Martin Williams: wholesale’s place to be
Former Landmark MD discusses building a long and successful career in wholesale
Nearly 44 years ago, I first walked into the head office of Fine Fare (a national supermarket chain) to start a long and great career in food and drink. Having flunked my O levels at school, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and was lucky to get a job with a leading multiple whose head office happened to be where I lived.
Working in a central stock control department, my team worked closely with the buyers, and this role always appealed to me – and not just because of the constant supply of samples (honest!). Our department was like slave labour: no talking, no smiling, everything was timed and our two bosses had very few people skills whatsoever.
However, when a new manager came in, everything changed. Suddenly we had a guy who loved developing youngsters. Life changed overnight for me as he encouraged me to develop my career and take more pride in my work. I went from being a stock controller to part of the management team, all down to his management and confidence in me. A chance then came along to become a buyer at Spar Consort, with the Consort part being a progressive cash and carry group.
The Consort group was headed up by Steve Denny, who was one of the best managers I have ever come across. The team spirit was legendary and we produced outstanding results for our members. Steve believed in his people and invested in them, getting the very best out of all of us.
In 1985, Consort merged with another cash and carry group called Landmark and the rest is history. A history that leads right up to last year’s merger between Today’s Group to form Unitas Wholesale.
For me, I initially joined Spar Consort as an assistant buyer and ended up as the managing director of Landmark from 2002 until 2016, when I took semi-retirement. So how did that happen? I believe that I learned an awful lot from my various bosses – mainly how to do things properly, but also how not to do things from some of them too.
I have learned the importance of investing in and developing my staff and people in general, particularly working with and growing youngsters. Promoting from within is always a priority, as is regular training and coaching.
Working in wholesale has always been a pleasure. So many entrepreneurs running and growing their own business, investing their own family’s money back into their company for future growth. When a brand owner spends £1m on an advertising campaign, it never feels the same as a wholesaler spending their own family money.
Wholesale offers a great career for those who are prepared to work hard and enjoy life, great people, great wholesalers and a great sector. It’s important that passionate young people are allowed to flourish with our suppliers too. We need people throughout the industry who are prepared to work hard, understand the sector, help their customers and enjoy the benefits.
I must applaud the work the FWD is doing with its people development agenda. This has been a focus for the supplier council and is a fantastic initiative – training and investing in the youngsters of today, who are the future for tomorrow.