Tag Archive - oddbins

Wine Bloggers’ Wines from Oddbins

Oddbins Wine Bloggers

So, do wine bloggers have any idea what wines others should drink, or are they just good at telling us about the stuff they like?

I have to admit to being very afraid of the idea of being responsible for choosing wines for other people I do not know. The idea of being a “Wine Buyer” would mean I would never sleep again. I love wine. I love drinking it, sharing it, talking about it and learning about it. I enjoy how it impacts on the world, and generally changes it for the better. But I do not know whether YOU will like any particular wine or not. Building a business that requires such certainty seems hard to me.

Blogger Initiative

I was very impressed and intrigued, therefore, to see that 6 of my fellow UK wine bloggers got together with Oddbins to create a selection of wines for the rest of us to enjoy so I just had to buy a case.

The basic story is on the Oddbins Wine Bloggers Case page, but you should also read any of the bloggers’ own articles linked below.

In summary, the six bloggers had access to an entire Oddbins shop for the task of selecting 12 bottles, one red, one white, each, for a case that would cost no more than £100 (including delivery). A tough but enjoyable challenge.

So, I had two simple questions:

1. Is this a “good idea”?

2. Are the choices any good?

What a Good Idea!

To answer the first, I have to say that I admire bloggers who do innovative things and who are prepared to push boundaries.

Consumers would benefit from buying “taster” cases that helped them discover new wines and, bought in some volume, would also make them slightly more affordable. This may be the excuse they were waiting for.

Too often, the wines recommended on blogs and articles are hard to then find & buy, so making them immediately available (and deliverable) is a great encouragement for consumers to buy. This is one of the strongest points of online wine content.

The marketing has also been well done – Integrated Communications, at last!

  • There is a dedicated page on the Oddbins online site.
  • They’ve created memorable cartoons and images to bring the “online” personas to life
  • They’ve included the bloggers’ own wine reviews, including food matching ideas
  • The case came with the full information sheet
  • The bloggers themselves have kept the profile of the promotion high

Finally, I also think it is important that bloggers (of all industries) find ways to make money from their online activity because I know very well how much work it involves and how hard it is to make money from this without resorting to dubious internet marketing practices.

We ALL benefit

If wine bloggers could prove that they can identify great wines, and help to get them into the hands of consumers, we ALL benefit – producers, bloggers, retailers and consumers. If bloggers are adding benefit, then they do deserve a share of the “value” created, and they can start to make some money from what they do, creating great wine stories. There is nothing wrong with making a living.

There’s only one slight criticism. In the interests of transparency, considering this is a “showcase” (pun intended), I was surprised not to read more about whether the bloggers were actually benefitting financially from this. For the reasons listed above, I think it would be great if trusted bloggers could work with retailers and wineries. I also do not want to see hard work, and great ideas like this, benefit only some and not others, and I am sure those involved actually had costs to make this happen.

Two bloggers did make some reference to this which is great, though it is still a touchy subject, but sometimes openness is the best policy. I do not believe that any readers would object, but we do need to take the ammunition away from critics.

“Since picking the case, we have agreed with Oddbins that they would contribute to our expenses, on a tiny amount for each case sold. While I hope the case flies off the shelves, I won’t be giving up the day job any time soon. Then again, that’s not why I got involved.” - SipSwooshSpit

“So all that remains is for people to buy it and let us know what they think – I say this not for the pocket-money commission levels, but because this is an opportunity for us to engage in a conversation about these wines and I would love to know what people think about them.” – The Cambridge Wine Blogger

I am CERTAIN that if they are making anything it is not substantial, and it will not have influenced their choices of wines. However, from a disclosure point of view, this one would be useful for them all to have done. Having said that, it is a minor quibble form someone keen to make sure this goes well and helps more bloggers and wine businesses.

I hope it DOES fly off the shelves and that they do start to make some money! So of course I did my bit and bought my case.

Wine Reviews:

The REAL test. Were the wines they chose interesting and likely to get consumers to come back and buy more?

