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Important and Substantial Expression of Variety












Nicholas Bourke Returns
Exceptional McLaren Vale












The Australian Wine Industry
The Liquor Wars - Woolworths Crush a Dismal Coles - Part 2
Sunday, 5th June, 2011  - David Farmer
Theo Karedis - impeccable timing

Woolworths having made the decision in the mid to late 1990s to dominate retail liquor made the bold move to purchase Dan Murphy's in 1998. The purchase price was about $55 million and the five shops, all in Melbourne had an annual turnover of around $100 million. Coles may have shown some interest but were never serious bidders and it was to be four years before the two chains would finally battle over the purchase of the last significant independent retailer, the Sydney based Theos.

In 1998 few saw the importance of the Dan Murphy purchase which we now see altered the balance of power not only between Woolworths and Coles but between producers, wholesalers and retailers.

After 1998 Woolworths bought a large number of independent stores and small chains, seemingly with no plan and for no reason. They of course knew exactly what they were doing which was undermining and finally eliminating any credible competition.

In the early 2000s the Coles supermarkets and its Myer department stores were in such poor shape that it can be assumed little time was given to future directions of the liquor division. All seemed to be well and no doubt the assumption was made that this division was one less headache and could be safely left alone and based in Sydney was in any case removed from head-office interference. As explained in The Liquor Wars Woolworths vs Coles 2011 Part 1, Coles-Liquorland did not understand the Woolworths threat.

Those working at Theos, watched with growing alarm the Woolworths purchase of independent retailers in the N.S.W. market. As well rumours swirled about likely Sydney sites for Dan Murphy stores as it was common knowledge they were on the march north. Numerous discussions were held at Theos as to how to combat this threat, though at this stage Theo and his son Greg did not reveal their thinking. There was however agreement about one thing, Dan Murphy could not be beaten. As a family company Theos did not have the resources to purchase the real estate and build large big-box liquor stores.

While Theos had often been approached informally by the two majors, Theo had seen no reason to sell. Now it was different with the recognition that Dan Murphy and equally the significant muscle of a group the size of Woolworths posed a real threat to the business, one which had been patiently built over 45 years.

Theo made his decision in 2002 and sale negotiations began with both majors. Coles had the code name "bourbon" and Woolworths was "cognac". By October 2002 negotiations were reaching a conclusion and the sale to Coles-Liquorland was announced in December, 2002. Coles were very confident that Theos was the answer to the push by Woolworths into Sydney and would thwart the expansion plans of Dan Murphy's.

A report by Leonie Wood, In the Sydney Morning Herald, December 18th 2002; 'Fletcher discounts $300m price tag for Theo's', commented: "...Craig Watkins, the Managing Director of Liquorland, which is part of Coles, said yesterday that the retailer did not want to change the style of Theo's and its sister brand, The Crown of the Hill, which draw about $175 million of annual sales from customers buying mid-level and premium brand wines at low to mid-level prices..."

As mentioned in Part 1, Coles were astounded to find that many companies had given Theos more favourable trading terms, and the realisation that they had, over many years, left a lot of 'money on the table' was to have far reaching consequences.

Craig Watkins did offer the thought that if he had paid too much for Theos the money being reclaimed from suppliers, charged back for several years, plus the new trading terms would help make up the difference. Interestingly when asked why they purchased Theos, Coles-Liquorland executives were astonished that such a question could be asked, and when pushed as to how Theos could be used to fight Dan Murphy would say, we have done our numbers. They were soon to get a better idea of what they had purchased and the numbers.

Settlement was in March, 2003 while a week before Dan Murphy had opened its first Sydney store in Enfield. Upon being shown the initial full page advertisement Theo remarked that he was one week out in his timing. A second store soon opened in Hurstville.

Two of the Theos stores were close to the Dan Murphy outlets. They were reliable shops; quite large with a wide product range and good prices, both with excellent storage, meaning efficient handling of stock, and critically both had customer parking. They had been part of Theos for decades and were run by long term employees who knew their customers.

The turnover of the Enfield store instantly dropped from $52,000 to $25,000 per week while Hurstville declined over a few weeks from $75,000 to $40,000. Both stores had been destroyed and the sales declines did not stop at half.

