Saturday 2 April 2011

After Oddbins, Bordeaux 2010

I won't mourn the passing of Oddbins, in much the same way I don't mourn the demise of my mother's cat, Dracula, a splendid black beast of of formidable killing power, who ended life incontinent and smelling of damp. His time had come, much like Oddbins'. The London Bridge branch definitely smelt mouldy a couple of weeks ago, as if there were a body under the floorboards.

Possibly there will be, if the disgruntled employees of the once-much-loved chain get their hands on the management after's revelations of what certainly needs explanation even if it's not skulduggery: the payment by managing director Simon Baile to marketing director Martin West of just over £17,000 for 'redundancy'.

This was on 8 March, after Oddbins had started talks with corporate advisers Spectrum to find a way to deal with debts of over £20m.They must have had an inkling they were headed down the tubes - everybody else did. If I had a quid for every time Oddbins was described as 'beleagured' or 'embattled' or, lately, 'stricken', I'd be a rich man. What were they doing paying out five-figure sums to directors when they hadn't paid their suppliers for months?

Creditors coming out of the meeting last Thursday when HM Revenue and Customs delivered the coup de grace (they are owed £8m) found the whole thing fishy. 'There's a lot about it I don't understand - some things don't stack up', one highly-placed figure told me, hinting that there was an awful lot more to come out about the relationship between Ex-Cellar, the company set up by Baile and his partner Henry Young to buy Oddbins from Castel (who own the charmless Nicolas stores and who had done so much to ruin the chain).

Creditors were also outspoken about Oddbins' failure to communicate with them... I found the same - when we asked the management to comment on this £17k payment to West, we were told we'd got our facts wrong. Then we produced a copy of the receipt, signed and dated, and we were told it was a ‘contractual compromise agreement’. No idea why it was called a redundancy payment on the receipt.

Anyway, it's very sad for the 400-odd employees who have lost their jobs, but as for the passing of a shop that was once a byword for innovation, quirkiness and charm, and lately had become surly, secretive and boring (not to mention smelling of damp), I'm not shedding much of a tear.

Off to Bordeaux for the 2010s tomorrow. They do things differently there... First stop the splendid Anthony Barton at Leoville Barton, who's always more than willing to talk the press... watch this space...

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