Baile positive despite losses

Oddbins boss Simon Baile remains confident in the chain’s future – and is trialling a series of concepts to expand its reach – despite admitting plans to bring it into profit stalled last year.

According to its latest figures, due to be filed at Companies House today (Friday), Oddbins recorded a loss of £3 million on a turnover of £67.5 million for the year to December 2009. This compared with losses of £6.25 million on £76 million turnover in 2008. Baile said it was a “huge improvement” but admitted profits were hit by the recession and other trading factors.

“We’ve made very significant progress in 2009. We would have liked to have done better but the thing we didn’t factor into our business plan was the meltdown.

“The demise of Anglo Overseas last February was particularly unhelpful. We had stock lying all over the place and everything was frozen. It took us six to eight weeks to get everything back in the right place, which does affect you.

“That was a negative along with the snow two weeks before Christmas, which hit us hard.”?He also cited First Quench’s collapse as a contributing factor. “The demise of Threshers disrupted the whole market. After the event, some people gained immediately but we didn’t – quite the reverse. We lost a lot of sales in a two to three-week period when First Quench started discounting very heavily to clear stock.”?Baile estimated the combined impact of these events cost Oddbins £1 million in profit.

He added: “There were lots of times when the management could have panicked in 2009, but we didn’t.”?Commenting on Oddbins’ current trading, he said: “We’re making great progress. We said last year we wanted to get over the breadline in 2010 and it will be a challenge. But I think we’ll get close.

“For the first six months of 2010, average spend was up 5% and we’ve seen the first positive increase in customer numbers. Online sales are up 44% from a small base and retail sales are showing an increase of 5%. We believe we’ve got the ship stabilised and the company set up to be profitable.”?Baile said Christmas would be critical and revealed a number of initiatives to help boost sales, including a new website and revamped fine wine offer.

A clutch of new stores will open over the coming months, which Baile said could have different fascias as he experiments with new concepts.

Next month he will open a new Oddbins on a former Wine Rack site in Stamford, Lincolnshire, which he believes could be a blueprint for “provincial towns”.

Baile said: “If we get the right manager, we could open in a lot of provincial towns. Can we do it as a national chain? We’re opening this one to see. There are plenty of places around the UK where Oddbins could be. You need the right staff because you would need to be very involved in the local community.”?Baile also plans to reopen three former stores, which have been closed and not resold, offering a reduced Oddbins range, possibly under a different fascia.

The third UK store in Baile’s Ex Cellar estate has also opened in Claygate, Surrey, a brand he said could be further expanded in the future.