Well, since I have decided not to use this site to share tasting notes, I will have to leave you guessing a little longer. However, I will be adding my tasting notes to my personal site (where I do review wines from time to time) as I go through the case. You can follow along here:

Tasting the Bloggers’ Wine Selection from Oddbins on thirstforwine.co.uk

At first glance the prospects are good. I already know, and like, a couple of the wines. The selection is varied and covers many styles, prices and countries. Here is the list (as provided by Spittoon.biz:

The Oddbins Bloggers Case White Wine Selection

  1. Casa Lluch Verdil 2010, Valencia, Spain
  2. Raimat Abadia White 2010, Costers del Segre, Spain
  3. Sal’mon Groovey Grüner Veltliner 2010, Kremstal, Austria
  4. Domaine la Condamine L’Evêque Viognier 2010, Côtes de Thongue, France
  5. Stone Rock Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Bordeaux, France
  6. Porter Mill Station Chenin Blanc 2011, Svartland, South Africa

The Oddbins Bloggers Case Red Wine Choices

  1. Domaine de l’ Arnesque 2009, Côtes du Rhône, France
  2. Alma de Tinto Mencia 2010, Galacia, Spain
  3. Henry Fessy Morgon 2009, Cru du Beaujolais, France
  4. Chateau Haute Galine 2009, Minervois, France
  5. Terre di Sava, 10 Nero Salice Salentino 2010, Puglia, Italy
  6. Fully Loaded Grenache-Shiraz 2008, McClaren Vale, Australia

I congratulate Oddbins on the coup, and Tara, David, Paola, Tom, Belinda and Andrew for making it happen. I wonder if we will see similar things happen in the UK and beyond?

Related Articles:

Tom Lewis “The Cambridge Wine Blogger”: The Oddbins Bloggers’ Case

David Lowe “BigPinots”: The Merry Band of Bloggers

Belinda Stone “Miss Bouquet”: We’re on the case with Oddbins Literally

Andrew Barrow “Spittoon”: Oddbins Bloggers Case

Paola Tich “SipSwooshSpit”: Six Go Mad in Oddbins

Tara Devon O’Leary “Wine Passionista”: The Oddbins Wine Bloggers’ Case is Here

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What’s so Odd about Oddbins?

Oddbins is in trouble, and it needs a new lease of life, and probably a new investor, to survive, but brands CAN survive repeated near-death experiences if they have something to live for.

Newspapers and the wine media are full of doom and gloom stories about the future of Oddbins, once the UK’s coolest wine retailer. This week they announced that they were closing 39 shops, losing around 200 staff, and that this was probably just the start. The reality is that once the financial situation reaches a state of crisis, trust evaporates and things only get worse. Of course many of us working in the wine business either grew up working or shopping there, so many people are very upset.

Yogi on Meditation.

What seems to be missing from the discussion are positive suggestions on the future for this brand.

I know nothing of the financial or management discussions going on at the moment, but I thought I’d say something that has been on my mind since the current owners, under the management of Simon Baile, bought the business from Castel in 2008.

Let’s face it, the future of mass wine retail on the high street is either finished, or extremely uncertain*. We don’t shop there as often and margins don’t cover extremely high rents and staff costs. This is not the full story though. The Telegraph points out that wine is not alone here:

Every bottle of wine we’ve bought in the supermarket over the last year has been a bottle we haven’t bought from Oddbins and its rapidly diminishing off-licence peers. … Oddbins’ troubles are exactly those that have hit booksellers and record shops nationwide. Let’s hope that there’s not about to be another casualty to add to the list.

We have not stopped buying music, books or films have we? We just stopped buying them on the high street.

I know, I KNOW! Books and music can be ‘consumed’ digitally, but that just made them the first to move the shopping experience online. Our lives are changing and a lot of our shopping is now online. I don’t know about you, but our household rarely visits supermarkets anymore and orders stuff with excellent companies such as Ocado.

Wine is no different. Can you imagine an investor buying into a chain of high street bookshops, music shops or video stores in 2008? I’m sorry, but why did Oddbins try to save hundreds of shops? While they were doing that, people like Rowan Gormley were doing the opposite and establishing businesses like Naked Wines.

Oddbins established its reputation because it made wine accessible to people when the only alternative was “stuffy old wine merchants” – even supermarkets were hardly in the game in those days. The reputation was not really built on “convenience” of high street retail but on the knowledge of staff, the quirkiness of the range, the “coolness” of the Ralph Steadman brand image and the general excitement of discovery. I think I’m right in daying, however, that despite this, even at its peak, Oddbins was never greatly profitable even then!

