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Oddbins: end of an era

by Tom Cannavan, 04/2011

window sign Who knows how many businesses go bust in the UK on a daily basis? Each one will be at least a small tragedy for the people who have invested time, sweat and money in them, and often for a string of customers and creditors who lose out too.

This notice appeared on the door of my local branch today, one that has not survived as Deloitte, the administrators of the Oddbins estate since it was forced into administration a few weeks ago, announced that 37 of almost 90 stores had been sold. That leaves the remaining 52 to face a very uncertain, but probably gloomy future.

Oddbins was arguably the best thing to happened to wine in the UK in the past 30 or 40 years. They shook up the high street, taking the stuffy image of fine wine and reinvigorating it for a brand new audience. With their anarchic ethos, everyone in a typical Oddbins branch - both staff and customers - seemed to be sharing one huge passion for wine and not just engaging in a transaction. I am one of thousands, maybe millions, who owe Oddbins a huge vote of thanks for what they acheived and for nurturing my own passion for wine.

At this stage it is not clear who has bought the Oddbins brand and website, and nor is it clear what the new owners of the 37 stores will do with them. But the once mighty chain, with hundreds of stores and one of the most exciting wine ranges in the world has gone.

So farewell Oddbins. Many pages have been, and will be written about what went wrong. A lot of blame has been layed at the door of the supermarkets, for driving down prices and turning wine into nothing more than a BOGOF commodity - with little thought for quality. And there's no doubt that the company's recent turbulent history of being bought, sold and often it seems mis-managed, must also share some of the blame.

It's not a time for despair. Majestic continues to perform strongly, and at least some supermarkets like Waitrose, M&S and Booths persist with intelligent, interesting wine offerings. And there's a burgeoning new crop of independent merchants both online and on the high street filling in niches and gaps. But whilst the Oddbins of recent years might have been a shadow of its former self, it's passing is a sad day for the country's wine lovers.