Cash & Carry operator Parfetts is planning to hand over ownership of the business to staff, borrowing from the business model of Waitrose-owner the John Lewis Partnership.

A spokesman for the wholesaler said MD Steve Parfett was considering retirement and wanted to secure the future of the company. "It's a classic third-generation situation for a family-run business," he said. "The next generation did not want to take over and Parfett did not want to sell up to a rival. So he has come up with a clever way of securing the future of the company."

Exact details of the scheme are expected to be revealed next week, but it is understood that the company has secured a £20m refinancing deal to fund the reorganisation. Parfett is expected to remain at the helm for at least another five years to ensure the transition goes smoothly.

Parfetts was established in 1980 by Steve's father Alan Parfett. Based in Stockport, it currently operates six depots and last year made a pre-tax profit of £3.2m on sales of £249.7m.

Steve Parfett is also chairman of the Landmark Wholesale buying group.Staff and key suppliers were informed of the deal last month. Other suppliers and fellow Landmark wholesalers were given a briefing at the buying group's annual conference in Cape Town this week. The spokesman said both staff and suppliers had been receptive.

One rival wholesaler praised Parfett for his plan to secure the continued independence of the wholesaler. However, he warned that taking on extra debt in the current economic climate was a risk.

"When you have to start answering more to the bank than to your family and your customers it can have a big impact on the way you do business," he said. "However, the amount of money banks are willing to put into wholesaling at the moment does show that there is plenty of confidence in the sector."

As well as his involvement with Landmark, Parfett has long been a key figure within the Federation of Wholesale Distributors and was actively involved in its dealings with the recent Competition Commission inquiry.