Tributes for Ramsden as he decides to retire

Wholesalers and suppliers have been united in their tributes to Dudley Ramsden after the founder of Nisa-Today’s announced that he would be retiring at the group’s AGM on November 28.

Ramsden had already said he intended to retire after the merger of Nisa-Today’s and Costcutter, but after that deal was called off he said the reasons for his retirement were still valid. Ramsden said that after 30 years commitment to Nisa-Today’s he wanted to spend more time with his young family and to help his two elder sons in the family businesses, Dee Bee Cash Carry and Ramsden’s Superstore.

The Nisa-Today’s board expressed its appreciation for Ramsden’s contribution to the business and to the wider independent sector. It will be proposed at the AGM that Ramsden should be appointed non executive president of the group to carry out an ambassadorial role in the future.

Pradip Dhamecha, chief executive of Today’s largest member, Dhamecha Cash Carry, said: “Dudley has been a champion for cash and carries, wholesalers and independent retailers for the past 30 years.

“Nisa-Today’s, with its own central distribution depot turning over pound;1bn, is a force in the UK grocery sector thanks to Dudley Ramsden, and Peter Garvin who retired a few years ago. Dudley’s contribution and commitment will be greatly missed by the industry and I wish him all the best for the future.”

Landmark Wholesale has at times been a bitter rival of Today’s but chairman Steve Parfett said: “Dudley and Peter deserve great credit for many of the things they have done for the independent sector. Their drive and enthusiasm in founding Nisa was extraordinary. They will go down as visionaries in the same way as John Irish has.

“When they set up their wholesale business I didn’t agree on some commercial matters, but their commitment to the independent sector has been tremendous.”

John Mills, managing director of Gaymer Cider, said: “Dudley Ramsden has changed the face of regional grocery retailing. He had a vision to see that regional retailers would not survive in the long run against the fast emerging larger multiple grocery chains unless they combined their collective bargaining power under a single central negotiating umbrella. And so, assisted and sometimes guided by the ever-wise Peter Garvin, Dudley forged ahead in building at first Nisa and latterly Nisa-Today’s into the largest buying group in UK retailing.

“One of my lasting memories is Dudley’s energy and passion. He had such a clear vision and could not quite understand how you did not see things in exactly the same way! He was unstoppable, the entrepreneur marching ahead leaving others spinning in his wake.”

Former FWD director general Alan Toft said: “Dudley’s enduring achievement is the erection of that imposing cornerstone of the wholesale/independent sector we now know as Nisa-Today’s.

“Some did not choose to follow his lead, but those who did have been able to build businesses that can compete in a ferociously competitive and increasingly complex market.

“With Dudley you get what you see plus an undefinable, rare and instinctive vision. The proposed merger with Costcutter was part of that vision – its collapse due to non-commercial rhetoric is cause for concern.

“In Dudley’s absence, the Nisa-Today’s leadership must continue to act with his single-minded drive, contributing to the independent culture that our market must defend against the giant corporates.”

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=== merger speculation ===

The decision to call off the merger of Nisa-Today’s and Costcutter has simply increased speculation about the future of the buying group.

One suggestion that has been proposed several times before, including at an FWD conference, has been a merger with its rival buying group Landmark Wholesale.

Both group’s agreed on the principle, but the leadership of the two groups were never able to reach a deal. It has been suggested that new leadership at Nisa-Today’s, and its previous willingness to do a deal with Costcutter, might open the door to a deal now.

Steve Parfett, chairman of Landmark, commented: “Nisa and Landmark by their nature are collaborators. No one can argue it’s not worth considering how we might collaborate more closely together in the interests of the independent sector.

“There are no ongoing negotiations and it is much too early, but you can never say never. The line in the sand for Landmark is transparency and democracy.”


=== the visionary ===

Dudley Ramsden and Peter Garvin met in 1977 when Ramsden was looking for a way to help his family owned business in Grimsby compete with the growing power of the superstores. Garvin was managing director of Escafeld Grocers and ran a buying group called Northern Independent Supermarkets Association.

Their meeting at the Crown Hotel at Bawtry, South Yorkshire, has gone down in trade folklore. Garvin later said that he hadn’t been getting very far running Nisa until that meeting, but Ramsden could see the potential, and shortly after it took off.

Using a room at the Crown the two began a hectic round of meetings negotiating overrider deals with manufacturers and recruiting retailers.

The concept soon snowballed and the partners then decided they needed to develop a distribution arm. Although the organisation had no cash of its own, within a short time Nisa was operating from offices and a warehouse in Scunthorpe.

In 1987 they decided to add a wholesale arm, and taking the own label name of one of its first recruits, Today’s was formed.

Today Nisa-Today’s has a pound;1bn distribution business serving more than 5,000 stores and a pound;6.2bn wholesale buying group with 330 members.

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