Williams takes the hot seat: The new FWD chairman shares some thoughts

Martin Williams, MD of Landmark Wholesale, is the new chairman of the Federation of Wholesale Distributors. Here he outlines some of his plans for his tenure and his thoughts on UK Wholesaling PLC.

When Landmark Wholesale celebrated 40 years of trading back in 2012, it was a fair bet that its MD Martin Williams, who’d been with the group for 29 of those 40 years, was nailed on for the role of future FWD chairman.

Now, following a successful year for the Federation under the watch of Booker MD Guy Farrant, Williams is taking the reins during what is expected to be a very busy time for the industry.

It is preparing for tobacco-selling retailers to “go dark” and gearing up for legislation that will require all wholesalers selling alcohol to be registered as part of measures designed to help stem the tide of black market booze, not to mention trading its way through tough economic times.

Williams is taking it all in his stride.  He’s highly complimentary about the 2013 campaign to drive home that wholesale can reach upwards of one million businesses, but believes there’s still more work to be done. “I believe that it has worked really well and we continue to raise the profile and role of both the FWD and our sector. We already have some great plans for more and better supplier engagement. I will work closely with James Bielby, (the FWD’s chief executive) in delivering these. My key focus will be to continue to raise the profile and role of FWD with suppliers and Government, ensuring that our voice is heard. The other main challenge is ensuring that FWD remains focused on both retail and foodservice members to support our customers. Internal issues such as funding and finances are also very important.”

Williams says he is optimistic that the economy is improving but rather than galloping ahead, progress is “slow but sure”.

“I don’t think we are going to wake up one morning and find everything is wonderful and rosy. It will be a long hard slog to drive growth and we have to accept and acknowledge where the economy is now and that it will be a very slow drive towards growth.”

Amid all this Williams stresses the importance of wholesalers working in partnership with suppliers to drive business. “I believe that our relationships with our suppliers are crucial as we both need each other and a more collaborative approach should be the best way of working together. This is where FWD comes into play.”

And when it comes to what wholesalers might want and expect from suppliers, Williams says that as in any relationship, it is a mixture of many things. “Clearly quality people are key, investment in brands, the packs the promotions and the wholesaler – we need them to view us as real and proper partners and help us develop a viable and profitable route to market.

Finally, the thorny issue of black market booze continues to be a blot on the landscape but Williams is enthusiastic about latest moves to bring in the registration scheme.

“I have been closely involved with this for a while and yes, wholesale registration has the potential to work well for us. However it is two years away so we still need HMRC to work hard cracking down on the criminals in the meantime. Registration will only work if it is constructed and then implemented correctly and efficiently, so FWD has a role to play in ensuring this.”

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