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NOffLA Speaks – New beginnings?

NOffLA hopes that our new government equals a fresh new start for the off-trade sector, but in the meantime oulines how independent outlets can continue to excel.

Now that the new Fine Gael and Labour coalition government has entered into power, it seems unlikely that it – or indeed any new government – would be able to address our woes effectively in the short term. We can only hope that a new government represents an opportunity for a new start.

In the meantime, we can, as independent professionals, concentrate on all that is exceptional about the independent off-trade
in Ireland and prepare for the better times that lie ahead. Members of the National Off-Licence Association continue to distinguish themselves from other retailers as those who want to stand out from the crowd in terms of their professionalism and commitment to high standards. It is those who can distinguish themselves as being professional about their business who are more likely to remain in business when the recovery takes place.

Acknowledging excellence

The National Off-Licence of the Year awards initiative, now in its fifteenth year, is one of the major highlights of the drinks industry calendar. It was established to reward standards of excellence in the independent off-licence sector and promotes excellence in retail standards. That success is very evident to anyone familiar with today’s independent off-trade in Ireland. The awards scheme has allowed the very best independent outlets to receive recognition and to flourish, while those outlets which aspire to excellence are provided with a map and game plan by which to do so.

The National Off-Licence of the Year awards have become an important process for those interested in setting and maintaining standards of excellence in the independent off-trade.

Those who have participated in the scheme in the past would encourage all NOffLA members to enter the scheme, the payback for which is about much more than the chance to win an award. Because of the structured nature of the adjudication process, the preparation for, and participation in, the scheme helps to focus on the strengths and weaknesses of a particular outlet. Information gleaned from the report of the judges indicating where marks were awarded under various headings may be used to identify areas for improvement.

A twice-winner of the overall award, Cathal McHugh has no doubt about the benefits of entering the awards scheme. “You’ve got to keep an eye on the fact that preparing for this award is for the business and the customers. This is about driving the business forward and constantly trying to improve. It’s all about improving your bottom line.”

Training and knowledge

Training and knowledge are essential ingredients for excellence. Training courses such as the Responsible Trading in the Community (RTC) scheme ensure that those working in the independent off-trade distinguish themselves from others. They are aware of the responsibilities of selling alcohol. They strive to know more about the beers, wines and spirits that they handle. They engage with customers and suppliers as they provide as much of a service than that of merely selling the product. As one NOffLA member recently put it when explaining his motivation for investing in staff training: “No matter how good a shop is, if the customer is not meeting the right person, it’s going to fail”.

High standards

The recent Gold Star Awards demonstrate the expertise of NOffLA’s members and associate members. There is a great opportunity for all NOffLA members to build on the success of the show and the awards by using this expertise to maximise the marketing opportunities available through the award-winning wines and to be associated with the very best products on offer. Capitalise on the Gold Star Awards by ensuring that your outlet has a range of award-winning wines, not just for the ensuing sales, but to demonstrate that your outlet values high standards.

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