It’s not death, it is moving on to a better place

Where can you best make that happen today, and try and do it profitably? Not in shops, but online.

The future of the Oddbins brand is to “ascend to a higher plane” and move its MAIN business online and keep a small number of outlets as “experience stores” (in the way Apple & Nike have done so well, and Laithwaites is already doing in wine).

I know it will be a tough transition, and I’m sorry to the many fine folks that will lose their retail jobs, but this would also create a whole new category of online advisor jobs where staff could actually use their wine knowledge and spend less time stacking shelves and dusting bottles.

Threshers tried to cling on to its retail model, and after a protracted series of death throws, it eventually collapsed. That brand didn’t have much to live for. Oddbins is different. I believe, along with many others, that it deserves to continue, but it must go back to its ‘Odd’ roots and embrace the future, not cling to the past.

* Real local shops will survive, but big brands are unlikely to. Even Majestic avoids the actual ‘high street’ and their model is based on finding other local sites.

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Shock! Wine blog helps to sell wine

What is a “social media sale”? The answer is simple. A bottle, or more, of wine purchased where a post on a social media platform significantly influenced that behaviour. Measuring how much of this happens is another thing altogether.

Did this wine sell because of Social Media? YES! (see below)

Would a survey on “Does Social Media affect your wine buying habits?” have picked it up? I HIGHLY doubt it.

This is why I find critics of the potential of new channels to promote and help sell wine frustrating (as discussed on Rebecca Gibb’s interesting post here).

I happen to like wine (you may know that). I happen to enjoy Spanish wines (you may know that too). I like to explore the subject, and read others’ suggestions. I also respect certain writers more than others, so when they recommend something, I listen.

All these things came together when Jamie Goode recommended the “thrillingly good mencia” called El Cayado on his blog, so I set out to try and taste it.

Unfortunately for me, Oddbins is a pale imitation of its former self*. There are no shops in my part of London, and when I did make a trek to find an open shop, neither of the shops I found had even heard of it, never mind stocked it. I was out of luck. I gave up. One LOST “social media sale”.

Then a few weeks later I was on my way to a friend’s house for a BBQ and forgot to bring a bottle (it happens to the best of us). I knew there was an Oddbins around the corner so I popped in and asked the staff if they had “that new Mencia on their list?”.

“No, sorry sir” came the answer. Then I turned around and I happened to see a whole shelf of these wines. Oh dear! Almost ANOTHER lost “social media sale”.

I did pick up a bottle and gave it as a gift to my friends, along with the disclaimer that I had not tried it myself, but that it came highly recommended by someone I trust. Finally, 1 GAINED “social media sale”.

1 week later I received an email from my friend saying;

Hope you don’t mind me asking but over the weekend we opened the red wine you very kindly gave us the other week – and I have to say it was amazing. Hit all the right notes. … (we) both loved this one, wondered … where I could get a case from?”

BINGO! [Robert does a little "social media wine sales rock!" dance]

Now, if you ask my friend … “Do you use the internet to source wines?”, guess what her answer will be? No!

You tell me, can you imagine any other ways that blogs, twitter, facebook et al might also influence people directly or indirectly to buy wine? Of course you can.

Saying that it is hard to measure what effect blogs and twitter have on wine sales is one thing, saying that they don’t influence behaviour because you can’t measure it is another.

Have you got any stories of how you, or your friends, have bought (or sold) wine as a direct result of online content? Do let me know so we can help to correct this perception.

* This is true of the stock in the shops, the motivation of most of the staff I have met, and … what the hell is going on with their website? Note, for example, that this MENCIA wine is categorised as 100% Monastrell.

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The case of Majestic’s big small announcement

I just heard via two sources on Twitter (isn’t it great?) that Majestic are about to radically change their business model and potentially make them an even greater player in the world of wine retailing.

Now Majestic’s minimum purchase it to be halved to only 6 bottles

Until now, Majestic required consumers to buy a minimum of 12 bottles at a time. Their “warehouse” model of large stores, plenty parking and knowledgable staff had  made them a favourite of keen wine drinkers.

However, the vast majority of UK wine drinkers do not buy 12 bottles at a time. Most buy 1 bottle for a specific evening, or maybe 2-3 if on a promotion. This made them a ‘specialist’ as opposed to a regular ‘wine shop’ in the minds of most consumers.