This would startle most retailers but Craig Watkins was not unduly worried as studies they had done showed the Dan Murphy model was flawed. Indeed at a meeting with Theos executives the experienced retailer from Coles head-office and Managing Director of Food and Liquor Alan Williamson told them that Coles had doubts about 'big-box' retailing and it was likely to be leading liquor retailing in the wrong direction.

[Incidentally at the time it was amazing how many experience liquor retailers argued that Dan Murphy was a Melbourne phenomena and would not succeed in Sydney as the market was different. WA retailers were still arguing this when Dan Murphy opened in Perth in 2009.]

Later news on the north shore of Sydney was not much better. After the Coles buy-out a store they owned at Hornsby which traded as Quaffers, was converted to the successful brand of Crown of the Hill - a chain of five stores which Theo kept to the north shore. With turnover up at $125,000 per week this conversion was partially successful. Dan Murphy opened nearby in a better location and turnover of this store collapsed. It was later to be closed.

Sometime in mid 2004 the new managing director of liquor, Peter Scott, made a fleeting visit to Sydney to review among other matters the integration of Theos. One of his decisions was to announce to one startled Theos executive that the Crown of Hill was an '80s brand'. The stores were to be renamed Theos which would also lead to cost savings. In a remarkably short time, certainly within three months the turnover of these stores had halved. The finest of these stores, Forestville had opened in 1955 and was quite famous among its loyal customers. It had never traded below $200,000 a week in the previous 20 years. This outlet is now branded First Choice (Coles big box brand) and trades below $100,000 a week.

A further distraction in March, 2004 was the decision by the newly recruited Managing Director for Coles food and liquor, Steven Cain, to move the liquor head office to Melbourne. The move held no appeal to senior staff, particularly in the middle of a real estate boom, and Craig Watkins and many senior managers left the group. It was joked that the number worth keeping could have been sent south in a taxi.

Coles under CEO John Fletcher, perhaps from 2004, was looking to sell the company, and this was completed successfully with the sale to Wesfarmers. For many years prior to the sale the emphasis had been on containing running costs and particularly capital expenditures. This was done to improve the bottom line as the business was dressed up for sale. The impact though was considerable and added to the developing problems of the liquor business.

The combination of these events was to prove too much and a rampant Woolworths with no distractions and a single focus rapidly overwhelmed Coles-Liquorland. It was to get worse for Coles-Liquorland.

A problem for both groups was the Queensland market where the sale of retail liquor was the right of owners of hotels. The chains had shied away from the purchase of hotels as much of the purchase price was embedded in running the on-licence part of the hotel, a skill they lacked. Also at the back of their minds was the thought that just possibly the granting of retail outlets by the Queensland Government might be 'freed-up' making the expensive purchase of hotels redundant.

In 2000 Woolworths' CEO Roger Corbett had a chance meeting with Bruce Mathieson whose family group had owned hotels since 1974. This led to a joint venture to tackle the Queensland market. By 2004 this group, MGW, controlled 30 hotels. In 2003 the Fosters Brewing Group floated its hotel division ALH of 131 hotels including many significant hotels and attached retail stores in Queensland. A combined Woolworths-Mathieson group mounted a successful takeover in late 2004. Many of the hotels were on large sites suitable for the big-box style of Dan Murphy.

Woolworths with several decisive moves had by the end of 2004 outflanked Coles-Liquorland. What should have been an epic battle for domination of the Australian liquor market was over before it started. A fine illustration, assuming we need another, of how poor management decisions have very long term effects.

In part 3 I will discuss the independent liquor retailers and the perilous position of suppliers.

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Thursday, 15th June, 2006

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Tuesday, 13th June, 2006

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Wednesday, 7th June, 2006

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Saturday, 28th January, 2006

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Saturday, 28th January, 2006

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Tuesday, 3rd January, 2006

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Wednesday, 21 December, 2005

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Tuesday, 20th December, 2005

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Friday, 16th December, 2005

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Thursday, 15th December, 2005

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Thursday, 15th December, 2005

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Thursday, 15th December, 2005

Seven Long Years Ago

Monday, 12th December, 2005

Grape Growers Consider Legal Action

Monday, 12th December, 2005

Worthless Contracts With McGuigan

Monday, 5th December, 2005

And the Cash Drain Goes On

Friday, 2nd December, 2005

Storage Shortage in California and Australia Too?

