O’Donovan believes that product knowledge is essential to success in the independent off-trade. “Unless you know the product, you can’t sell it,” he says. He became a member of the Champagne Academy in 1994 and was awarded the WSET Diploma in 1995. He is responsible for the very successful Annual Cork Wine Fair and opened the Cork Wine School in 2010, after 15 years lecturing for the Wine Development Board of Ireland. Gary has also travelled widely across all the major wine regions.
As the youngest of Joe O’Donovan’s four children, he hadn’t intended joining the family business. O’Donovan graduated with a BA in Economics and Sociology in 1991 and planned to take a year off to travel the world. However, his father had other ideas and invited Gary to join him in the business by setting up their second off-licence in Summerhill. O’Donovan has never looked back and has spent much of the time since then cultivating the company’s branch network throughout Cork city and county with personal responsibility for the wine end of the business.
Gary is committed to the National Off-Licence Association and has rowed in behind NOffLA from day one. He has been a member of the association’s council and executive for several years and became vice-chairman in 2010. He feels that the association “gives a unified voice on behalf of the trade” and believes that this is also important for suppliers as they recognise that “there is a professional trade to be catered for”. The Cork businessman sees the Off-Licence of the Year as a major industry tool: “This allows us to keep up with the rest. You need to pitch yourself against the best and see where you’re at. The awards raise the bar and we aspire to go with the rising standards. The Off-Licence of the Year is the vehicle that allows us to check our progress.”
O’Donovan has been very active in the drinks industry’s Support Your Local campaign and is in no doubt about the importance of the industry within local economies across the country. He has spoken about the “huge contribution” the alcohol industry makes in Cork, and the “worrying trend” of employment figures in every sector declining in recent years: “Over 3,000 jobs have been lost in the independent off-licence sector since 2008, while in the last year alone, 18 independent off-licences have shut down.”
In his new role as NOffLA chairman, he is particularly keen to outlaw below-cost selling and to see the enactment of sections 9 and 16 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008. He also looks forward to developing closer ties between NOffLA members and their suppliers, identifying the common purposes of both parties. O’Donovan looks forward to growing the membership base, including the recruitment of some of the bigger independent retailers.