In an exclusive interview with OLN, Oddbins managing director Ayo Akintola said for the first time in its history he was opening the business up to franchisees and is hoping to attract 150, a third of which will be existing independents. Franchisees will operate alongside a network of managed outlets, which will grow from the current 34, and see an Oddbins resurgence across the country.
He said: “Over the past few years we have concentrated on making sure everything we do is scalable. Next year we will start with 20-30 franchisees then ramp that up over the next two years. We aren’t trying to make managers franchisees like First Quench did.
“It’s all about territory. If we want franchisees to be successful, we can’t have stores opening everywhere. But a mile or two down the road [from a managed store] we might decide is a good site for a franchisee. Given that we currently only have 34 stores, in terms of where we can expand it’s phenomenal.”
The move puts Oddbins on a collision course with rival Wine Rack, which has also announced plans to significantly grow its franchise business and is trawling towns and cities for suitable sites and retailers.
But Akintola said the fact Oddbins was privately owned by European Food Brokers gave it an advantage. EBF paid £4 million for the chain when it fell into administration with 128 stores in 2011.
He added: “We’ve gone from being a bust company, when everyone thought the brand was dead. In my time, we’ve been owned by three people and none of the others have given as much time to growing the business as EFB.
“It is demanding, but being a private company is a big advantage as you can plan long term.
“I wish Wine Rack luck, but it has to please the City. If it gets it right and we get it right we will prove the high street isn’t dead. There will be some interesting scraps over sites and it will come down to who franchisees think offers a better solution for them.
“There are independents who can see we are attracting new customers, which everyone wants. About 50 franchises will be independents converting to Oddbins. They will want to have an influence on the range, so it won’t be easy and we will need people who share our attitude.”
He also emphasised EFB’s commitment to the sector and revealed owner Raj Chatha had turned down two offers to buy the chain.
“The shareholders have been approached twice to sell the business, which they’ve turned down, so he has confidence in what we’re doing. This year’s been tough but we are tracking at double-digit growth every month.
“We get catty comments from the trade who say we’re known for our marketing not our wine. It’s not true and staff say we have the strongest range in eight years. Our ability to connect with customers has been central and 66% of our customers now didn’t shop with us pre-2011.
“We got rid of the discounts and it’s a big point of difference that our customers respect. I would destroy this business in a week if I went down the route of 20% off again.
“We know what works and have stabilised the business and are starting to grow. People say you can’t sell wine on the high street and, technically, they’re correct – you can’t in the way you did in the 1980s. But you can sell it – it’s just not all about price.”