Sussex chain eyes expansion?

A southern off-licence chain is buying up former First Quench sites and aims to be as well-known as Threshers.

Sussex-based M&O Trading has 40 shops in Sussex and Surrey and hopes to grow its estate to 70 stores by 2012. It calls itself “the largest independent convenience and off-licence retailer in the south east”.

Business development manager Chas Majeed told OLN: “We want to be a recognised brand so everyone will know where to go. Everyone will recognise the name.”?The chain includes 12 c-stores called Mulberrys and Easy Hours, as well as 28 straight off-licences called Hartleys, which specialises in wine sales, and The Offie, which focuses more on beer. Ten more openings are lined up for the near future.

M&O had just 16 shops before First Quench went into administration, and its expansion has been almost exclusively into former Threshers and Wine Rack shops.

The company identified the best performing shops from administrator KPMG’s report and then dealt directly with landlords to buy them.

The upcoming openings are also ex-First Quench properties. Majeed said: “There are still some coming on the market – not all of them have been realised yet.

“We only picked the ones that were doing good money. There is a market out there, and you can compete with supermarkets – it’s all down to profit margins and what your overheads are.”?He said Christmas trading had been good for the business, with beer remaining stable but wine sales growing significantly, even without taking into account the opening of more wine-specialised stores.

The company wants to focus more on wine, and is about to hire someone to train staff in Hartleys and The Offie to be more knowledgeable about wine sales.

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