n Landmark's initiative in forging better relationships with suppliers is proving a liberating experience. Julian Hunt reports Losing your managing director and marketing director in one go would be a major blow for any company. But the Landmark cash and carry buying group insists you should not read too much into the surprise departure of Mike McGee and Ron Colley. Their decision to set up their own operation, Smartertrader, is neither sudden nor symptomatic of any boardroom rows, according to Landmark chairman Steve Parfett. Instead, he adds, it is a natural development in the Wholesale Vision that the group has been working on for the past 18 months or so. IT and e-commerce are at the heart of Landmark's new thinking, outlined at the Federation of Wholesale Distributors conference in Cardiff earlier this year. But, Parfett explains, the group recognises that new ideas such as web-based retail systems are best developed by a specialist organisation which can devote the time, money and effort required to get them off the ground. As The Grocer revealed two weeks ago, McGee and Colley, who had been instrumental in developing Landmark's IT systems, decided to form that specialist organisation. And while Landmark will have a stake in Smartertrader, and a close working relationship, the new business will be free to develop products for others. "The Smartertrader move gives us the ability to focus on the core values of Landmark as a cash and carry group, and that's working with stakeholders at both ends of the chain to introduce as much efficiency and dynamism as is apparent in the market as a whole," adds Parfett. Suppliers sit at one end of that chain. And Parfett readily admits the wholesale sector has not been quick enough to embrace change here ­ particularly when it comes to developing what he dubs "New World terms for New World activity". Although Landmark has been working on its Wholesale Vision for some time, the decision by Coca-Cola Enterprises last year to change its trading terms on a "take it or leave it" basis brought that work into sharp focus. Other big brand companies are also changing their terms, resulting in a major shift in the way cash and carries generate revenue. But the difference, says Parfett, is that Landmark is getting involved at the beginning of the process rather than seeing new terms imposed unilaterally."Where people have addressed this sensibly," he says, "it has brought about more of a level playing field." He adds: "There are better ways of doing things which mean we get a fairer price by working together and addressing the needs of the market." A number of companies are singled out for praise, including Nestlé which is said to be a "classic example" of a company which introduced new, but transparent, terms that fairly reward efficiency and discipline. Others, notably Procter & Gamble, are praised for the support they have given to IT initiatives such as online ordering, depot merchandising and developing the right sort of case sizes for the wholesale sector. Martin Williams, Landmark's new managing director, says the cash and carry community has to accept that if big brands are at the heart of its business it has to adapt to the New World thinking. "Suppliers are looking to get more for their investment and we have to work harder for the investment that we want," Williams adds. That means drawing up slicker business plans with suppliers and then delivering on everything from improved logistics, better discipline in both depots and stores, availability, the way new product launches are supported and ensuring promotions are executed as agreed. Get things like this sorted, so the argument goes, and the rewards will flow. This new way of thinking has been welcomed by the 40 or so suppliers who have been briefed by Landmark, particularly as the group is keen to cut costs and waste from the supply chain. "We know we are an expensive route to market for suppliers but we are challenging them to tell us how we can adapt so we are easier to work with," Williams adds. Landmark's efforts to get closer to suppliers are yielding results at the other end of the chain ­ with the support given to its ambitious project to understand what retailers need and what consumers want to find in a local store. It's an important initiative because working closely with independent retailers on ranging, store standards and pricing is also a critical part of the new Landmark vision ­ as is making sure cash and carry depots offer ranges that reflect what consumers want. "Our future is about working with suppliers and customers to get to the consumer," says Williams. And in Landmark's Brave New World, it is only by working in partnership that suppliers, wholesalers and retailers can ensure the independent sector not only survives ­ but thrives. n {{FEATURES }}