Conviviality Retail’s first Wine Rack franchisee is aiming to lead the brand into a new era of sampling and customer engagement.

Haydn Hicks worked closely with the group’s chief executive, Diana Hunter, on a radical overhaul of his three new stores, which will work as a blueprint for the chain’s future.

He said: “I was invited to consult on the model and it took off from there. I believe there’s an opportunity to fill a gap in the market for a corporate brand with a personal touch, which has been missing since Thresher went.

“There are a lot of independents doing it very well, such as Vagabond in Fulham, Lancaster Wine Co and Whalley Wines and I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from people such as that.”

Hicks has added three Wine Rack franchises in Yorkshire to his existing trio of Bargain Booze shops and hopes to have another two in place by Christmas.

He has converted former Rhythm & Booze shops in Ripon and Skipton in North Yorkshire and the Roundhay suburb of Leeds. A fourth, in Thirsk, North Yorkshire, is due to open on October 27 and Hicks told OLN he hoped to complete on a new site in the same region before Christmas.

The Wine Racks join his award-winning Bargain Booze Select convenience in Ulverston, Cumbria, which opened in 2000, and regular Bargain Boozes in Ormskirk, Lancahire, which he took on in 2012, and Poulton-le-Fylde, which he has had since May of this year.

Hicks’ new Wine Rack stores will largely be based on a test concept store opened by Conviviality in West Byfleet, Surrey, a year ago.

“They’re all on the same model with the same spec – illuminated backdrops [for bottles] and a big emphasis on tasting tables,” said Hicks.

“I think that’s the vision for Wine Rack from now on.

”I’m looking at an on-licence angle for Roundhay and possibly Enomatics. Three of the shops [including Thirsk] are in market towns but Roundhay is more like a Surrey suburb so it’s more suited to that style of trading.

“I’m aiming to run a lot more customer tasting events as well and we’ve got Whitley Neill gin tastings in all of the shops next week with incentives for managers.

“It’s about trying to give people access to products they wouldn’t otherwise see.”

Hicks added that there were “plenty more shops to come”.

He said: “North Yorkshire is proving to be a very good base for this type of brand. It helps to have a lot of stores in one area rather than spread all over the place.”

Hicks’ stores are Conviviality’s first fruits from a franchise recruitment drive for the upmarket wine format it bought from Venus Wine & Spirit Merchants last year.

Chief executive Diana Hunter told OLN that Conviviality was also looking to open its second BB’s Warehouse drinks superstore before Christmas.

She said the first was performing “in line with expectations” and added: “We want to try it at another location to give us a comparison and I hope that will be before Christmas, but we haven’t identified exactly when or where it will be.”

The first BB’s Warehouse opened in July in Wakefield in a former Rhythm & Booze branch, offering parking, try-before-you- buy and more than 400 wines out of a total product range of 800.

Hunter said: “It’s more of a destination shop for people buying for a party or who have visitors for the weekend. It’s a great concept but much more destination that passing trade. It seems to be working and we are getting more case sales at Wakefield.”

She added there were “a lot of conversations going on” with other potential Wine Rack franchisees, both with existing Bargain Booze retailers and individuals who would be new to the business.

Amanda Jones, who joins Conviviality in December, will lead the franchisee recruitment process. Hunter said: “Her responsibilities will extend across logistics, all franchised and company-owned stores and new recruitment.”

Hunter said Martin Swaine, the former Rhythm & Booze owner who joined the Bargain Booze fold in late 2012, is no longer working for the group in a consultancy capacity but is still involved as a franchisee.