Oddbins bullish despite hitches

Oddbins boss Ayo Akintola has admitted plans to re-establish the group as a 300-store national chain have stalled, but remains confident of returning the business to profit.

Akintola said Oddbins would be back in the black for the first time in 15 years in 2015, but said franchisees were reluctant to join the business until it was.

His strategy to grow the chain also relied on buying out struggling independents who were ready to quit their businesses, but he believed many wanted unrealistic settlements. So, despite Oddbins owner Raj Chatha’s “impatience” for expansion, Aktintola walked away from deals.

The third factor which has hampered growth is a struggle for new sites, he said. Despite buying a tranche of former Nicolas stores this year, doubling the Oddbins estate, Akintola said he could not find stores at the right price with the right demographics.

He told OLN: “The agreement with the shareholder was that the company will make a profit in three years, so the 2014/15 financial year, and we are on track to meet our plan.

“We have tracked well against budget for the first three quarters of this financial year and if we manage to have as good a quarter four then we will move into profitability this year. That would be the first time Oddbins has made a profit in close to 15 years. So fingers crossed.

“Franchise operators get the brand, like what they see and are keen to get involved, but they will not do so until Oddbins is profitable. With us on track to jump this hurdle, I am sure we would see them engage with us.”

He added: “Owners of independents who would like to convert to a franchise want to value their businesses based on future sales and profitability projection, rather than a valuation based on their last three years of trading.

“So, as much as we want to grow the business quickly, we would not do stupid deals or ones that don’t make sense commercially.

“While funds have been made available and the shareholder is keen and impatient, my approach of walking away from deals that aren’t sound is supported by the shareholder.

“There are deals to be done, but not at any price, so this process will no doubt take longer than initially anticipated.”

Akintola said Oddbins was also keen not to repeat past mistakes and grow too fast.

He added: “Our recent history lays bare the folly of not having an estate that can weather the ever-changing retail climate in the UK. The same mistakes will not be made again, but we are confident we would get to our target with sustainable stores.”

Akintola added he was committed to rebuilding Oddbins with a “solid foundation” and wanted the company to be judged on its current actions rather than on previous “arrogance”.

This week, Akintola hit out at rival Majestic, which approached suppliers asking for a reduction of 4p a bottle to help fund a new warehouse, and promised Oddbins would act beyond reproach in its supplier dealings.

He said he had placed himself and the brand “in the position where criticism of being hypocritical can be levelled” if they “dabbled” in any of the “unethical” and “morally repugnant” practices he accused Majestic of using.

“This isn’t a bad onus to place on me and the company. We would work hard to ensure the value system that forms the bedrock of the new Oddbins is kept intact. If we drop the ball, I will be accountable.

“It’s taken longer to turn a profit because it was important to build the new business with a solid foundation. We are not doing crazy things just to fuel expansion.

“Without good relationships with suppliers our wine offering is weakened, without a distinctive proposition we have no customers. The days of being arrogant because we are Oddbins are well and truly over.

“Lots of suppliers who would not deal with us when we started in mid-2011 are trying everything possible to now do business with us. If our actions over the past three years were similar to Oddbins of old, this would not be the case.

“I don’t want Majestic to fail or disappear, it is important for the sector. All I am asking is that it acts in a manner that doesn’t bring the sector into disrepute.”

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