Positive feedback for Oddbins move

22 February, 2008

Christine Boggis on reactions to the latest changes in shop style

Oddbins' split into four store formats, each designed to cater for the specific needs of its customer base, is all about focus, according to human resources director and de facto company spokesman Ayo Akintola.

"The key thing we looked at was trying to make sure we had focus in the business," he says.

"By focus I mean we were looking at our branches and trying to make them not be confusing to the customers by being everything to everyone.

"We went through a process of looking at trade in each store across the whole estate and putting it into four different segments. Each of those segments has its particular focus. The response from the estates, from members of staff and everybody across the company has been quite positive," he adds.

OLN, too, has found the reaction from store managers to be bullish, overall.

"It is a positive change they have taken - it has addressed a lot of the difficulties we had before," says one manager, while another adds: "There is nothing bad to say."

But some managers have been left reeling from the many changes they have dealt with in the past five years and question how much difference the new formats will bring to the shop floor.

"It's more change, and the only consistent thing we have had in the company for the past five years is that we change every year. I don't know what it's going to achieve," says one.

Others raise concerns that the split into four formats will cloud the Oddbins brand and confuse customers as to the different promotional mechanics available in each shop.

But they welcome changes in the structure that mean buyers will be given a brief based on a market analysis of the demographic for each store and what sort of stock it is selling - even some of Oddbins' biggest personalities, such as sales director Andy Gadsby and former head of buying Emma Nichols, have been lost in the revamp process.

Akintola says part of the aim of the overhaul was to make Oddbins more of a team operation - "the days of high-profile individual personalities are gone" , he adds.

But he adds that the ethos of the company remains the same : "We are not moving away from the traditional Oddbins philosophy in any way, shape, or form ."

For some, the true, eclectic, independent spirit of Oddbins walked out of the door with Gadsby; for others, it has been ebbing away over the past five or 10 years as the business has changed hands and changed focus.

But, although there may be fewer well-known faces, new structures and a more corporate way of thinking in Oddbins' head office, on the shop floor it is business as usual.

"I've been working for Oddbins for 10 years so I've seen complete change, but so far it's been for the better each year. I will still talk up Oddbins to anybody - it's a great company to work for," says one manager.

"We have still got heaps of good wines. The customers don't really need to know any of the staff behind it as long as the range is interesting to them," adds another. "It was nice back in the days when we had all the buyers, but as long as Oddbins has got good wines I will still work here."

How the new structure will work

HIGH STREET ODDBINS - 66 STORES: "The focus will be to provide an environment geared towards the shopper who is going to come in looking to buy a single bottle," says human resources director Ayo Akintola. "It will have the look and feel of a modern high street store and a significant part of the range will take into account what really sells in that area and what sells in that part of the sector."

HIGH STREET NICOLAS - 83 STORES: "This follows exactly the same policy as the high street Oddbins - what they sell might be slightly different but the philosophy is exactly the same."

BULK/LARGE RETAIL UNITS - 47 STORES: "The emphasis here is on case sales. The difference between us and Majestic is that our range is bigger, and we have more in terms of promotion incentives all year round - there will be some specials and there will be a constant discount of 20 per cent off a case of 12," says Akintola.

"Those stores also deal with the bulk of our wholesale business. That is an important part of our business which enables us to service our wholesale corporate clients - restaurants, bars, hotels and companies - and will now be all brought into one fixture. We are looking to grow that side of the business, which makes up 17 per cent of our turnover at the moment."

SUBURBAN ODDBINS 51 STORES: "These will be stores in which we look again and focus on the type of trade that is available there, and make sure we get the type of products that sell within those stores. There is no point having a £60 bottle of claret in a high street store where the average spend is £6.99. I would expect high street stores to have a higher average spend than the suburban stores," says Akintola.

Nicolas

The biggest chunk within Castel's UK operation is Nicolas, with 83 stores . The company has said it will not convert any more Oddbins into the French specialist.

Nicolas managing director Eudes Morgan, also deputy managing director of Oddbins, said unprofitable Oddbins shops were converted to Nicolas rather than just being closed down. "Without giving figures, Nicolas is generally working with better margins than Oddbins - the focus on wine means margins are higher," he says.

"We had the choice - either we dispose of the store or we try to continue as a wine merchant, and generally we have had good success. In some stores it was difficult - usually the sales decrease a little bit because there are no cigarettes and no more vodka, but the competition is less aggressive for Nicolas because there is no New World wine."




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