The theory has been that by buying in larger quantities, you could take advantage of more volume deals and get a better price overall for your wine. In practice I wonder quite how much better that price was unless you were really picking the promoted lines, but …

Despite targeting a relatively small number of wine drinkers, Majestic has been enormously successful in the last few years, especially if you compare them to their peers; Oddbins, Wine Rack/Threshers and pretty much any other high street wine retail name. It makes a BIG difference to have 1 customer walk into your shop and buy 12 bottles with an average price around £6-£8 and therefore spending £70-£100 instead of them walking out with a single bottle, no matter how expensive.

… spare a thought for the independent wine merchant struggling to survive

Now Majestic’s minimum purchase it to be halved to only 6 bottles. Clever, or crazy?

  • On one side, getting consumers to move up to buying 6 bottles is easier than jumping from 3 to 12.
  • It means that the wine consumer on a budget who already buys at Majestic might feel less guilty about going back to the store to “only” buy 6
  • Many modern flats do not have space for storing 12 bottles at a time (sad to say)
  • Majestic is obviously hoping that their “£2 off per bottle if you buy 2 or more” type discounts will encourage shoppers to buy more than 6 anyway (I always seemed to buy more than 12 I admit)

However, it risks upsetting the delicate balance they have achieved that has made them successful.

12 bottles was not a ‘legal’ requirement, at least not once you could mix & match your own. It was simply the business saying “you will buy 12 bottles or we won’t sell to you”.

People accepted that, in part because 12 bottles was a psychologically significant number (as the number of bottles in a standard case measure). How will consumers react to this being changed? Happy that it is now “only” 6? Or will they wonder why they have to buy 6 at all, and why they can’t just buy 3, or 1?

Also, I’m certain there were those who bought extra bottles to fill their 12 bottle quota. What happens to those purchases?

It is a bold move that will hopefully attract some of those customers who like wine and knew of Majestic but for whom 12 bottles and the thought of £75-a-visit were a substantial barrier.

Let’s also hope it encourages more consumers to make wine drinking a more planned activity.  A little research can make the appreciation of the wine so much greater.

Finally, spare a thought for the independent wine merchant struggling to survive in your town, village or high street. This potentially makes their life even harder, but maybe you could learn about new wines with Majestic’s offers and education, then go exploring the wines of smaller wineries and regions with the help of your local merchant?

Good luck in your wine adventures!

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Oddbins chain sold to ex cellar

Oddbins put up the “SOLD” sign yesterday (see here, and here). Really, for those who have been following this (including me), it was not a surprise. What might be a surprise was who bought it. Ex Cellar.

Who?

Well, I can’t claim to be clued up about all the businesses out there, but this one is pretty small, with only 2 outlets BUT … it has a particularly powerful motivator, the kind of thing that might be needed to turn around the performance of a business like Oddbins. The family name.

Ex cellar is run by the son of the founder of Oddbins, Simon Baille.

I come across a phenomenon regularly both in my professional life and my personal experiences. The businesses that impress me most are those where everyone I come into contact with are motivated to make the ‘relationship’ with me (the customer, or supplier) a success because it is good for the business, and for them personally.

I’m sure that seems like common sense, but how many times are you served in a restaurant by someone who obviously is there only for the money and really is only doing the bare minimum? Instead, think how you feel when you walk into a small business and are served by the owner who does everything to please you and make you feel important – because you are.

The best larger businesses manage to engender that feeling even when you are being served by an employee, not the owner, but that employee is fully committed to the business and to the relationship.

Oddbins USED to have this. There was a camaraderie, a pioneering spirit and a sense of fun that was shared amongst all stores. Even though they were not running a small, independent local store, you still felt like it was, but still got the benefit of great buyers sourcing interesting stuff from all around the world.

When it lost that sense of fun, that commitment, it lost its USP and it became just another retailer. Even the mightiest can fall at this hurdle (Starbucks is on the retreat, and McDonalds has been for some years too).

I hope that the new owners can use the family link to recreate that personal commitment from the staff to the business that will make Oddbins a great source of wine again. It is not going to be easy, but all of a sudden, there is at least the potential for this to happen.

If I could make a suggestion though, I would suggest that the developers of the ex cellar website do not get the job of redesigning the Oddbins site! If you need contacts, let me know!

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