Cast back to 1998. First Quench Retailing was formed by the merger of the Allied Domecq owned Victoria Wine and the Whitbread owned Threshers. This brought together the 1,470 Threshers, Drinks Cabin, Wine Rack, Bottoms Up and Huttons shops with around 1,500 Victoria Wine, Wine Cellar, Haddows, Martha’s Vineyard (see below) and The Firkin branches.
As a sociologist this holds a fascination for me from a social history point of view. At the time of the merger, the company employed around 20,000 people, with its head office in Welwyn Garden City, and claimed to account for 13% of the UK take home drinks market – Tesco, in comparison, claimed around 14%.
In 2000 the company was purchased by the Japanese private equity firm Nomura Holdings for £225m. Terra Firma Capital Partners then purchased the company in April 2002 – for an undisclosed sum! A chequered few years ensued with the selling off of some Threshers branches to franchisees and the conversion of others to convenience stores. The company went into administration in 2009 and was subsequently purchased by Midlands based Dave’s Discount Group. This company now has over 47,000 retail branches though the above mentioned brands appear to have been dropped!
In 1997, Victoria Wine, in a last ditch attempt, launched its first (and only) superstore to rival the supermarkets, Majestic Wine Warehouse, Wizard Wines and others. This involved the re-launch of Martha’s Vineyard, a 5,000 sq. ft. warehouse in New Barnet, Hertfordshire along with an ‘all bells and whistles’ shop in London’s Oxford Street. Michael Hammond, the then managing director, however was clutching at straws offering “ample free parking, keen prices, deliveries, wine tastings and knowledgeable staff”, a model already established by the competition!
Of course there were many other off-licence chains and independent wine merchants so far not mentioned. Let’s not forget Argyll Stores, Ashe and Nephew, Augustus Barnett, Cullens, Arthur Cooper, Roberts, Davisons, Peter Dominic, Fine Fare, Gough Brothers, Lennons, Oddbins, Arthur Rackham and Unwins. Also, Dolamore, H Allen Smith, Thomas Baty (Liverpool), Buckinghams, Christopher & Co., Greens, John Harvey, The Hungerford Wine Company, Quellyn Roberts (Chester), La Reserve, Henry Townsend, Willoughby’s (Manchester). All these are now confined to history but at the time were forces to be reckoned with. Some moved on however, such as The Wine Society, Tanners, Berry Bros & Rudd, Adnams, Farr Vintners, Majestic Wine Warehouse, Naked Wines, Laithwaites (formerly Bordeaux Direct), Ex-Cellar and Liquorbin. Waitrose – trading as Waitrose Cellar – has also helped fill the gap with an extensive range of quality wines, spirits, sherry, port, beers and lagers, madeira, masala and much more beside. Indeed, they were certainly instrumental, along with other supermarkets, in the gap appearing in the first place!
How Victoria Wine started in 1865 and prospered as the first choice wine merchant of the ordinary person, until its demise at end of the 20th century, will be discussed in the next blog.