OLN understands from sources close to the company that Hughes was made redundant, but neither Bargain Booze nor ECI could confirm that. Hughes himself was not available for comment.
ECI appointed KPMG to carry out a strategic review in February 2011, including looking at a possible sale or refinancing.
A spokesman for the private equity company told OLN “the time was just not right” for a sale. “Given its performance it is a good business and they have decided to stick with it and continue supporting it for the current time,” he said.
The company will make another attempt to sell Bargain Booze in the future, but has not set a timeline for the move.
A spokesman for Bargain Booze said it would be “business as usual” for the company. “We want to grow the franchisee base and grow turnover,” he said.
The company confirmed that Hughes was leaving the business this month, but would not comment on his departure.
His former joint managing director, Tim Stanley, will remain in place as sole managing director of the chain.
One insider told OLN that ECI wanted a more traditional management structure for the business.
“This is about ECI looking at maintaining its current ownership structure and going forward to drive the company into the next phase of growth,” he said.
Franchisees have welcomed the end to uncertainty over a possible sale, which had raised fears that they could face tough treatment from a new owner. One said Hughes’s departure was a “sad loss” for Bargain Booze.
Jay Patel, of Bargain Booze Select Convenience in Rochdale, said: “ECI remaining as the main shareholder for our business is very good news for Bargain Booze and for all franchisees. Over the past years while we have been with ECI it has helped Bargain Booze and let it trade, and not interfered as other investment companies would.
“The sad loss is Matthew Hughes – it’s going to be a big blow to the business, but hopefully with Tim remaining as managing director we will succeed with great strides. Our best wishes go to Matthew.”
Another retailer, who preferred not to be named, said: “It’s good news, but we’re still waiting for more news to come out about changes at the top.” About the departure of Hughes, whom she said she had liked on a personal level, she added: “I’m really quite sad about it.”
Hughes, who was named 18th most influential person in wine in OLN’s Top 75 listing last year, has been joint managing director of Bargain Booze alongside Stanley, the chain’s former buying director, since 2004.
Under Hughes’s leadership Bargain Booze has not only outlived all the other national mainstream off-licence chains, but grown to 650 branches to become the biggest such chain in the UK.
Bargain Booze has been owned by ECI Partners since it funded a £64 million management buy-out in 2006. Last year profits declined 12% to £3.8 million, although sales grew 3% to £381 million.