High Street wine merchant Oddbins restructures
Oddbins, the UK high street retail chain, has a fond place in the hearts of many wine nuts. A good portion of my wine education in the early/mid-1990s came through spending a lot of time browsing the shelves of Oddbins and buying too much wine as a result.
In those days Oddbins was fantastic. It had an eclectic mix of wines, and the staff were invariably knowledgeable and enthusiastic. But a few years ago the chain began to falter. In 2001 parent company Seagram was sold to Diageo, who promptly sold Oddbins to Castel Frères Group, a French company who also own the Nicolas off-licence chain. The range became patchier and less exciting. The staff became disillusioned. And then Castel began changing Oddbins stores to Nicolas stores, which was bad news for wine lovers, because the Nicolas range is consistently disappointing and over-priced.
Now the news is that a restructure is planned. From March 2008 there will be four different styles of shops in the Castel portfolio:
Oddbins High Street (65 stores)
Nicolas High Street (65 stores)
Oddbins bulk and large retail units (47 stores)
Oddbins Suburban (51 units)
So far, 61 Oddbins stores have been converted to Nicolas, 61 disposed of, 31 new stores have opened and a further 21 are earmarked for disposal. That leaves 142 Oddbins branches.
The good news is that all the wines for Oddbins will be purchased by the UK buying team, with the exception of French wines that will be sourced in France. I live in hope that the team that do the buying for Nicolas will improve their game. There are loads of fantastic French wines - why don't they find their way into Nicolas and Oddbins?