NOffLA News

Gene Russell, store manaher of O'Donovans Off-Licence in Midleton, Co. Cork
Gene Russell, store manaher of O'Donovans Off-Licence in Midleton, Co. Cork

Every month, ShelfLife brings you the latest news and musings from the National Off-Licence Association, compiled by its members. First up, its our regular outline of members’ favourite tipples, whereby Declan Brady of Worldwide Wines, Dunmore Road, Waterford, highlights his ongoing love for a flavoursome gin and tonic...



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11 July 2017

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Unique gins are the name of the game at World Wide Wines

Unique gins are the name of the game at World Wide Wines

I’m a little like the seasons when it comes to choosing my favourite drink. I have always been a big fan of G&Ts ever since I broke my pledge! Having been born and reared in a pub that sold several hundred dozen large bottles a week, pint bottles of Guinness etc, the chaser of choice was always a vodka and red lemonade.

So, when my friends would see me order a gin at the local bar, they thought I was just odd. Roll on 25 years and now they think I was ahead of the time! It would seem the whole world has gone mad on gin, and it’s about time too.

Five years ago, Claire and I even made our own gin. At the time I used 12 different botanicals and the people in the Gin Institute of London thought I was over-playing it with my selection. My instructor made me feel guilty for not staying true to a classic style of gin. While I did use 47% juniper to keep him happy, he was laughing at me going around like a mad scientist, tasting every different botanical in both dry and distilled format. We even used tea in ours; none of your fancy stuff, just Tetley’s Tea. He did agree that Barry’s Tea was a better option!

Claire kept insisting we should start making our own and to this day, every time we sample the gins we made, I’m reminded of that fact. In hindsight, we probably should have made the effort. She even has the name already and sketched the artwork. I remember Bombay Sapphire coming onto the market. Such a cool, trendy bottle with very different flavours compared to Gordon’s and Cork Dry Gin.

This was the first time gin had a trendy image, yet it was still another 15 years or so before a premium Irish gin was brought to market. And that was from Irish Distillers with an upmarket gin that sadly was well before its time. Now however, the amount of Irish gins on the market is truly amazing and our customers just can’t get enough of them.

My favourite gin at the moment is Thin Gin; it really delivers on all fronts. Great price, taste and you don’t need to have a fancy tonic to make it work. On a recent trip to Porto, everywhere we went, cafés and bars were advertising ‘white port and tonic’. What an amazing alternative to a good G&T with a lot less alcohol. Great if you have a lot on the next day! So if you get a chance, try a Dow’s White Port and tonic.


While everyone is enjoying the summer sunshine, NOffLA chairman Gary O’Donovan provides some checkpoints to help ensure you run your off-licence professionally and successfully over the summer months…

  1. Refrigeration: The challenge is to keep fridges full at all times
  2. Make sure ice is available, at all times
  3. The underage threat is at its highest level during the summer months. Ensure all staff have been RTC trained with NOffLA and they are constantly aware of their responsibilities in this regard when working.
  4. Receipts should be 100% company policy and represent good practice. Make sure your staff never give up issuing them, even though some customers don’t want them! Put them in a bag, bottle bag, or in with their change
  5. Remind customers that a bag levy of 22c is a government tax that you are duty-bound to charge!
  6. Brightness shows up dirt and dust, particularly at this time of year. This should be dealt with immediately upon detection
  7. Discourage all staff bringing gear bags/rucksacks to work unnecessarily. Warn them this behaviour can cause suspicion
  8. Name badges should be worn by staff at all times
  9. Employees must wear appropriate branded polo shirts/shirts and dark trousers. Tracksuits, jerseys and sport branded t-shirts are not a good look in an off-licence
  10. Outside the off-licence must be kept clean; morning, noon and night!
  11. Shelve-edge labels (SELs) must be correct and correctly located
  12. All relevant point of sale (POS) materials should be in place and monitored at all times.
  13. Remember; matches, lighters and Rizla papers are classed as tobacco products and should never be sold to those under 18 years of age
  14. Make sure all bulbs and LED lighting is working inside and outside the off-licence
  15. Garda ID cards, passports and driving licences should be the proven and accepted best forms of identification to accept. Make sure the picture is correct
  16. Always ask date of birth on ID and if not happy, ask for a second form of ID to corroborate the first!
  17. Always thank customers for bringing ID and urge them to bring ID every time to avoid disappointment.
  18. If possible, have a chalkboard/noticeboard near the counter, informing customers of upcoming sporting events, their times, dates and channels. Your customers will appreciate this
  19. Try and not have out-of-stocks.
  20. Staff must always be vigilant regarding shop theft, which is always opportunistic! Remind staff that vigilance, focus and busyness removes theft opportunities. You remove opportunity, you remove theft!

