How one wine retailer and restauranteur pivoted during the pandemic
Ely innovated by creating new product offerings but key to its success was matching with a strong partner in Rewarding Times to maximise the reach of its marketing efforts
Ely has used the Irish Times to run offers for Ely Wine Bar, whereby a case of 12 premium bottles, which would normally retail for €310, were offered as a package for €250 through Rewarding Times.
As many have said over the last number of months, if we want our favourite restaurants, cafes and shops to reopen when lockdown ends, we need to support them now, in whatever ways we can.
To meet those demands, many businesses have successfully pivoted to sell their products online and develop new offerings, and one great example of this is Ely Wine Bar. In March, it was one of the first out of the traps when it came to an online offering of wine by delivery as well as food boxes, cleverly named LovELY at Home.
This effectively moved Ely’s restaurant business to an at-home dining experience overnight and it has worked out well for Erik and Michelle Robson, who started Ely in 1999, and who are no strangers to doing things a little differently.
“We broke the mould back then in terms of how wine was sold; it was a purpose built wine bar selling 100 wines by the glass, in quality glassware. That was quite ground-breaking, at the time if you wanted to have wine it was with a three course meal in a restaurant. From the start we focused on artisan producers, small vineyards, producing organic or biodynamic wine. And for 20 years we bought organic beef, lamb and pork from my dad’s farm in the Burren,” Robson says.
Following the success of the venue on Ely place, the couple went on to open Ely Bar and Grill at the IFSC in 2006 and Ely Wine Store in Maynooth last year. With an ecommerce platform in place before lockdown for the wine store, that is now being rolled out for the majority of the business.
As well as selling wine by the case, Ely innovated swiftly and was one of the first eateries to sell food packages – meaning regulars could still experience something of what the restaurant has to offer, at home.
“We had legs of lamb ready to go for Easter weekend and all the accompaniments that go with that in the restaurant. We also recommend a wine to go with the food and that comes as part of the deal – customers can upgrade to a more expensive wine if they wish,” Robson says.
Ely’s dine at home option is going down a storm too. “I have one corporate customer who has ordered food boxes for eight senior executives, he has upgraded the wine and added in a Cava and one of the wine boxes is going to Belgium. It’s for a Zoom dinner,” he reveals.
“The first lockdown came upon us very quickly and lasted three months,” Robson says. “We realised everything had to then go through our smallest unit, the wine store, and wine retail became vital for us. One of our best routes to market was through Rewarding Times – we have worked with them in the past for dining out options – but in March we ran three very successful wine campaigns with them,” he says.
Rewarding Times is a service from the Irish Times which features exclusive weekly offers from selected partners. A great example of this was for Ely Wine Bar, whereby a case of 12 premium bottles, which would normally retail for €310, were offered as a package for €250 through Rewarding Times. Generally there is a limited number of units available to each reader and they usually sell out quite quickly, as was the case for Ely.
One of our best routes to market was through Rewarding Times
“We were quick out of the traps, and it was a very gratifying experience as we had cases of wine going to Cork, Galway and Donegal, all with the same Rewarding Times courier, so it also emphasised the fact we deliver nationwide,” Robson says.
It is partnerships such as this that have bolstered and supplemented Ely’s own efforts. “On our own ecommerce site we are improving the customer experience at the moment. All our energy is focused on that now,” he says. “Previously we were building the online ecommerce side of things within the parameters of running three other businesses, so this fourth business is our main focus for now.”
Pivoting to progress
“We have three vans on the road and are delivering to Dalkey, Sutton, Meath and Kildare this weekend. It’s busy, we’re now in the logistics business too,” Robson laughs.
And the innovation hasn’t stopped. Ely sommelier Ian Brosnan is now offering Zoom wine tastings: three Ely wines go out to groups along with some cheese and charcuterie and, “by all accounts it’s hugely well received”, he says.
Our corporate clients especially are moving towards sending staff and customers hampers and gifts
“People are at home and realise they can’t drink on a Tuesday or Wednesday, it’s still a school night, so are saving themselves for quality wine at the weekend. They are going for organic wines, with less additives and less sulphur. They are slightly less heavyweight, well-made wines that people savour more,” he says.
Looking to the future, in the short-term Robson is eager to open in December, if given the go-ahead. But Ely’s loyal customer base is doing everything it can right now to stand by the location it loves and longs to see open once more.
“Our corporate clients especially are moving towards sending staff and customers hampers and gifts. Parties are not going to happen this year so they are sending a wine hamper or a meal parcel. One client has booked to send 180 LovELY meals to their staff in December. This has really accelerated that fourth arm of the business,” he says.
“Having said all that, we are in the restaurant business and we really enjoy seeing people sitting at our tables. I said to one of my peers recently who has no outdoor seating, you need to be there when you’re allowed to reopen, because your customers are waiting for you,” Robson says.
“Restaurants will be different and there will be less of them, but we’re looking forward to being allowed back. At the end of the day, we just have to get through this and stay strong.”
If you are a local business and would like to speak to us about how we can help sell and deliver your products and services to The Irish Times audience, get in touch on email@example.com
Subscribe for weekly offers on www.rewardingtimes.ie
To learn more about the LovELY at Home range, corporate gifts and wine retail go to elywinebar.com