Chains outline plans for a Battle of the Booze

Battle lines have been drawn by two of the UK’s biggest specialist off-licence chains in a bid for supremacy in mainstream off-licence retailing in the eastern half of northern England.

Rhythm & Booze and Bargain Booze have both outlined plans for new retail innovations in their first major head-to-head since a new management regime came in at Bargain Booze in July and the acquisition – by Costcutter owner Bibby Retail Services - of Rhythm & Booze in a pre-pack administration in

Bargain Booze has secured a major coup by signing up former Ryhthm & Booze owner and managing director Martin Swaine as a “super-franchisee”.

Swaine will run a chain of shops under the Bargain Booze fascia and “spearhead innovations and trial new retail formats”, according to the company.

The move came as Swaine’s former firm revealed plans for new-look stores ahead of a launch of its own franchise operation.

Rhythm & Booze operates 68 stores across Humberside, North Yorkshie, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire.

Crewe-based Bargain Booze has 650 branches under a franchise model but its heartland is in the north west of England and it has targeted Yorkshire as a main focus for its expansion plans.

Acting managing director Keith Webb said the company saw signing Swaine as a major step towards achieving its own ambitions east of the Pennines.

Swaine, who left Rhythm & Booze earlier this month, will operate his own chain of stores under the Bargain Booze name in his home territory.

Webb said: “Few people have built a sizeable off-licence and convenience business from scratch like Martin, so it’s a major coup that he’s joined Bargain Booze to support the development of our franchise business.

“He shares our passion for supporting independent retailers and helping them to maximise the potential of their businesses.”

Swaine, who founded Rhythm & Booze with his father Ronnie in 1993, said: “Bargain Booze is a growing business with a unique operating model that has shown its resilience in a difficult climate for high street retailers and off-licences in particular.

“It has an entrepreneurial approach, a highly capable management team and the backing of its investors.

“For these reasons I was attracted by the dual opportunity to build my own chain of stores as a super franchisee and to support the group in its ambition for growth and innovation.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to bring Bargain Booze’s proven retail formats to Yorkshire and to use my network in the region to support the company’s expansion.

“There are excellent independent retailers operating across Yorkshire that could benefit from the buying, marketing and business support provided by Bargain Booze.”

Swaine will also provide his expertise and support to existing Bargain Booze franchisees in a consultancy role with the group.

This will include using his stores as a test bed for new innovations which, if successful, will be made available to other franchisees, Rhythm & Booze has declared its hand by unveiling plans for a new fascia, store designs and layouts ahead of the launch of the off-licence group’s new franchising initiative.

The familiar black, red and white colouring is retained but a treble clef replaces the ampersand in the logo.

The company said the new identity maintained the heritage of the chain and played on its “fun personality and strong musical links”.

The Rhythm & Booze off licence franchise package is currently being trialled ahead of a full launch and will deliver a “professional, yet affordable, package for independent retailers”, Costcutter said.

Retail operations director Richard Collins added: “The independent off-licence market is not well served at present, with very limited options that do not give retailers the best tools to develop successful businesses.

“The Rhythm & Booze franchise package draws on all of Costcutter’s experience in creating market-leading symbol group solutions for independent retailers."

He added: “The old Rhythm & Booze brand needed refreshing but it was important that we didn’t totally erase the existing brand equity that has been built over the years.”

Rebecca Hopper has been appointed retail marketing manager for Rhythm & Booze, joining the business from the Today’s Group.

She takes responsibility for developing the new look for the brand and creating an integrated marketing strategy which she said would “give retailers the visibility they have been craving and the tools with which to
attract customers into their stores”.