Oddbins will never make money

09 August, 2007

For my sins I was buying and marketing director of Oddbins for much of the 80s. I was at Gough Brothers

when we were purchased by Seagram and they saved Oddbins from going under by acquiring them - even then they made no money.

Seagram moved into retail because they believed it would give them muscle in dealing with the brewers. I am sure many of your readers will remember the dreaded "reciprocals", where brewers stocked rivals' brands in return for theirs being stocked by the rival.

Unfortunately for Seagram they never really broke into the beerage. We came under increasing pressure to sell Seagram products . Little concern was shown for our

profits - it was all about "upstream" profits, the profit Seagram made on selling products through our estate. We were also a dinner party item, we were Seagram's only owned retail interest, and at that time we were winning all sorts of awards. Cash flow, return on equity, forget it - how much Mumm Champagne you had sold was important. The range - while loved by the journalists - was too large. No self-funding organisation could afford to fund it. While the journalists waxed lyrical about fine wines and the eclectic range the sad fact is that even at Oddbins the vast majority do not earn their shelf space.

I left Oddbins in 1988 and shortly afterward joined Majestic Wine. When Castel bought Oddbins I led a team that were the underbidders and guess what? Oddbins were making little or no retail profit. During the bidding process I visited more than 50 shops and what was very apparent was the lack of investment in refits,

yet as was the fashion then serious money had been invested in a website.

The biggest issue for me was the staff. I rarely met anybody with any enthusiasm, energy or


I am afraid

Castel bought a pup, as did Seagram before them. This may sound like sour grapes. It's not meant to be - I loved Oddbins with a passion as did most of my colleagues - but as a real stand-alone business given its trading formula it never was going to be a money maker.

David Isaacs

Elli Ltd (trading as Bargain Booze)

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