Davenport direct

08 August, 2008

If Oddbins plays its cards right it could spark a revival, but it must return to its innovative ways

You would have to be made of stone not to feel your heart beat just a little bit faster - even for a second - at the thought that Oddbins could be on the crest of a revival. Only high street rivals Majestic and the Thresher Group could be among the few exceptions

not joining in the general jamboree that's descended across the

industry this week.

But even they will struggle not to be astonished by the dramatic turn of events that have unfolded, marking the end of one of the trade's saddest running sagas in recent times, the tale of a business that has been without a script for far too long.

There's no shortage of affection for Oddbins and all the quirky attitude it exuded at the height of its success. But under Castel it became like an old friend you missed, but didn't really see any more - not least because there were fewer of them around.

Not only did Castel not understand the market, it also underestimated the trade's affinity for the Oddbins name - and how passionately its fans would lament its demise. With Castel's commitment to the brand under constant scrutiny, and well-known industry commentators vociferously

attacking its strategy in national newspaper columns, it's no wonder consumers walked straight into the arms of the multiple grocers.

Indulge in a few moments of nostalgia all you want, and many people will, but the golden age isn't back yet, and attention must turn quickly to the commercial

opportunities and challenges the deal represents.

Suppliers say they miss the wine library feel Oddbins created, but in the same breath, they hope it will be a way back in for them, having felt frozen out by Castel's sourcing policy.

Ex Cellar needs to move fast if it hopes to regain the four elements that made Oddbins special in the first place - convenience, price, expertise and the power of its brand name.

In truth, the first two are battles that have already been fought and lost to the supermarkets. But the big four will never beat the likes of Majestic and, hopefully, Oddbins - not to mention thriving independents - for personal service.

More rule-breaking marketing, maverick ranging and a dusting down of some of the neglected stores would be a good start. Encouragingly, the background of the Ex Cellar's team suggests it's got a solid grip on the helm. Let's hope so, because legions of once loyal shoppers would surely welcome the return of a strong Oddbins just as much as the staff and suppliers wanting to serve them.

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