of our trade means we have to be a lot more price-conscious and competitive while ensuring that the retail margins are enough.”

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