Wednesday, 30th November, 2005

A Global Gamble at Four Tenths of a Cent

Wednesday, 30th November, 2005

Simon Gilbert Expands with Cassegrain Purchase

Tuesday, 29th November, 2005

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Tuesday, 29th November, 2005

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Thursday, 24th November, 2005

McGuigan Signals Even Tougher Times for Grape Growers

Thursday, 24th November, 2005

Farewell White Burgundy, Welcome White Classic

Tuesday, 22nd November, 2005

An American Takes Charge

Tuesday, 8th November, 2005

Stocks on the Rise

Tuesday, 8th November, 2005

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Thursday, 27th October, 2005

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Wednesday, 26th October, 2005

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Thursday, 20th October, 2005

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Monday, 17th October, 2005

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Friday, 7th October, 2005

A Zork in the USA

Thursday, 29th September, 2005

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Thursday, 29th September, 2005

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Friday, 23rd September, 2005

The Xanadu Remnants Just Lingering On

Monday, 19th September, 2005

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Thursday, 15th September, 2005

Dividend Cut at Cockatoo

Thursday, 15th September, 2005

Bad News Not Over Yet

Wednesday, 14th September, 2005

The End of an Export Profit Bonanza

Wednesday, 14th September, 2005

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Tuesday, 13th September, 2005

A Prediction Fulfilled

Saturday, 10th September, 2005

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Saturday, 10th September, 2005

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Saturday, 10th September, 2005

Foster's Continues the Tidy Up as Growers Stay Nervous

Saturday, 10th September, 2005

An Expanding Success Story

Friday, 9th September, 2005

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Thursday, 8th September, 2005

Giving Wine the Status of Soft Drink

Tuesday, 6th September, 2005

Settlement Reached On Long Flat Brand

Monday, 5th September, 2005

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Saturday, 3rd September, 2005

