Beer is big in Molloys Liquor Store in Dublin’s Francis Street – especially the extensive range of chilled craft beer on offer here which spreads itself across three fridges as well as a number of shelves, easily matching the other fridges full of the more traditional ‘macro beers’ in the this Liberties outlet.
At 3,000 sq ft (or 2,200 sq ft retail) this off-licence in the heart of Dublin won this year’s National Off-Licence of the Year award.
Molloy’s originated in the on-trade but over the years the company saw the attraction for – and trend towards – takeout and began off-trading from a hatch in its original Tallaght pub, The Fox’s Covert.
There are now seven off-licences and two pubs in the Molloys chain and the award-wining Liberties outlet has lived here these past 16 years having opened in January 2005.
It’s the first such win for Molloys and the staff here have noticed an increase in footfall since winning the title according to Paddy Burke who manages the outlet.
“It puts us on the map too,” adds Richard Molloy who oversees the overall Molloy’s operation, “It can be hard enough for some people to find us but over time the store has got a reputation and sales have been increasing over the years even before this win.”
But this award (plus living in Covid times) means that people are now actively seeking it out, he says.
“Our customers are also proud to have been the shop’s original customers before our award was announced,” he adds.
At the moment, it’s hard to differentiate between whether this rise in customer numbers is because of the award, because of Covid-19 or because… it’s Summer; most probably all three. But comments fed back to the staff from customers suggest that a lot of them are well aware of the shop’s win.
Some visitors might even be fellow off-licensees.
“When anyone else won the NOffLA award before, I’d go out to visit it to get inspiration from it,” says Richard.
Large picture windows complement the spotless exterior frontage. As the judges remarked at the time, “All tidy outside and this is a very busy street, lots of pedestrians and lots of traffic”.
What makes a winner?
Always a perplexing question, Paddy Burke ventures that “the staff” would form a large part of the answer here.
“They’re good guys who know their product,” he says.
“Yes, staff Number One,” agrees Richard, “They’re very welcoming and always have a smile on their face. It’s simple things like that that are hard to instil in people. They’re always willing to help and they have the knowledge. This is what separates the independent off-licences from the supermarkets.
“But it’s also the range of goods and specialist items like limited editions – the hard-to-get stuff, premium products, things that are considered to be in short supply, ‘though we’re also very good on craft beers, wines and spirits etc; rather than it being any one thing, it’s a good balance,” he concludes.
Molloy’s certainly has something of a reputation for having rare whiskeys, says Paddy.
“When there’s a new Midleton release we can get up to 20 calls a day,” he remarks, adding that the demand for rare whiskeys is more from tourists than the local trade.
The store’s staff complement comprises a manager, an assistant manager, two full-time and two part-time staff.
“We do a lot of training with the staff,” explains Richard, “We encourage them to do the Wine & Spirits Educational Trust courses and we also make use of wine specialist Maureen O’Hara to help us with wine appreciation.”
When opportunities to visit breweries and distilleries arise, the staff are encouraged to go visit, go learn.
“A lot of the time it’s down to the person and what they’re passionate about at home,” says Richard, “That’s where the real knowledge and passion comes through.
“We’d always have had one or two who’re particularly good at craft beers or wines etc.
“You need huge product knowledge in a specialist off-licence, unlike a clothes or sports shop,” he points out, “Here, you need to know where the product is distilled, what’s the history of it etc – and the range is constantly expanding too.”
Beer remains the largest-selling sales category in Molloy’s.
“Craft has overtaken the macro-beers,” claims Richard, estimating beers at around 40% of the outlet’s turnover. Wines and spirits would each contribute around 30% to overall turnover, he adds.
“It’s the refrigeration of the beers here that sets us apart. We can’t compete on price alone, although we come pretty close, but we can offer a huge variety of cold chilled beer to our customers.”
Even so, Guinness remains one of the mainstays in the beer category, becoming huge during Covid-19.
Wines of uniquity
Molloy’s buys a lot of its wine direct from the producers and in presenting this to consumers it has instigated a rating system to help the shopper appraise the wine pre-purchase.
“Wine can be quite daunting and confusing but in this day and age everything is reviewed” Richard explains, “so we got Maureen O’Hara to rate our own wines against internationally-recognised brands.”
Cocktails on the bounce
These days cocktails sell particularly well following the huge bounce they received from Lockdown as did wine and Prosecco. There has also been a tendency towards treating oneself a bit more when visiting the off-licence.
Ready To Drink is another category enjoying a boom in sales – especially the Hard Seltzers.
“It’s what the younger adult generation are looking to buy,” he says, “It goes bigger in the Summer as do spirits – anything to do with cocktails – including cocktail constituents and purees for cocktails or even our eight-piece cocktail kits – is huge, as is demand for Irish whiskey.”
Another winning arm for the outlet is Molloy’s Express Delivery service for same day delivery or collection.
Gifting a speciality
Among the outlet’s strengths as noted by the judges are ‘good parking’, ‘big shop with lovely windows’, ‘knowledgeable and friendly team’ and personal touches like ‘will wrap foc any wine in cellophane’.
Gifts form a significant part of the store’s appeal.
“At some point in the year our customers will need a gift,” points out Paddy Burke, “They mightn’t buy one every week but as one of our staff once said, ‘It’s a customer’s birthday every day’.”
And so the Liberties outlet offers gift items for Fathers’ Day or for Valentine’s Day which the staff will happily gift-wrap for free for the customer.
“Around Christmas we’ll have a few hampers etc,” says Richard, “Gifting is an area we’re always trying to grow.”
Together, the gift and cocktail markets are “exploding” he says, “… and they’d been doing so to some extent in the years leading up to the pandemic.
“We’d been trying certain things in that area but they’d not been happening for us – but with the pandemic, sales there increased as people got to wondering, ‘How can I recreate the bar experience at home?’.”
The answer, it seems, was not available from the local supermarket.
But it was available from this year’s Off-Licence of the Year.