Speaking exclusively to The Grocer, Phillip Cook, chairman of the chain’s owner DM Private Equity, said other plans included converting a tranche of stores to the upmarket Phillips Newman fascia before Christmas and speeding up the replacement of popular alcohol brands - lost following the collapse of key supplier agreements - with new offerings from
Cook said he hoped to establish 100 franchise stores by the end of January under a division called Unwins Franchise Systems. Cole Stevens, currently general manager of direct sales, has been made chief executive of this division.
However, Unwins store managers have poured scorn on the proposed franchise scheme, claiming there would be few takers in light of the chain’s ongoing supply problems. One said: “Just look around our store. It’s virtually empty. Anyone would be mad to sign up to a franchise as it would mean taking all your stock from them - if you can get any, that is.”
Cook said low stocks in stores had partly been caused by switching to overseas suppliers and admitted this process had taken longer than anticipated.
Merchandising plans for many stores had been frozen as the company thrashed out its retail development vision.
Cook claimed 60 Unwins stores would be converted to the Phillips Newman fascia by Christmas but admitted that the festive season would prove hard for the company. “December will be difficult, but we hope to reach 75% availability in January and 100% in February.”
He said redundancy consultations for 53 head office employees and staff affected by store closures would conclude on December 12.
Many stores are currently displaying only a single line of wine to a shelf and some have bare tobacco fixtures.
One retailer said he distrusted communications coming from head office, which included lists of people sacked for speculating about the company with outsiders. “All we are allowed to tell customers is that we are preparing for refurbishment. Customers are not coming back. Fifty came in today - and I have made five sales.”