Surviving the recession is proving challenging for everyone. Those in the independent off-trade are no different. However, we can sometimes be constricted by our single-minded focus on that very survival. While necessity can often be the mother of invention, it is difficult to consider innovation when your back is against the wall.
For Ruth Deveney, of Deveney’s of Dundrum, it is such innovation which has provided a definitive means of boosting her business, reviving her relationships with customers and providing her with some direct hands-on activity that gets results.
Like many retailers, Ruth was reacting in the usual way to the economic crisis. “We cut staff and overheads”, but she knew that this wasn’t enough: “We had to look for other ways to generate customers and sales.” However, the independent off-trade weren’t the only alcohol retailers fighting for a slice of a dwindling cake. “It’s been pretty difficult with competition from both the multiple and convenience sectors. Alcohol was being used by both sectors to drive footfall. We needed to distinguish ourselves.”
For Ruth Deveney, that distinction in the marketplace came about almost accidentally. “Two years ago, I started writing a blog on specialist beers”, she explains, pointing out that it was as much a learning experience as anything. “I really wrote it from an amateur point of view. I really wanted to better myself.”
Having written the blog for six months, Ruth was “really surprised when it took off”. People wanted to read what she had to say. They wanted to share in her learning experience, but they also wanted to try these beers for themselves. This was no longer just something that Ruth was doing for herself, but for her business. “We invested in a new fridge and started a beer club on the back of the success of the blog.” Linking the two elements proved straightforward. “Each month, I pick a theme [to write about] and invite the beer club members along [to the shop].”
The beer club was successful from the outset with “40 to 50 for a tasting of Belgian beers” at the first gathering. “Since then, the numbers have fluctuated hugely” – and not always for reasons that she can explain. The other aspect was the cost of the initiative. To do it properly meant stocking a wide range of specialist beers. “It was a bit of risk, but it did distinguish us from other alcohol retailers. Multiples are just interested in carrying the necessary range.”
On foot of the success of the blog, Ruth set up a page on Facebook and a Twitter page, allowing short messages to be sent to her “followers” either with news or directing them to a new entry in her blog.
Online & offline
The key to capitalising on the online success was to link it to something in the offline “real” world. “I set up our first mock beer festival in February 2010 in aid of Focus Ireland. It was during the worst weather, including the snow. But the place was a jam-packed full house. We got great write-ups as I had invited the press along. John Wilson now writes about beer every third week in Irish Times as a result.”
Lughnasa Beer Festival
Ruth is currently putting the finishing touches to an August beer festival, which is expected to attract 800 ticketholders, who will be able to experience over 200 premium beers, with Irish beer specialists and brewer representatives from many countries, including the UK, Czechoslovakia and Lithuania. Essentially, Ireland’s first bottled beer festival, the five hour event is about building brand awareness for Deveney’s.
Deveney’s of Dundrum Lughnasa Beer Festival will take place on 20 August 2010 at the Pod Complex in Harcourt Street from 5pm to 10pm. Admission is by ticket only, which can be purchased online, at Deveney’s or at a number of specialist Dublin off-licences. You can read Ruth’s blog at Deveneysbeer.blogspot.com