Weathering the storm
Some interesting new Dublin city centre wine shops are holding their own against the supermarkets and multiples
The wine business in Ireland is going through difficult times. Representative body National Off-Licence Association says that 544 wine retailers have closed since 2008, with the loss of 3,000 jobs. Hard-pressed consumers have moved to the multiples which, helped by below-cost selling and heavy discounting, are taking an increasing share of the market. As the independents tend to sell more interesting (and therefore more expensive) wines, they have been hardest-hit. The rise in excise duty certainly didn’t help either.
The successful businesses all seem to benefit from a good location and offer a very different experience to the supermarkets. This includes a number of shops on the south side of Dublin city-centre.
As many shoppers migrated from the city centre, some wine shops followed suit. Old established firms moved either to the suburbs or industrial estates on the outskirts.
Of the “old school”, Mitchell & Son moved over the Liffey to the IFSC (and to Glasthule), and Morgans still run a bespoke wine business from the old Coq Hardi building on Baggot Street.
The north inner city probably has a wider selection, with a few very good shops including the Drink Store in Stoneybatter, Martins and Lilac Wines in Fairview, as well as Sweeney’s in Glasnevin.
But the last decade has seen a number of new, very different retailers set up business in the south city centre. The Corkscrew in Chatham Street was co-founded in 2004 by Peter Foley, who had been instrumental in bringing fine wine specialist Berry Brothers to the city centre. When Berry’s departed, he and colleagues Paul Foley (Peter’s son) and Colm Douglas reckoned there was still a market out there.
“We would have loved to take over the Berry Brothers building,” says Paul Foley, “but the costs were excessive.” Instead they opened a smaller premises around the corner. They offer a very interesting and eclectic range made up of locally sourced and direct imports. “This seems to be how customers view us, as a place to get out-of-the-way wines,” says Foley, although the selection here is certainly comprehensive.
Garret Connolly, founder of Baggot Street Wines, worked with Oddbins in Ireland and the UK before setting out on his own, assisted by another ex-Oddbins employee, Catherine Noakes. “I always had faith in the Baggot Street area,” says Connolly. “It is very diverse, with a daytime corporate trade and plenty of residents dropping in at night or the weekend. It was a sad day when Oddbins closed down. However, it was a great opportunity for me.”
The vast majority of their trade is walk-in. “We do have a very active email club, and social media is very important for us as a means of communication. We have been here just over two years. It has been a complete rollercoaster, with new challenges every day, but I love it. It’s the first time I have come into work really looking forward to the day ahead. We are not a chain or an internet site. We are a local shop for local people.’
Scotsman Ally Alpine arrived in Dublin in 1998 to set up Oddbins, and has five former members of staff working for him. The Celtic Whiskey Shop quickly established itself as a leading retailer of spirits, but the wine side suffered. Alpine says wine journalists saw them as a spirits specialist.
“We tended to get overlooked as a wine destination. Changing the name to Wines on the Green has made a big difference. We now import 95 per cent of our wines directly.
“Initially, it was tough to be in the city centre, with higher rents and rates and parking problems, but you get a higher profile and a better footfall.”
All three retailers use social media extensively, although none relies on internet sales. It is local people – either residents or office workers – who keep them going. They all mentioned that sales of European wine are booming. Each offers wines that you won’t find on the shelves of your local supermarket, and a friendly, specialised service. That appears to be the key to successful retailing – in the south city centre at least.