“Customer service and customer service”
This year’s National Off-Licence of the Year was won by Jus de Vine in Portmarnock, North County Dublin. Pat Nolan spoke to Jus’s Brian McCann with Tommy and Julie Cullen with recently about life as a national winner.
31 May 2018 | 0
Jus de Vine in Portmarnock Town Centre counts itself no stranger to NOffLA’s winning enclosure.
For this year’s Off-Licence of the Year won the title in 1999 and 2000 – “So you could say our wins spanned two Millennia” quips de Vine’s Tommy Cullen, “and we’ve been knocking on the door ever since”.
Indeed, since 2000 the outlet has walked away with the Wine Shop of the Year title no less than 10 times – and God loves a trier.
“This year we made an extra bit of an effort and gave it one last go,” he says, “but actually winning it gave us the biggest (pleasant) surprise of our lives”.
The shop also invested in the installation of a Fine Wines room, a temperature- and humidity-controlled space that must have brought them up a notch or two in the last few years, believes Tommy’s daughter Julie.
“When we put in the unit here, we felt it was going to help us,” he admits, “If you spend money on something, you feel that this is going to make she shop better but customer service, customer service and customer service is also required to raise standards up a notch too.”
Jus de history
Jus de Vine began as a very small space – just 800 square feet. That original retail area is now used for storage. It was begun by Pauls Dempsey and McKenna who operated there for around 10 years before the present unit – which had been a wholesale bakery – came up for sale next door. With Tommy joining them in 1998 after two-and-a-half years out of the business they decided to extend the shop.
Tommy had originally bought Kellys on the Malahide Road in ’79, running it for some 16 years before joining team Jus.
Things were very different back then, he recalls.
“The supermarkets closed at six and didn’t open on a Sunday. Everything was much much simpler and there wasn’t the competition that there is today.”
Paul Dempsey left in 2001 and Julie became involved with Paul McKenna and Tommy in the business full-time having started there polishing bottles for pocket money at 14.
Today they have a full-time staff of five.
Jus de layout
For the bargain browser just popping in quickly for something, the front of the shop offers a goodly selection of differently-priced wines but a brief glance down the back assures the customer that quality wines can also be had from the attractive cherrywood shelves there, not to mention the glass-fronted Fine Wines room at the very back of the store.
“Unless you re-invent yourself in this business you’ll find it very difficult to survive,” believes Tommy, “To re-invent you need ‘specials’ and you need to know what your customer wants and be able to advise them.”
All five staff have a good knowledge of what they sell.
Jus de winner
So what has the win meant for Jus de Vine?
“It brings responsibility when you put the big sign outside and you get extra people coming in to see why this place won” Tommy explains, “so we do our best to be on our best behaviour all the time. This is why they’ve come in: to have a look – and we hope that they’ll come back again; that’s the purpose of the exercise.”
de Vine stock
Jus de Vine means home to around 900 wines including some rarities – ‘hens teeth’ says the sign!
Its selection of Fine Wines sees enough action to justify that Fine Wines room, says Tommy who points out that what’s in there includes the likes of Lynch Bages going back to 1989 and other fine wines of all the better vintages including 2000, 2005, 2009 and 2010.
“It’s very difficult to replace some of it,” he says, “But I’m happy to be able to satisfy the demands of our clients for this type of product – after all, we’re in it for the long haul.”
Which is just as well. Because with all the surrounding development going on and with Lidl having opened just down the road, there’s a discernible rise in footfall in the village, reports Julie.
“It’s great,” she says, “Portmarnock is beginning to develop as a small village with all the footfall which is beginning to grow to our advantage.”
“About 50% of our wine is red, 30% would be white and 8% would be sparkling,” says Tommy. Rosés comprise the balance.
“Prosecco is huge,” he says, “There’s continued growth in Prosecco. If you took Prosecco out of it, sparkling wine sales would be just ‘all right’.”
He points to Italy topping the red wine sales with valpollecillas and repassos followed by Spain with tempranillos, France (think Rhones and Bordeaux) and Argentina’s Malbecs.
French Burgundies take the lead in whites, followed by New Zealand sauvignon blancs, Italian pinot grigios and Spanish godellos.
Irish craft Pale Ales continue to top the popularity stakes in beers at the shop and if you’re gluten-intolerant, you’ll find yourself pleasantly surprised at the extensive range on offer here.
As for spirits, “… it’s gin, gin and more gin,” smiles Tommy, “These are predominantly Irish gins where, if you’d been talking to me five or six years ago, it would have been CDGs and Tanquerays”.
The outlet boasts some 43 gins to entice the customerial palate.
“We get someone in every second day looking for a gin we don’t have, it’s phenomenal.”
With so many years’ experience, Tommy can tell just by a customer’s demeanour on leaving the shop how pleased he or she has been with their visit.
“I can tell if a customer is happy by the way he or she holds their bottle of wine on leaving,” he explains, “Do they hold it low by the neck in one hand or do they hold it mid-torso?”
Presumably the latter is the happier customer….
Any last thoughts?
“Yes” responds Julie, “If anyone hasn’t come out to Jus de Vine they should – they don’t know what they’re missing!”
I take my leave clutching my bottle of wine.