Have a great and safe summer’s trading!


Munster Off-Licence of the Year 2017, O’Donovan’s in the Riversdale Shopping Centre in Midleton, is a prime example of the high standards that can be reached when a team genuinely love their work. Gillian Hamill caught up with store manager Gene Russell to hear more about how the off-licence managed to impress this year’s judges…

An open, friendly atmosphere is all-important at O’Donovan’s of Midleton. Literally open, that is! Store manager Gene Russell is determined to give customers the best advice possible, whether that’s focused on food pairings or choosing the right bottle for a special occasion. And with regular wine tastings held at the weekends, Russell is often not adverse to cracking open a bottle there and then to give shoppers an opportunity to try before they buy.

Delivering on flavour and value

“We try and educate our customers and broaden their tastes and flavours, by opening and allowing them to taste different bottles,” he says. While no obligation is required on the part of the customer, Russell is confident this strategy will often result in a sale. “We chose wines that deliver on flavour and offer good value-for-money, and that’s what the customer wants,” he explains. “We’re prepared to stand over that and say, ‘Well I’ll open it, if you don’t like it, no problem’.”

It’s clear that Russell takes pride in being able to offer this type of specialist advice that shoppers couldn’t avail of in the multiples. “We taste thousands of wines a year and we go to all the trade fairs and I’m lucky to do that, so I just try and pass that knowledge on to the customer,” he adds.

It’s not just wine that the store’s team of five fully trained staff can offer expert advice on moreover. Russell has witnessed the explosion of the craft beer scene at first hand in recent years, with the result that the store now stocks more than 350 different varieties. O’Donovan’s at the Riversdale Shopping Centre in Midleton also benefits from a distinct geographical advantage. With the Jameson Distillery situated just down the road, so to speak, the shop is visited by many tourists who have been checking out the distillery. It therefore makes sense to offer the full Jameson range for their perusal and naturally the team at O’Donovan’s are well-versed in talking shoppers through the various options available.

Exciting industry times

Overall, Russell believes it is an exciting time to be involved in Ireland’s off-trade sector. “There are so many new distilleries opening, which is great for the industry at the moment,” he says. “Irish whiskies are fantastic and what’s
happening now as well is that because Irish whiskies have to be aged for three years before they can be classed as Irish, gin has also become a massive emerging trend.”

Bearing this in mind, O’Donovan’s also stocks an extensive selection of gins, within around 40 to choose from, ranging from those from far-flung climates, to indigenous options with a flavoursome combo of botanicals.

The right price point

While variety is crucial, Russell says price remains an important factor in shoppers’ purchasing decisions. “People like their €10 bottle of wine, but it has to be good quality,” he tells ShelfLife. “People will spend €15 or €20 for the weekend or for something more special.” In fact, Friday teatime is one of the store’s busiest times, with many customers calling in after work to pick up a bottle to enjoy during their down-time. “With the duty increases Ireland has seen in recent years, “a bottle of wine that was €7 or €8 a few years ago is now €10,” Russell adds. “The challenge
for us is to supply good quality at that particular price.”

Another USP for O’Donovan’s is the group’s willingness to stock varieties from local, small suppliers; an attitude that gives shoppers a chance to sample something truly new.

Sharing knowledge

All staff at the store have also completed NOffLA’s Responsible Trading in the Community (RTC) course, as well as participating in the association’s craft beer, cider and wine training modules. “We are keen to help our customers and if they ask a question we don’t know the answer to, we will find it out and share that information.”

Indeed it is this level of enthusiasm that led to O’Donovan’s Riversdale branch being crowned Munster Off-Licence of the Year 2017. A family-run business that has been operating for more than 40 years, extending over 16 different outlets, it is clear that Gene Russell has a passion for his role at O’Donovan’s, where he has been working for the past 14 years.

Speaking of the shop’s win at this year’s National Off-Licence of the Year awards, he tells ShelfLife: “I was very, very pleasantly surprised. I enjoy what I do and that came through to the judges. It was great for me because I have been with the company a long time. The shop had won it previously, so I was delighted to take it back again for O’Donovan’s because there’s a lot of competition out there. It’s great to receive that acknowledgement.” ■



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