Davenport direct

03 October, 2008

Reviving Oddbins will be a tough nut to crack, but Simon Baile's on the case

A week is a long time in politics, and it will also be a long time in retail - for Simon Baile at least. That's the amount of time Oddbins' new boss has set himself to visit the collection of 131 stores now under his jurisdiction.

His whirlwind tour will end in Edinburgh to coincide with Oddbins' October wine fair. This is


Baile will come face to face with the customers he hopes will become

the chain's core constituents.

Right now, a move into the multiple specialist market is about as appealing as life in Westminster - wine might be a key feature of both, but neither is desperately popular. However, everyone knows Oddbins has the potential to be different, if it lets its hair down a little


reminds the wine buying public what fun they've been missing.

Flashes of the old ethos are starting to come through, and there were signs at this week's press tasting that more are on the way.

All great news for the trade, especially if Oddbins succeeds in giving suppliers a route to market that does not revolve solely around multi-deals

such as three-for-£10, as Baile has pledged.

Yet the current economic turmoil

may still force

a change in tack, who knows? But it's certainly not going to be a bed of roses

when it comes to reigniting consumer interest and fighting the supermarkets.

Despite the enormous amount of affection for Oddbins in the trade, the financial

aspects of the operation have caused some concerns.

If rumours that Baile agreed a total £11 million package for Oddbins are true (a fraction of the

£57 million Castel was said to have forked out), last year's losses still leave him with a £10 million hole before he moves it out of the red.

Even in Oddbins' heyday, profits were pretty thin on the ground

- and we're now looking at a mature wine market, where consumers have very established buying patterns. Goodwill can only

stretch so far in retailing, and some suppliers are anxious about trading with the new Oddbins team just yet - especially with the legacy of Unwins still very much front of mind. The Oddbins name still has a certain cachet with consumers, but it has so much to prove.

Innovation, competitive consumer activity and a pinch of the old magic is what's required - all far easier said than done. But engaging the staff charged with delivering Baile's vision of the new Oddbins era

is certainly a good start.

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