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The rebirth of Oddbins: Q&A with Emma Nichols, head of buying, about plans for the brand

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By Stephen Lepitak, -

October 19, 2011 | 6 min read

With the announcement earlier today that Oddbins was to offer customers the opportunity to test and price its wine, the first consumer engagement to be carried out since the off license brand was rescued from obscurity earlier this year, The Drum speaks to Emma Nichols, head of buying at Oddbins about plans for rebuilding and promoting the retailer.

How will the brand be revitalised?

Revitalising is exactly what we are trying to do, although it’s still quite early days at the moment, given that we’ve only been up and running for four months, the focus has been about getting stock into stores, getting the staff up-and-running and making the stores look decent.

What we’ve done is to put in place a very distinctive new design in-store and is different to what had been known as Oddbins before. The thinking behind it was to get something very fresh and clean that would be trendy and appealing to consumers and to highlight the fact that we’re a new company and we’re going to try and do something different. That is an image that is going to take us through Christmas and I think that will form the basis of the brand going into next year. What we will be doing next year when we have more time to focus on it is to run several trials in refitting a couple of stores with a new look and redoing the logo. It’s just about how we can tie into the great heritage that Oddbins has got and make it relevant and important to people. That’s one of the things that we realise, that while there is a lot of affection for the brand, people don’t necessarily see us as a brand of today.

A lot of what we are trying to do is make sure that we are talking to the customers visually and in-store in a way that is much more appropriate. Retail has moved on so much since Oddbins was doing its thing with the sawdust and the slightly dusty shelves way back in the 80’s, so we know that we have to come up with something that is much more modern. What we are doing right now is to interact with customers more and starting that conversation. We will hope to get feedback on the kind of things people want to see in-store and that will help us to refine what we are doing as a company.

How will you lead those conversations then?

Through social media mainly. We have just started our relaunch and over the first weekend we will be asking customers to come into stores and taste three wins, they will taste them blind, and then tell us which ones we should be selling and in a couple of weeks we will release the wines at the prices that the customers dictate. That is an example of what we are doing with customers and that is being driven through Facebook and Twitter. We can communicate with customers once they’ve entered into that exercise, they’ll be contracted to let them know what the wines they tasted were. Part of the focus is to try and make sure that the stores are allowed to be very local as well. We’re very keen that while we are a chain, albeit not as big as we used to be, we see the stores as being local stores, independent stores within the community. So the conversations that managers will be having with customers, we’ll be feeding into what we’re doing as well, which is why we want to trial concepts for the look and the branding to get feedback from customers. We think it’s sensible to be checking what we do as we go along.

From my perspective there was a lack of communication about what we were doing and a lack of discussion. If you’re not referring back to your customers as you’re doing things then there’s no point in doing them because they won’t understand where you’re going?

What about the brand will continue to be communicated by the new owners?

The core values of the brand will be around the quality and the value of the range and the excitement and the passion of the staff working in the stores and working in head office. We’re trying to communicate it as a fun place to shop. It should be an interesting and entertainment experience to go into one of our shops. We want to develop that relational experience with managers, assistant managers and staff in stores to customers, but it’s about value for money at every price point up to £50 and £100, and a really exciting range delivered by passionate staff.

Will you look to work with marketing services agencies?

We are looking to external agencies to allow us to do that. Effectively now Oddbins is a start-up company with one person managing the marketing for us in-house and clearly that isn’t enough and we have to invest and work with people who understand that side of the business and again that is something that hasn’t been done in the past.

Which disciplines will use aim to utilise in marketing?

It’s all a bit of a work in progress at the moment. We’re working very closely with a PR agency which is informing us on our social media agency and helping us to manage that, and then we are working with external designers who are helping us to design the new look of the stores, but we will look as we go on the journey to draw on resources if we have to.

We’re not sitting here today as a relaunch saying this is the end of the road, we’re at the start of this process and it’s just going to get better over the next few months.

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