Mixed Responses to Foster's Result

Wednesday, 31st August, 2005

So Far So Good at Fosters

Tuesday, 30th August, 2005

A US Listed Property Developer Enters the Wine Game

Monday, 29th August, 2005

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Saturday, 27th August, 2005

No Report from Evans & Tate but a Special on its Premium Wine

Saturday, 27th August, 2005

Consumers Disagree with Wine Experts

Saturday, 27th August, 2005

Woolworths has Bolted - Coles a Distant Second

Thursday, 25th August, 2005

Tailgating With the Adelaide Crows

Tuesday, 23rd August, 2005

Up to the Governor

Tuesday, 23rd August, 2005

A Million Penguins

Friday, 19th August, 2005

A Non Speaking Chairman and No Wonder

Wednesday, 17th August, 2005

One Small Step for Lion Nathan Wine

Thursday, 11th August, 2005

Barking up the Wrong Tree: The Retreat from Cork Gathers Pace

Thursday, 11th August, 2005

Two Giants Judge Port

Tuesday, 9th August, 2005

Knife and Fork Wines

Thursday, 4th August, 2005

Tough Going for Wine Industry Minors

Thursday, 4th August, 2005

Solid Growth Continues for Jacob's Creek

Monday, 1st August, 2005

More News on the South Australian Grape Crisis

Monday, 1st August, 2005

Tough Time to Start but First Little Sign of Improvement

Tuesday, 26th July 2005

A Shift from a Sellers Market to a Buyers Market

Sunday, 24th July, 2005

A Stamp of Approval

Wednesday, 20th July, 2005

Deloitte Finds Losses Aplenty

Wednesday, 20th July, 2005

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Tuesday, 19th July, 2005

Should the Grange Have Been Made and Henschke's Barnyard Character

Friday, 15th July, 2005

One Small Step - New York Changes

Friday, 15th July, 2005

Tallarook Use Old Ideas for New World Wines

Tuesday, 12th July, 2005

Sometimes We Are Just So Silly

Thursday, 7th July, 2005

The Disappearing Barramundi

Wednesday, 6th July, 2005

A $222 Million Loss of Value in a Year

Monday, 4th July, 2005

The Wine Investment Scandal: An Update

Monday, 4th July, 2005

What Australia Drinks: the Spirits Come Back

Tuesday, 28th June, 2005

Xanadu Hardly Idyllic for Shareholders

Tuesday, 21st June, 2005

Export of Sommeliers Needed

Tuesday, 21st June, 2005

Yellow Tail the Trendsetter

Wednesday, 15th June, 2005

Cleaning Corked Wine

Wednesday, 15th June, 2005

Stelvins for Adelaide

Wednesday, 15th June 2005

Straight Talking By the Man From Thomas Hardy

Tuesday, 7th June, 2005

The Downward Price Vortex Gathers Speed

Sunday, 5th June, 2005

Trying Until the End

Wednesday, 2nd June, 2005

What a Difference a Year Makes to SGARA

Thursday, 19th May, 2005

Holding up Well Ė All Things Considered

Tuesday, 10th May, 2005

One for the Brave Investor

Sunday, 8th May, 2005

We Talk with U.S. Importer Peter Weygandt

Friday, 29th April 2005

Ned Kelly Rides In

Wednesday, 27th April 2005

More on that Disappearing Wine

Tuesday, 26th April 2005

Wine Investment Takes Another Knock

Friday, 22th April 2005

Let the Hard Work Begin

Friday, 22th April 2005

Will a Desperate Company do a Desperate Thing?

Wednesday, 20th April 2005

Nearly Half are Yellowtails

Tuesday, 19th April 2005

The Smell of Death

Thursday, 7th April 2005

Fake Medals to Go

Thursday, 7th April 2005

An Update on Australian Wines in the U.K.Market

Saturday, 2nd April 2005

A Peep Behind the Wine Show Door

Thursday, 17 March 2005

Downward Wine Price Pressure Continues

Thursday, 17 March 2005

Make Me Some Clean Skins

Wednesday, 16 March 2005

The Fosterís-Southcorp Game of Bluff

Thursday, 10th March 2005

Greg Norman Back on the Winning List

Tuesday, 8th March 2005

Bridget Jones Enters the Wine Marketing Lexicon

Saturday, 12th February 2005

Mine is Bigger than Yours

Friday, 11th February 2005

Bridget Jones Enters the Wine Marketing Lexicon

Saturday, 12th February 2005

No Surprises from Foster's and Southcorp

Wednesday, 9th February, 2005

Jacob's Creek and Wyndham Estate Feel the Pressure

Saturday, 5th February, 2005

A Wine Merchantís Warning

Monday, 31st January 2005

Drinkers Will Smile and Investors Frown

Friday, 28th January 2005

Great News For Southcorp Shareholders - the Bid is for Cash

Monday, 17th January, 2005

A Record to Inspire Confidence?

Friday, 14th January, 2005

A Terrible Botch at Takeovers

Thursday, 13th January, 2005

AUSTRALIAN WINE INDUSTRY ARCHIVE 2004
Doctors Keep Pressing for Increased Wine Tax

Saturday, 25nd December, 2004

Wine Comes to the Big Screen

Wednesday, 22nd December, 2004

American Journalists Must be Wine Drinkers

Tuesday, 14th December, 2004

Memories of 1905

Tuesday, 14th December, 2004

ABARE Report Shows Meagre Returns for Grape growers

Monday, 15th November, 2004

The Value of a Brand

Tuesday, 9th November, 2004

What Governments Give...

Thursday, 28th October, 2004

Hot Weather to the Rescue

Tuesday, 26th October, 2004

The Battle for Pubs

Tuesday, 19th October, 2004

Back to Being a Cash Cow Good News for Investors

Tuesday, 19th October, 2004

Another $70m of Embarrassment for Fosterís Group

Wednesday, 13th October, 2004

A Good Idea at the Time

Friday, 1st October, 2004

How do You Grow a Wine Company While Cutting Vineyards and Stock?
The Answer is:

Tuesday, 2nd September, 2004

Glug visits the Adelaide Wine Show

Friday, 8th October, 2004

The Price Of Being One Industry

Tuesday, 29th June, 2004

Cork Amnesty Ė The Move to Screw Tops Continues Apace

Thursday, 16th October, 2004

Coming to a Bar Near You?

Wednesday, 8th September, 2004

Andrew Garrett Goodbye?

Tuesday, 24th August, 2004



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