Ambitious plans for chain

Rhythm & Booze could become a nationwide franchise chain after it was bought by Costcutter owner Bibby Retail Services in a pre-pack administration.

Bibby bought all 68 shops in the chain from administrator Ernst & Young and said it would safeguard 425 jobs in the stores and head office – including that of managing director Martin Swaine, who remains in the role under the new ownership.

OLN understands Rhythm & Booze – which was named multiple specialist chain of the year in the 2012 Drinks Retailing Awards – ran into cash flow problems after buying 34 branches from the failed First Quench estate in December 2009.

Nick Ivel, director of Bibby Retail Services and chief executive of Costcutter Supermarkets Group, told OLN he has ambitious plans for the chain and no intention of changing the existing concept.

He said: “I think it is very good at what it does in the area it trades in.”

Initially the focus is on getting the shops stocked up for Easter and the summer period. Five of the chain’s larger shops have been earmarked for conversion to convenience stores in the future.

Ivel also hopes to use Rhythm & Booze’s buying power to get better drinks deals for the entire 1,600-strong Costcutter chain.

In the longer term he plans to grow the Rhythm & Booze chain and is considering setting it up as a national franchise operation.

Ivel said he believes in the future of stand-alone off-licence chains. “I wouldn’t have bought the shops if I didn’t,” he said. 

“When we look at what we can do with the business the opportunities are endless.

“When you read about what has been happening in the sector it’s been a little bit doom and gloom for a few years, so hopefully we have got something that is the opposite.

“We have saved a lot of jobs and, I think, saved Rhythm & Booze getting carved up, as happened with the likes of First Quench. We have kept it together and will be keeping the company running.”

Swaine told OLN: “I’ve always appreciated the help and support given to me by all of the staff that work in the company. I have got some amazing staff, and saving their jobs has been my top priority. 

“I have always believed strongly in the Rhythm & Booze brand, it is a great offer. Our strapline is Doing Drinks Differently – that is what we believe in and that is what we are going to push. 

“I’m very grateful as well for the support given to us over the years by all of our suppliers, and going forward we want to work even more closely with them. I’m wholly delighted that Costcutter has decided to invest in this business, and the future is looking really exciting. Long live the specialist off-licence.” 

Swaine and his father Ronnie founded Rhythm & Booze in 1993. Before they set up the chain, the pair were early members of Costcutter.

Bibby already owns 23 Costcutter shops. Buying Rhythm & Booze was part of a decision to grow the company-owned estate – and more acquisitions may be in the pipeline. “That guarantees turnover in a quite volatile franchise market,” Ivel said.

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