'We'll put the Odd back into Oddbins'

08 August, 2008

Simon Baile and brother-in-law Henry Young vow to steer the struggling chain out of the red

Control of the Oddbins chain has returned to the hands of the family who pulled it back from the brink in the seventies in an extraordinary twist that could signal a renaissance for the iconic retailer.

Simon Baile, and brother-in-law Henry Young, took over on Monday - almost 35 years to the day since Simon's father Nick, and business partner Dennis Ing, saved Oddbins from receivership after its original founder, Ahmed Pochee, hit trouble.

The deal, struck this week by the pair who run two outlets under the name Ex Cellar, ends another turbulent period in the retailer's history. It closes a seven-year chapter of ownership by French giant Castel, that saw Oddbins report losses of £8.6 million last year.

Baile refused to be drawn on the details of the sale, but pledged to put "the Odd back into Oddbins", with a focus on unusual wines. "We have the best brand there is, albeit that it's a bit tired. Ex Cellar is focused on independent family -produced wines, the kind that don't normally find access to the market. That is an area desperately missing on the high street.

"I've been on my soapbox about this for years .The homogenisation that has taken place is distinctly boring for the consumer. The key is not so much where a wine comes from, but that it's different."

Despite the economic slump , which ha s seen the multiple specialists' share of the wine market fall from 12.4% to 10.2% in a year, Baile said he was confident Oddbins could return to profit.

"The business has fantastic potential, it just has to be unlocked. It is a tough market, but if you do things right you can thrive in a recession. "

But he emphasised that it would continue to offer a broad range of wines at different price points, adding: "I haven't come in to chop the top off."

Castel, which is rumoured to have paid £57 million for the brand in 2002, came under fire for flooding outlets with its own French wines. This has le d to high -profile departures among Oddbins' Wimbledon-based buying team and criticism it was failing to deliver the eclectic mix of New and Old World wines demanded by consumers .

Concerns that it had lost confidence in the Oddbins brand were compounded by its strategy to expand the Nicolas fascia in to the UK. The move saw the Oddbins chain shrink from 246 stores, when Castel acquired the business, to 158. Those that were not converted were closed, leaving Castel with 82 Nicolas branches that it will now run as a stand-alone business.

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