Oddbins to start franchise with 26 independent wine merchants
High street chain Oddbins is planning to kick off its franchised model by converting around 26 independent wine merchants to the company fascia.
Managing director Ayo Akintola told Harpers.co.uk that it is currently in talks with the merchants, who are located all over the country. He plans to have franchise agreements in place by February, although some provisional arrangements will be in operation to allow stores to trade Oddbins stock by Christmas.
Oddbins is planning to convert 26 independent wine merchants to its fascia
The group has already stated it would like to grow to around 300 sites from its current total of 54. It proposes that 100 would be company owned and the remaining 200 franchised.
“There isn’t an arms race to get to a certain level,” Akintola said, adding that the aim was to grow sustainably. “We want to get there sooner rather than later, but we won’t let the tail wag the dog. That was part of why the old Oddbins went wrong. The estate became slightly unwieldy. I’m a student of history, so I’ll be damned if I’m going to make exactly the same mistakes.”
Akintola said one of the main difficulties with a franchised model was the danger of losing out on one of its core offerings – its knowledgeable staff. “We can’t compromise on that,” he said. One way to avoid this is by franchising to existing wine merchants, he said.
He added that the company was also aiming to give franchisees a degree of independence. “Most franchises have a 700-page document about what you can and can’t do. That’s never been Oddbins’ style. The joy of Oddbins is individually expressed.” Akintola said consumers respond well to the freedom its current managers have, adding that it “has to have that as part of the franchise model”. “It makes it harder, but not impossible,” he said.
He said many independents were keen to chat to Oddbins, but added that the lack of autonomy around buying was a sticking point for some. He said they understood the benefits of the strong Oddbins brand, and its current sales growth and double digit increases in footfall. “But to take away the one thing they actively enjoy – the buying – we have to find a way to make it work. But we won’t have wines that aren’t commercial, let’s be honest about that”.
Akintola added that it was also making sure that the any franchisee it takes on is the “right fit”, while the group also considers it has a moral obligation to ensure they can make a decent living.
Oddbins was recently named the International Wine Challenge’s 2014 High Street Chain of the Year.