NOffLA Speaks: Striving for Excellence

The 2011 National Off-Licence of the Year was Redmond’s of Ranelagh
The 2011 National Off-Licence of the Year was Redmond’s of Ranelagh

Martin Maloney outlines the many advantages for independent off-licence retailers of entering the NOffLA Off-Licence of the Year 2013 competition



15 May 2012

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Entry forms for the 2013 National Off-Licence Awards will be issued to members in the coming weeks. Judging for round one of the awards scheme will take place from Monday 28 May to Sunday 1 August. The second round of judging will be carried out between Monday 17 September and Friday 12 October. The award finals will be held on Monday 28 January 2013. 

Independent professional

In difficult economic times, it is initiatives such as this that distinguish the professional independent off-licence from other retailers. An awareness of the importance of knowledge and a desire for excellence are hallmarks of professionalism. It is as professionals that members of the independent off-trade sector will be able to capitalise on whatever opportunities are available to the industry during 2012. 


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 much more 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”.

Real victory

Entering the National Off-Licence of the Year Awards scheme is, for many, part of the operational management of their business. For many participants, the real “victory” to be achieved by participating in these awards is in preparing one’s business for assessment in this scheme. Given the demands of the independent off-trade, one rarely gets an opportunity to take a good hard look at one’s business. Have you made time to take an objective perspective on how you might improve things? Have you considered how your outlet actually compares with others in the industry? Well, the most effective way of achieving all of these things is to participate in the National Off-Licence of the Year Awards.

Winning a major award is a motivating factor for all entrants. However, those who enter the awards for the first time, perhaps tentatively, have discovered a range of benefits for participants. Stephen Dillon, of Next Door on Sundrive Road in Kimmage, Dublin 12, was the winner of the Best First Time Entrant last year. “The National Off-Licence Awards is a fantastic competition and well worth entering. Winning the title of ‘Best First Time Entrant’ gave the business a great boost of confidence in a very challenging trading environment. The staff took real pride in winning the award and many of our customers were very complimentary. The judging criteria kept our team focused on maintaining a high standard and the judges’ comments gave a fresh and independent assessment of the business. As independents, we must play to our strengths which are, providing a friendly professional service, good value and a great product range. The awards provide a framework for achieving this.”

Maintaining standards

These 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.

The very decision of entering for the awards places one in an objective frame of mind. It enables NOffLA members to stand back and take a long, hard and dispassionate view of their business. Given the frenetic pace of the independent off-trade, this is something that many proprietors very seldom get an opportunity to do properly. 

Mystery shopper

A recently introduced innovation to the awards is the inclusion of a mystery shopper who visits each participant’s outlet unannounced during the first round of the competition. The mystery shopper assesses customer relations, appearance of outlet, promotions, facility atmosphere, as well as staff knowledge and presentation and accounts for 50% of the overall result. David Cope, of Samuel C Cope in Castledermot, Athy, was the winner of last year’s Food Retailer Off-Licence of the Year. David sees this element as particularly useful. “If everyday, on opening our doors we asked ourselves ‘What would the mystery shopper think if he/she called now?’, we would be challenging ourselves. Entering this competition really does keep entrants on their toes”.

Improving the bottom line

Having made the decision to enter the awards scheme, the entry form and judging guidelines offer a comprehensive set of criteria against which to compare your own outlet. Even the most successful of stores will have particular strengths and weaknesses. Identifying these areas for the purposes of the awards scheme may prove useful in the short-term, but once identified, will prove very profitable, if acted upon, in the longer term.

A winner of the overall award twice, Cathal McHugh had 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.”



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