Independence and persistence in the Irish drinks trade

By focusing on relationships while embracing changing trends and tastes, Barry and Fitzwilliam has endured and thrived through four decades

“As a family company, we deal with a lot of other family companies, so I think that is a major point of difference for us” says Michael Barry, managing director, Barry and Fitzwilliam

Barry and Fitzwilliam is perhaps one of the best-known names in the Irish drinks industry.

Celebrating its 40th anniversary, this veteran of the Irish business landscape has learned many lessons over the years in evolving tastes, business practices and developing opportunities.

The company is led by managing director Michael Barry, who has grown the business to become Ireland’s largest independent premium alcoholic drinks distributor, that carries more than 120 wine, spirits and beer brands, and employs more than 60 people from its extensive warehousing and administration facilities in Cork and Dublin and has been recognised as a Best Managed Company since 2011.

Speaking of the company’s enduring abilities, Barry has words of wisdom for all: “We have a saying in the company that persistence beats resistance, so in a way, it typifies our attitude in running the business. We have managed to survive and prosper over the 40 years by keeping a close eye on international trends and embracing them,” Barry said.

Being an independent, family-run business brings its own challenges, not least of which are dealing with the multinationals.

“We trade with most of the multinationals because besides being an agency house, we are also one of the leading spirit wholesalers in the country, carrying all of the leading spirit brands, and are very much a one stop shop to the on trade,” he said.

“As a family company, we deal with a lot of other family companies, so I think that is a major point of difference for us. Also, we are very nimble and can make very quick decisions and activate strategies very quickly.”

Michael Barry, managing director, Barry & Fitzwilliam

Barry said the company greatly valued its independence, and that with strong relationships in the business across all parties, it allowed them to bolster it.

“Our independence is very important. I love what I do, and I couldn’t see myself being part of a multinational.

“I am great believer in relationships, so it is very important to nurture the relationships that we have with brand owners, but it is also very important for our sales team to listen to our customers. We have an excellent route to market, and this is primarily what our brand owners require,” he said.

Along with changing Irish tastes that saw Barry and Fitzwilliam ahead of trends such as importing the first long-necked bottled beer, the pandemic also required change and adaptation.

“Considering that the hospitality sector accounted for approximately 40 per cent of our business before Covid, we were able to grow the majority of our brands in the off trade to such an extent that we replaced that lost turnover and even increased it over the last two years. Brexit and the ensuing paperwork and red tape that it required was a bit frustrating initially, but we have got used to that.”

As a long time Best Managed Company, Barry sees it strengthening the company’s ability to develop the relationships that have proved so important.

“We are very proud to be a long-time Best Managed Company award winner. As Barry and Fitzwilliam celebrates 40 years in business this year, the team has grown quite large, starting off with only three of us to now a team of 50 and in the busier seasons even 60 people. It gives create kudos to the company and to all the members of the team. Being an award winner is also a great endorsement for Barry and Fitzwilliam in the eyes of the brand owners that we represent, especially since Deloitte is a global company. It helps us to achieve global recognition,” Barry said.

“It has been of great benefit to Barry and Fitzwilliam to continue to be involved in the award programme,” Barry added, “especially as our business evolves, as I believe there is nothing more constant in life than change. As the company changes, evolves and grows there is continued recognition. We strive to always be at the top of our game, and it is appreciated for this to be awarded. Our continued involvement also stands as an important accolade when we discuss the success of Barry and Fitzwilliam with our international partners.”

Additionally, the recognition from the award can help not just beyond our shores, but also with the difficulties of the current climate.

“Of course, the award programme and process has helped Barry and Fitzwilliam weather the recent uncertainty. The Best Managed Company award is a symbol of organisational success and achievement. We compete for this award that evaluates the calibre of our management abilities and practices — we have had to pivot many ways of working during this recent period of uncertainty. We always benefit from the business expertise and benchmarking during the coaching process each year.”

“The award process considers our business performance from every perspective, and we strive to requalify to maintain our Best Managed status year on year. In return, we receive a global mark of excellence to share with our global partners,” Barry said.