Rivals express potential interest

The administrator for First Quench claims to have been inundated with calls from prospective buyers for all or part of the business.

Bargain Booze, Oddbins, Costcutter and private equity firms are among the favourite contenders.

Ian Corfield at KPMG said: “We’ve had quite bit of interest and given those people the information they need.

“Some are direct competitors of First Quench, some are investment companies and some have just been Joe Public who already own a shop next door.

“Clearly, it’s much better for everyone if we can do a sale as a whole rather than break it up.”

Oddbins’ managing director Simon Baile said: “Of course I’m interested, there isn’t one retailer out there who isn’t. We haven’t spoken to KPMG yet, it’s a mistake to go charging in. You’ve got to think about the logistical nightmare of taking on a big chunk of stores this close to Christmas.”

Morrisons and Waitrose both ruled themselves out of the running, and Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury’s all declined to comment on the sale. The Co-op is understood not to be interested as it is still swallowing its recent purchase of Somerfield.

Bargain Booze managing director

Matthew Hughes said he’d so far had no contact with the administrator.

Nisa-Today’s doesn’t own any of its own stores and a spokesman said it would be up to its members if they wanted to buy individual shops. “I’m not aware of any plans to expand the business,” he said.

Oddbins’ Baile was confident there was still a market for multiple specialists.

“Some people are full of doom and gloom about the sector,” he said. “As we get through Christmas and come out the other side, they’ll think differently. They’re in a state of shock.

“Customers are still out there and you’ve got to say: ‘come and shop here’. There’s an opportunity because there are now less people saying ‘come and buy from me’.

“It’s very unlikely all 1,200 stores will survive and it creates an opportunity for the independent trade – and I would include Oddbins in that. It’s a wake-up call to do what you do well.”

Bill Rolfe, former marketing director of the Unwins chain and now director of wine supplier 10 International, said: “Let’s hope there is someone out there who sees a future for high street specialist trading.

“Three-for-two was a really bad marketing strategy, because if you’re truly trying to be a specialist you need to specialise, not do just what the supermarkets are doing. Added to that, any intelligent consumer would have seen that the retail prices started at a higher price point. It was just messy.”

Steve Barton, director at Brand Phoenix, said: “The current scenario has proven that a simple, alcohol-led national chain is non-viable.” However, he added that there was space for “a convenienced-based, clearly defined range of stores, such as Bargain Booze”.