The FWD’s new chairman will improve the channel’s relationships with industry big hitters, writes Elit Rowland
Martin Williams has been announced the chairman of the Federation of Wholesale Distributors (FWD), succeeding Booker’s Guy Farrant. In an exclusive interview with BW, Williams reveals that one of his main objectives will be to further improve collaboration with suppliers.
One of the best ways the FWD currently engages with brands is through its Supplier Council meeting, which was set up three years ago as a platform for wholesalers and suppliers to discuss key issues. But Williams says that there’s even more that can be done: “There’s an opportunity to work better with some of the industry’s big guys.”
It’s not just the well-established brands that can benefit from closer collaboration: the opportunity for newcomers is also vast and when we shared news of Williams’ appointment on social media site LinkedIn, one supplier said he was keen for more support. Channel controller of Taylors of Harrogate’s John Sutcliffe posted: “I’d really like to know Martin’s views on how suppliers can broaden their engagement with the channel.”
Williams’ five key FWD goals
COLLABORATE: Provide a strong platform for key suppliers to engage with
RETAIN: Keep quality people, experience and talent in wholesale.
STABILISE: Attract new members and maintain
SUPPORT: Help the channel compete with the multiples and discounters.
ADVISE: Support wholesalers with changing legislation in areas such as sugar and tobacco.
With just 5% of sales going through wholesale, the opportunity for suppliers like Taylors to grow their presence in the channel is significant. As a strong advocate of experience, Williams’ message to Sutcliffe was the same as his message to all suppliers, regardless of size: “Give us quality people who understand our sector.”
While taking advantage of the Supplier Council is important, suppliers must also recognise that what works with the multiples doesn’t necessarily work in wholesale – they must invest in brands for the wholesale sector and “support it with channel-specific activity”, says Williams.
Managing the workload
As the managing director of buying group Landmark Wholesale, one of the biggest challenges for Williams will be managing his workload. But the decision to take on the chairmanship was fully supported by the Landmark board. “It just means more delegation to help us work a bit smarter,” said Williams.
News spreads fast and it didn’t take long for colleagues and friends to respond to the announcement: “Within an hour of the press release going out, I had a flurry of emails, texts and voice messages saying congratulations. It’s amazing how fast news can spread these days, particularly with social media. There were even a few old names from the past,” he recalls.
Although Williams has been chairing conferences and meetings and promoting the interests of his members for more than 30 years, one role that will be quite new to him is political lobbying. “I’ve never done it before but I’ve been told I can be quite persuasive.”
With a reputation for being open and honest, Williams assures the industry that his new role won’t change him. “I couldn’t be anything else if I tried.