Since floating last year Conviviality has already taken over Wine Rack for £1.6 million and is now interested in snapping up around 20 Rhythm and Booze stores.
“Conviviality notes recent media speculation in the trade press in relation to the acquisition of a small number of off-licences from Bibby Retail Services Limited, owner of the Rhythm & Booze chain of off-licences,” the company said in a statement.
“Conviviality confirms that it is in discussions with Bibby Retail Services Limited, but there is no certainty that any transaction will be concluded.”
Oddbins owner European Food Brokers, which aims to turn the 34-strong chain into a 300-store empire, could be a rival bidder.
Shortly after Bibby took on Rhythm & Booze in a £3.8 million deal to buy the chain out of administration in April 2012, then chief executive Nick Ivel said: “We believe there is a big market out there.”
But with Ivel since replaced by former Clintons Cards boss Darcy Willson-Rymer, Costcutter owner Bibby’s strategic priorities seem to have shifted along with its perspective on the potential of off-licences.
It formed the Buyco joint venture with convenience sector wholesaler and Mace fascia operator Palmer & Harvey a year ago. With a combined store base of 2,400, R&B suddenly looked marginalised within the Bibby group.
By that time, the 68 R&B stores bought by Bibby had been reduced by 10 and RNB Stores – the operating company of the off-licence chain – had posted a pre-tax loss of £1.1 million in its first 40 weeks of ownership, ending December 29, 2012.
Staff numbers had been cut from 425 on acquisition to 375 by year-end.
One insider said the boardroom changes at Costcutter had rapidly sidelined R&B: “It moved from a very autocratic system which was built around Colin Graves [Costcutter founder and its chairman until 2012] to a more collegiate approach which was more strategy-led than about shooting from the hip.”
The source added: ““You could see it being a good fit for Conviviality because it’s keen on expanding its estate. There are certainly some stores that would fit the Wine Rack model as well as the mainstream off-licences. It wouldn’t be a big surprise.”