What comes across from Galvins Carry Out in Carrigaline, County Cork, the most-recent NOffLA Off-Licence of the Year, is the sheer enthusiasm and love for what they do as displayed by the staff.
On the day that I drop in to see the outlet for myself, David O’Keeffe, National Sales Manager for the Barry Group is paying a visit too.
He has no doubts as to why they won: “Location, good parking and range of product which has always kept up with the trends,” he says, “They listen to their customers and the staff are on good terms with everybody. Indeed, they take their business seriously – but not themselves,” he adds.
The outlet also participates in training courses – everyone behind the counter has an interest in what they sell.
“Midleton Distillery, the Clonakilty Gin school, craft beer courses, wine courses…” counts out Victoria Alexander, one of the two managers there, in explaining the range of training undertaken as a matter of routine, “… and we also do a lot of charity events; we’re involved in the Tidy Towns and run a wine-tasting event for it every year. We’re very community involved.”
Such community involvement even stretches to a ‘dog bar’ outside the front door. It’s not only customers who can get thirsty on hot Summer days!
Proprietor Barry Galvin sums it up: “It’s an exciting place to go shopping”.
Galvin family values
Barry himself continues a lengthy family history steeped in the off-trade. The Galvins name is highly respected locally, with three retail outlets – in Dublin’s Clondalkin, in Carrigaline and one in Bandon Road – where Barry’s grandfather John was born above the shop, then a pub owned by the Galvins.
Today, Barry also owns Galvins Cash & Carry.
As such, Galvins of Carrigaline represents the first-ever Carry Out winner from among the 102 outlets in the Carry Out franchise although Barry’s father once won it way back in 1991 when he’d a Galvins store in Douglas.
Winning the award
As is so often the case, no one in the shop expected to win the award.
Barry himself wasn’t even present at the ceremony having just returned from a skiing holiday.
“I was looking at a warmed-up lasagne and a cup of tea as I followed it online,” he smiles. And he distinctly remembers a splinter of jealousy when he heard that his friend John Fleming’s Carry Out in Killarney had won Best Off-Licence in Munster.
He’d just finished texting his congratulations to John when Galvins was announced as the Overall Winner.
“I didn’t see it coming,” he admits now.
Dave Kinsella and Victoria Alexander had gone up to Dublin to attend the event in his stead.
Since winning, the store has seen a lot of visitors, says Victoria.
“They can see why we won it – the attention to detail, the displays, the range of product,” she says, adding that a lot of it is down to the staff. Being so knowledgeable, it’s often more about the staff than the product.
To pay a visit to Galvins Carry Out is to pay a visit to a cave of wonder.
“If you walk in the door” says Barry, “and take a 10-second walk it’s like Willie Wonka seeing the chocolate factory for the first time!”
Each section in the shop just gives you more and more of that ‘wow’ factor in terms of the breadth of product.
Its range of gins and whiskeys is huge – more than 80 gins can be found here stocked alongside a full range of whiskeys – and Galvins’ impressive range of Premium spirits also tends to sell well. Only this morning, a customer bought a €4,000 bottle of 1979 Port Ellen Scotch.
Barry reckons that they’re lucky in having the quality of local products that they do.
“It’s phenomenal,” he elaborates, “There’s Midleton Distillery, the Franciscan Well Brewery, the White Deer Brewery and the Kinsale Brewery & Distillery for starters.”
The shop is also very keen on supporting local, Victoria emphasises.
“Clonakilty just did a tasting here recently. People like to support local and our local products stand up to the best of them.”
As David O’Keeffe points out, “The shop’s range is geared towards the diversity among the local population. For example the Polish love their beers and sweet wines like Le Filou. They like their Perla honey beer too. In fact Galvins sells more Perla than all the rest of the international European beers put together here.”
These days people want to be healthy, so among the beer selection can be found three or four shelves of flavoured beers and non-alcoholic beers.
“Non-alcoholic has become huge” agrees Victoria, “so we’ve built a massive range of these beers. If you come in and want to purchase non-alcoholic beer you’ll find too many options to taste on one trip, so you’ll come back to try out the rest of the selection.”
Because you’ve something not commonly on offer, people will just come back, says Barry. “Sparkling wine, for example: we have it in 200ml bottles. You have to take risks and I always did.”
Barry’s always asking suppliers if there’s something ‘cool’ coming along. Sometimes it pays-off. Galvins Carry Out was the first in Ireland to order Beaujolais Noveau which Victoria put up on facebook.
“We push for delivery as fast as possible with new products,” says Barry, “Indeed there are so many whiskeys on stock that our Bandon Road outlet is not big enough for all of them.
“This sort of thing does create a buzz,” he says, pointing out that the Whiskey Society from Crosshaven visited recently.
Staffing & social media
The Carrigaline outlet has a staff of two managers in David Kinsella & Victoria Alexander, one full-timer and five part-timers. The shop imports some wine itself and makes a wine book available for customers to consult, but the staff are their own book of knowledge.
To help grow that knowledge, staff can take home bottles to taste.
“If something new comes in I’d open a bottle and everyone would taste it so that we can stand behind it,” explains Victoria.
For example there’s a whole range of flavours in Polish vodkas.
“Victoria opened a bottle of it and the staff tasted it,” says Barry, “All of them liked it and so everyone put it out on social media and Instagram.”
As a result they sold a couple of cases that same week – just because the staff had tasted it and word had spread out from there.
“We go to different distilleries and trips for our team-building & learning,” points out Victoria.
Barry agrees: “All in all we’re a family here and we all pull together if one of us is out sick.
“Vicky’s personality comes through in the shop too,” he adds, “She’s known by everyone locally.
RTDs have been lingering here for quite a long time says Barry who’d always had a good selection of spirits and was one of first to add RTDs to what’s become a massive range.
“Most outlets would pick four out of 12; we’d every flavour,” he explains, “They’ve been there for quite a few years but exploded very early on in Covid as people were at home, wanted to have fun and RTD cocktails were easy and not expensive.”
Even if he doesn’t personally like a product, Barry will still try to buy a diverse range of that product.
“Dave [Kinsella], for example, will more than likely remember the craft beer customers from last week and what they drank and so can readjust with them to help with their next purchase.
“You can’t challenge people too much but by coming into the shop at all, people are willing to take a degree of risk with guidance they can trust – and we have that trust of the community.”
In continuing to take risks, he believes he learns. Thus the outlet has a huge chilled beer section to offer the quality and range of chilled product he feels is necessary. This philosophy can be found everywhere in the shop.
“After all, we’re all doing fairly similar things so I just hope we’re doing it a bit better and a bit better consistently – and the Barry Group also offers great support – you need that with such a vast product range.”
It seems to be getting results.
Last week Victoria found the shop 20% busier than during Covid.
“Even when you’re that busy you have to have the shop at that standard consistently,” she explains.
In that she can be thankful to the staff and their own consistency of effort – and the suppliers of course!
“…And lot of work is also done behind the scenes by NOffLA,” she adds.
Better not leave that out!