Ayo Akintola is not your average retail chief. His business skills were not honed at Cambridge or Oxford. There is no show off MBA certificate on the wall
He is, though, of all his competitive set the most experienced when it comes to running a specialist high street drinks retail chain having now racked up some 11 years at Oddbins, the last four and a half years as managing director.
This compares very favourably with Majestic Wine's Rowan Gormley who, despite his years at Naked and Virgin Wines, is only six months in to his first bricks and mortar retail gig. And by his own admission is more an IT, data and finance guy than belt and braces retail one.
Or Diana Hunter at Conviviality Retail, the folk behind Bargain Booze and Wine Rack, who has spent most of her career working in high profile head office roles at Waitrose and Sainsbury's before moving in to specialist retailing.
It is fair to say that during his time at Oddbins, Akintola is probably more versed in how not to run a specialist drinks retail chain after the turbulent times with first Castel and then Simon Baile, which ended in the chain collapsing in to administration with huge debts in 2011.
The fact new owners, European Food Brokers, turned to Akintola, the only remaining member of the management team, to lead the recovery speaks volumes for his charisma and ability to convince others that he has a different way of doing things.
Out of the left field
You only need to look at Oddbins current publicity campaigns to see how out of step he is with the rest of the high street.
Not only did Oddbins release a Christmas advert that would have been worthy of David Lynch at his Twin Peaks best for weirdness, but is actively boycotting this week’s Black Friday US-style sales extravaganza and proudly refusing to offer its customers any special discounts on any drinks at all.
When you consider Oddbins is still very much on the recovery trail, with tills ringing not as much as Akintola or its owners would ideally like, they are both brave moves indeed.
For a start it only cost £10,000 to make (by production house Spectrecom Films) and was dreamt up by Akintola, and his clearly very creative marketing team, rather than an expensive West End advertising agency. They even wrote their own script, which features a fox abducting a grumpy Oddbins shopper, taking him to a secret Christmas fox grotto and then returning him to the store full of festive cheer.
But both its Christmas and anti-Black Friday campaigns appear to be working and connecting with the very type of consumer that Oddbins is looking to appeal to.
Its #WhatTheFox advert has been watched over 500,000 times on YouTube and Facebook and its anti-Black Friday PR stunt has already attracted national headlines.
Wily old fox
But then Akintola is as wily an old fox as the perfectly handmade one that is the star of its Christmas advert and the original other foxes that are appearing in every Oddbins shop window up to Christmas.
He admits the “slightly bonkers” approach is not as carefree as it might look. But actually a carefully thought through strategy that would help Oddbins, stand out and steal its share of voice at this incredibly competitive time of the year.
Akintola says the idea was to move the festive drinks agenda away from just shouting about price, as all retailers ever do, in the build up to Christmas.
Instead, he says, Oddbins “needs to look at the wider retail landscape” and find a way to connect with shoppers.
“I work on the premise that I am competing as much against LK Bennett as I am other wine retailers. I am competing for the consumer’s share of wallet. To do that we have to be relevant to them and what they want,” he says.
“By doing something a bit more bonkers means you can grab people’s attention and get people talking about it. It is all about brand awareness.”
Stop and look
Hence the idea of the foxes. Akintola wanted to have some sort of promotion that could work feature in every Oddbins shop window that would make people stop and take a look.
Even the story behind how the foxes were made was carefully thought through. Rather than go and buy a set of off the peg foxes from a toy manufacturer Akintola and his team sourced a specialist model maker in Bath, Wild & Wood, run by Susie Sage and Katrina Nicholas.
As a result each of the foxes are all painstakingly created, down to individual watches in breast pockets. Each of the exclusive foxes will be auctioned off to the public by a number of celebrities, including cricketer, Sir Ian Botham, and actress, Olivia Colman, helping to raise money for their personally chosen charities in December. Creating, hopefully, a second wave of publicity for the #WhatTheFox campaign.
But the success of the fox campaign has taken Akintola by surprise. Albeit a very welcome one, particularly as it has been driven by shares, likes and retweets on social media.
“These are the sort of people we want to attract to our stores because they like the idea of shopping at Oddbins because of what we stand for and not because of a price promotion. But I was not expecting to get quite as much traction as it has.”
All rather Odd...
It also follows a serious of similar campaigns that Akintola has masterminded over recent years designed to raise its profile and create a reputation, an image, a personality for the Oddbins brand.
A sort of method in the madness if you like.
There was, for example, the Odd Bin that was the star of some of its previous campaigns. An actual bin filmed to look like it was going on a series of adventures in London, following people down the street, dispensing full bottles of wine to passers-by, even feeding ducks in the local park.
It is probably easier to look at the video (above) than try and explain it.
Driving customers to Oddbins' stores
It is one thing attracting media headlines, social media shares and articles, like this, highlighting what they do, but the key thing about the Oddbins oddball, largely social media campaigns, is that they are driving customers to their business.
Akintola says there has been an increase of 25% in traffic to its website since the #WhatTheFox Christmas advert started running in mid-November.
It will, no doubt, get even more traffic and media coverage over the next 48 hours as its anti-Black Friday stance can only gain publicity as sales fever hits the UK.
Its shops will be displaying posters declaring "0% off" or wines usually priced at £7.75 being promoted at £7.75.
In a press statement Akintola said: “We will offer fantastic wines, beers and spirits at exactly the same great prices be it yesterday, today, tomorrow, on Black Friday and beyond.”
And to rub it in he added: “We will not offer artificial discounts, attempt to get rid of wonky stock, cannibalise our own sales or pressure our customers to jump, like lemmings with credit cards, into the collective madness of Black Friday. There are lots of great American imports – Netflix, Ben & Jerry’s, Oregon Pinot Noir, Boris Johnson, to name a few – but Black Friday isn’t one of them.”
Whether you like the approach or not it is hard not to be taken in by such a fresh, alternative attitude that in Oddbins’ case is putting the brand back on the retail agenda for all the right reasons.