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Foreign franchise with a homely touch

Retail businesses selling high quality products can still prosper in a costconscious economy, according to Conor McAteer, managing director of VomFass Ireland.

A German concept which literally means ‘‘from the cask’’, VomFass sells vinegars, oils, wines, liqueurs and spirits through a network of 230 franchised stores in Europe, Asia and the US.

‘‘Ireland is now a cosmopolitan country, and Irish people are much more willing to experiment with different tastes and flavours. Despite the economic downturn, people are still prepared to buy quality products at reasonable prices,’’ he said.

McAteer opened his own VomFass store on Dublin’s South Anne Street in December. All of its products are bottled at the time of purchase, and he said this personalised approach to retail was a new experience for many
customers.

‘‘Customers are allowed to taste the quality products and buy in the quantity that suits their budget. There are over 70 different designs of bottle, which can be refilled again and again, or personalised with a special gift message,’’ he said.

From his home in Co Down, McAteer combines his role at VomFass with his everyday job as a science teacher. He said that franchising had advantages for first time entrepreneurs like him, who wanted to start their own business.

‘‘Taking on a franchise gives you the chance to work with a tried and tested formula, but also the flexibility to adapt the model to your circumstances. I have learned to use the support network provided by the franchise to overcome problems which may already have been experienced,’’ he said.

‘‘The major hurdle is in developing an unknown brand. The name VomFass meant nothing to the public, so it is important to get as much publicity as possible.’’

McAteer engaged the services of a PR agent to help secure mentions of the VomFass brand in articles published in national newspapers and magazines.

‘‘We put together sample boxes and sent them to different journalists. Various other food journalists have come in themselves, as they are interested in the products. A number of customers have mentioned that they saw the shop in the paper and decided to come in,’’ he said.

He said it was important that new businesses put the necessary time and effort into finding staff with the appropriate skills and experience.

‘‘Finding the right staff was difficult. I now employ a manager who previously ran a VomFass store in Newcastle, England, who brought valuable experience with him.

‘‘We employ three staff and will take on more people in the run up to Christmas, as we expect to do 40 per cent of our turnover at this time,’’ he said.

McAteer said that more government support was needed for start-up owners who we reendeavouring to create new jobs. ‘‘There does not seem to be any government start-up support if you are in retail. I funded the start-up by using savings and extending my own mortgage.

‘‘I am taking three people off the dole queue, so some kind of support for wages would be very useful,’’ he said.

McAteer said he planned to build the VomFass brand in the Irish market in the months ahead.

‘‘Chapter One restaurant in Dublin has started to take our products, and we hope to develop links with other food and drink outlets in both the North and Republic.

‘‘We also aim to build the corporate side of the business by promoting our personalised gift offerings.’’

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