"The business is going through a challenging time," says chief executive David Wetz, "but there are some great opportunities ahead of us."
One of these is the convenience sector; about 300 of the company's 430-strong estate are being earmarked for conversion to a convenience store mix.
Wetz says: "We're going for two main segmentations, wine shops and wine and food shops. We've not decided on the offerings yet, that will be the next stage, looking at the fine detail."
The company now has 17 c-stores, all of which Wetz describes as profitable.
The company is keen its stores are seen as local shops by customers and that they tailor offerings to their local surroundings. The company is also conducting trials with store formats with its Perfect Store Project, working on store layouts and ranges alongside suppliers like UDV, Gallo and Interbrew.

Worst performers are out
Wetz is also getting ruthless with the less than sterling members of the estate, and is prepared to sell off some of the worst performing stores. "We will be looking at our non-performing stores and working out whether we can turn them round, but if the answer's no then we will dispose of those stores." The company is also acquisition hungry and is calling on independent rivals to sell them stores: "We are looking for good stores, ones that will fit in with our plans of how we want to move the business forward."
Although mainly based in the south east, the Unwins chain is certainly not averse to moving further north. "There are no real barriers," insists Wetz. "The opportunities just haven't arisen." Logistics constraints mean just one or two stores in the north of England would be impractical, however.
The drive for success has also seen the firm dispose of several other operations such as its building and printing businesses as well as streamlining warehousing. "We want to concentrate on our core business."
Wetz points out that, aside from the other traditional off-licence operators, they are beseiged by everything from the big multiples to the cross channel trade from France.
The company is also keen to create a clear point of difference from its competitors helped, Wetz believes, by loyal staff.
Unwins is introducing a training and development programme due to start in the late summer. "As well as product training it will also deal with the simple things like giving customers a good friendly reception."
And to boost morale it is considering improved salaries which would include profit related pay for employees. "All staff play a part in the profitability of our stores so we're looking at profit related schemes."
Wetz also wants to be open with his staff, saying he's keen for everyone within the company to share ideas and knowledge. As part of that, and to improve communications, Unwins has appointed 50 co-ordinator managers who will look after a number of stores, providing feedback.
As with most family businesses, Unwins takes the long-term view on things, after all, it's now into the fourth generation. Being independent has a lot of advantages, he adds: "Family businesses have endless strengths if they're managed well. The greatest benefit of being independent is you can be very flexible. We need to be able to react quickly and we can do. We can be very light on our feet."