Cheers to that!

Molloys Off-licence Clondalkin, Dublin was named the NOffLA Off-licence of the Year 2024. Fionnuala Carolan spoke to Richard Molloy, managing director of Molloys chain of off-licences and pubs about the history of this family business and their delight at the recognition the award brings to their hard-working staff

When I spoke to Richard Molloy he was just back from Prowein in Düsseldorf, a must-attend German wine fair for those in the trade who want to source their own products and build relationships with suppliers. “We bring in a good portion of our own wines to the shops so we go every year and we have meetings lined up to meet our suppliers and we try to find new suppliers,” he explains. “We try to go direct and source things ourselves and it’s a lot more work but it helps us cut out the middle man and pass on the savings to the customers.”
“We try to offer really good value and people would often say to us that they want a bottle of wine for over €20 but we will say, “well this bottle is €15 but it’s really good and it would be €20 in another off-licence”. Genuinely if we get a better price, we give it back to the customers,” he says.

Kevin Molloy, owner and his son Richard Molloy, managing director of Molloys

Richard is the general manager of Molloys which includes seven off-licences and two pubs around Dublin and he is the third generation Molloy to run the family business. The off-licences are located in Clondalkin, Ballyfermot, Clonsilla, Finglas, The Liberties, Tallaght and Leopardstown Valley.
It all began when his grandad bought a pub in Tallaght in 1933 and they proudly marked their 90th anniversary in business last year. They still own that pub which is called The Foxes Covert named so because the family that Richard’s grandad bought it from were called Fox. And they still retain the image of the fox in the Molloys logo. The other pub is situated in the Gallops in Leopardstown.
“My granddad died when my Dad was only 14 and my Dad worked in the business from then,” he explains. “He eventually started opening more pubs around Dublin and there were 13 pubs at the height of it.” The off-licence was not a known concept in Ireland back in the late 60s or early 70s but they started to hear of off-licences opening in England and the strange concept of people bringing alcohol home with them.
“He decided to open a hatch on the side of the pub in Tallaght. And people were very interested in that. Then gradually we started opening off-licences beside each pub. Then it became bigger and bigger and the cost of running pubs increased so we started to close a few of the pubs and have some standalone off-licences instead,” he explains.
Richard fondly recalls working in the business as a kid. “It was the best paid job ever as I used to wheel the trolley out for customers to their cars and then they’d give you a few coins. I worked there during college too. I always presumed I’d go into the business as I love the industry.”
After school he studied business and law but happily came on board as soon as college was finished. “My Dad is still involved and he checks the figures and it’s always good to hear what his opinions are and get his expertise,” says Richard.

Minimum Unit Pricing

The benefits of MUP are being eroded by inflation and huge excise costs on alcohol

While off-licences seemed like the easier way to sell alcohol for a while trends are changing again and the off-licence business is becoming a difficult sector with costs going up across the board.
“Unfortunately it’s become more difficult with the costs of inflation over the past few years and even the cost of glass bottles and the suppliers are putting up costs and sometimes the customer might not realise all the cost increases we are dealing with,” says Richard.
Minimum unit pricing was designed to protect the smaller operator against the might of the multiples who were selling alcohol as a loss leader. However the benefits of this are being eroded by inflation and huge excise costs on alcohol.
“With inflation, MUP is becoming a bit less and less protective of the price of things. As the costs go up we have to cover those costs so we have to become stronger in other ways,” says Richard.
Also highlighting this point was NOffLA chairman, Cathal McHugh on the night of the awards who said “We’ve had Minimum Unit Pricing in place for over two years now, which stops alcohol from being sold at dangerously low costs, meaning that Ireland’s excise scheme is no longer justifiable on the basis of public health. And, with the State already receiving record tax revenues, it is time for the government to alleviate the persistent cost pressures on firms by bringing excise rates in line with European levels.”
Richard says that in light of this the customer service element of the independent off-licence has to be their unique selling point. “If you go into a supermarket off-licence area there isn’t anyone there that you can talk to about wines or a recommendation for a gift or ask what kind of style you like. Our range would be much broader than a supermarkets too,” he states.
Molloys have been championing craft beer for a number of years and their Liberties store is particularly strong in this area so they were delighted to also be awarded the Guinness Beer Specialist of the Year 2024 at this year’s awards.

Training and revamps

Maureen O’Hara is the resident wine expert for Molloys. She trains the staff on how to appreciate and sell wine

With around 200 staff between the off-licences and pubs, a lot of emphasis is put on training and retaining staff. Maureen O’Hara is Molloy’s wine expert and she conducts internal training with all the shops every year and then throughout the year she carries out tastings in the stores on any new products. The staff also go on WSET courses each year.
“Wine is complicated at the different levels. We try to nurture the staff’s interest to keep them involved,” explains Richard. “There is a huge amount of knowledge to learn in the three main categories for beer, wine and spirits. We try to visit local breweries and we visited Whiplash Brewery there last year. We also did a collaboration with Teeling’s last year for the 90th anniversary and one with Rascals Beer. We build relationships with these people as well. They know our staff and there is a camaraderie there within the industry so it’s important to form these relationships,” he says.
Pushing the business forward even more they recently completed a revamp on the shop in Tallaght and designed a blueprint that they intend to roll out throughout all the stores over the next few years. “We wanted to show what an off-licence of the future should look like. One of the things we focused on was a wine rating system that simplifies the wine buying process. Our wine expert rates all of our wines and then we have a rating colour coded system ranging from excellent to good, very good etc. The customer can come in and feel confident when choosing, as wine can be complicated but we want to make it fun and accessible,” explains Richard.

Clondalkin store

Molloys Liquor Store, Clondalkin, NOffLa National Off-Licence of the Year. Receiving their award are Sean Collins, assistant manager, Molloys Clondalkin, Luke McGovern, sales assistant, Richard Molloy, MD, Sabrina Ellis, sales assistant and Hazel Fitzgibbon, store manager

Molloys has won the Off-licence of the Year Award previously for the shop in the Liberties but this year is all about Molloy’s Clondalkin and Richard believes that a lot of this is down to the store’s manager Hazel Fitzgibbon.
“We were delighted to win it but it’s really Hazel and the team in Clondalkin that deserve the praise as they are the ones facing the customers and keeping them coming back. Hazel started working in the pub in Tallaght originally so she’s with us 20 odd years and has great experience from being customer facing in the pub and she took that into the shop and makes it work in the retail environment. Hazel knows customers by name and there is a real local feeling to that store,” he says.
The Liberties store won its award during Covid and the awards night was online so he says that it was nice this time around that himself and his staff were all there in person. “It was definitely a nice moment for me and the staff. We were surprised as it’s very difficult to win it,” admits Richard. “We’ve been in it for years and it’s a great way to benchmark you on how you’re doing.”
Giving credit to the staff, he says that working in an off-licence involves long unsociable hours so that when they receive an award it really means a lot. “When everyone else is going in to buy their drinks to go to a party or relax at home, our staff are there working away. When they get an award, especially when it’s from the likes of NOffLa and you are being compared to all the best in the business, it’s a big deal for us.

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