The past 12 months have been a year of innovation for Thirroul Cellars, with Co-owner Rory O’Carroll and his team finding new ways to share quality products with the local South Coast NSW community.

O’Carroll began working at Thirroul Cellars with several years’ experience in the liquor industry, including both retail and hospitality roles.

“Both my wife and I wanted our own business, so when the liquor store she was managing was up for sale, we begged and borrowed to buy it,” he said.

O’Carroll’s passion for liquor retailing is equally driven by the people and the products that he encounters on the job.

“Obviously, I enjoy my team, our customers and the banter but I also love having the opportunity to try unique, eclectic and rare products and hear the history and stories that go with them,” he said.

Thirroul Cellars is set apart from its local competitors by its range and the customer service that an extensive product selection requires.

“We like to engage with our customers to ensure they have all the knowledge needed to choose products that they will enjoy,” O’Carroll said.

The store has recently added a new tasting bar, which will enable O’Carroll and his team to share their product knowledge with customers in a new setting.

“We decided to build the bar for a few reasons. Firstly, to give that area a facelift, but also as a dedicated space to offer tastings and education nights. We believe it will add a unique experience for customers to gain knowledge in a social environment,” he said.

Alongside local South Coast beers and spirits, the no and low-alcohol sector was a standout at Thirroul Cellars last year.

“Non alc beer was massive in 2023, and I believe the non alc market will continue to grow in all categories in 2024,” O’Carroll said.

Coming into 2024, O’Carroll is concerned about the difficult position of independent retailers.

“The biggest challenge in the industry is the dwindling independents. Having a couple of companies with market share dictating to manufacturers can’t be good for anyone, including customers,” he said.

With this in mind, O’Carroll provided some advice to other independent retailers and those entering the liquor retail industry.

“Work hard, listen to your customers, and don’t be afraid to have a broad range of products,” he said.

Managing product mix

The diversity of products at Thirroul Cellars allows O’Carroll to capitalise on the ‘less but better’ trend.

“We have a unique range of premium products, from local and international spirits to natural wines, craft beers and interesting premixes.

“We will also special-order products in for people who request them,” he said.

However, it is still important to balance this with popular brands that customers may be expecting to find.

“Having big brands is very important, which our buying group take care of. That allows us to search out a more diverse range, from premium drinks to lesser-known value brands that punch above their weight,” O’Carroll said.

This article originally appeared in the 2024 Leaders Forum issue of National Liquor News.

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