The Barnsley-based operator was bought in 2012 by Bibby Retail, which also runs Costcutter, after it fell into administration and has spent the past six months plotting its future strategy.
A new fascia, The Tasting Note, launches next week alongside a flagship Rhythm & Booze. The openings come within weeks of rivals Oddbins and Bargain Booze announcing bids to up their presence on the high street and re-establish off- licence chains as a major force.
Matthew Dashper-Hughes, the former boss of Bargain Booze, was appointed interim managing director at Rhythm & Booze to work on a plan to “take the business forward as a highly credible contender in the re- emergent specialist off-licence space”, helping to position it as “the comeback kid that can punch above its weight”.
Since Bibby purchased the chain with 68 stores, it has shed a number of under-performers, bringing its total to 52, which it has segmented into 29 price-led stores, with the remaining 23 defined as premium off-licences.
Angela Barber took over as the chain’s permanent managing director last month, as planned, moving across from Costcutter, where she spent 13 years, most recently as trading director.
In an exclusive interview with OLN, she outlined the company’s commitment to the specialist market and plans to revamp its approach.
She said: “It’s early days with the trials, but the investment from Bibby is to determine what we can do with the sector. It has agreed the investment to trial new stores and improve the Rhythm & Booze offer.
“Bibby is very much agreed that you have to invest in the future. It is a 200-year-old family business and a very supportive company. Matthew did an important piece of work and provided a solid foundation to kick off where we are today. We now have to see how that goes.”
Barber will oversee the launch of the new stores but said it was premature to predict whether more Rhythm & Booze outlets would be converted into Tasting Note stores after the first one opens in Doncaster.
The brand is pitched at a more sophisticated audience with knowledgeable staff geared up to sell “affordable but unusual” products.
The new-look Rhythm & Booze flagship store in Barnsley will focus on big brands at cheap prices with a “local offie” feel.
Barber said: “We have got 23 stores at the more premium end and we haven’t made a decision about a name change yet. We are doing work on ranging and our proposition in the market.
“When we speak to our customers, they like coming in for the prices and for the store experience. But there is only a future if we can offer something different.”