Ballyfin Demesne has been named the AA’s hotel of the year 2018.
The five star hotel in Co. Laois is a former boarding school which underwent an extensive nine-year restoration before opening as a luxury hotel in 2011. It stands on 600 acres of grounds and is home to a series of formal gardens designed by Jim Reynolds. The hotel was previously voted best hotel in the world in 2016 by readers of US travel magazine Conde Nast Traveler.
The B&B rate at Ballyfin starts at €960 for a double room, running to €1,710 for the best suite in the house. Most guests, however, opt for the full board package (from €1,275 for two people), which includes lunch or afternoon tea on arrival, cocktail hour, dinner in the State Dining Room or the Van Der Hagan Room, and breakfast the following morning.
Until 2015, Ballyfin was open only to residents, however reservations are now accepted for dinner for groups of up to six guests, who have variety of menu options to choose from, costing from €105 for three-courses à la carte, to €125 for an eight-course tasting menu.
Shane Ross, Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, presenting the award to Ballyfin’s general manager Damien Bastiat in Dublin last night, said: “The story of Irish tourism over the last 10 years has been one of hard work and perseverance to get through the troubled times of the economic downturn in order to come out the other side as a thriving industry. “Ballyfin Demesne, with its welcoming staff and steep history only highlights the best of what the hospitality industry offers to visitors from at home and abroad.”
The other main award winners were Aldridge Lodge in Duncannon, Co Wexford (AA Guest House Accommodation of the Year), and The Twelve hotel in Barna, Co Galway (AA Courtesy and Care award).
New research into retail sales in the first part the year have revealed the full extent of the disruption caused by March’s ‘Beast from the East’ on the retail industry.
The latest figures from the retail representative group, Retail Excellence Ireland (REI), show that despite the improving economy, like-for-like sales were down 1.2 per cent in March, and a fifth of 1 per cent overall in the first quarter compared to the year previous. This decline comes despite the improving economy and a comparative boost to first-quarter sales by Easter falling in March, compared to April in 1017.
REI’s chief executive, David Fitzsimons, said the bad weather negatively impacted most on the 19 retail sectors examined in its first-quarter Productivity Review, which it produces in association with research firm GfK and Grant Thornton. It collates electronic sales data directly from the tills of retailers. “What is very clear is that the Irish retail industry is in a significant state of flux,” he said.
In terms of specific sectors, garden centres performed the worst, with sales down 15.8% in the first three months of the year when compared to 2017- for obvious weather-related reasons. IT and computing products saw a 17 per cent decline but were saved from a further fall by the early Easter period. IT sales, including computers and tablets, have dropped off hugely. In volume terms they were down 11% and 17 per cent in value terms Jewellery sales were down for all three months in the quarter, as were lingerie, ladieswear and menswear sales.
Among the best performing sectors were health stores (up 4%), small home appliances (up 6%) and furniture and flooring (up 3.6 % over the quarter). Grocery sales were up 1.1% which was “spurred on by Easter trading”, said Mr Fitzsimons. The rate of monthly growth in the sector actually increased in March, which may well have been partly due to bread sales.
Press Up Entertainment, Ireland’s largest and fastest growing pub and restaurant group, are said to have acquired a site in Galway with planning permission for a 134-bedroom hotel.
The site is located near Prospect Hill received planning permission for a hotel last year following an application by Highgate Properties. It is understood Press Up paid €4.5 million for the land. In addition to the bedrooms, there is permission for two bars within the building, which will ultimately have a total gross floor area of 5,310sq m. The acquisition comes as Press Up eye opportunities to expand into the UK market in the near future.
Press Up is the largest restaurant and venue group in the country and the group behind well-known restaurants such as Captain America’s, Roberta’s and the Dean Hotel. Press Up, which last year had a turnover of about €52 million, has said it hopes to open at least nine new hospitality venues over the coming year, including the Devlin hotel in Ranelagh, Dublin, which will open in the summer.
The group is also reported to be developing a 140-bedroom hotel in Cork. It is also planning a revamp of former private members’ club Residence on St Stephen’s Green, which it purchased recently. In addition, Press Up will soon open a cocktail bar in a three-storey building on Dublin’s Aungier Street, which company documents suggest will be called The Dutch Billy. The group’s other recent purchases include the well-known Elephant & Castle restaurant business in Temple Bar.
Irish fast food chain Supermacs is set to open three new outlets in Cork, creating 200 new jobs.
The popular fast food brand, run by Pat McDonagh, will open a new franchise outlet at Ballyvolane within three weeks and will include a Supermacs, a Papa John’s Pizza, and a drive-thru. Another franchise outlet will open at the Amber filling station on the N71 Bandon Road, near the Bandon Road roundabout, in approximately six weeks, while the Supermacs group will operate the new Tivoli outlet, which is due to open within three months. The new units are part of a nationwide six-outlet expansion of the Supermacs group. By June, the brand will have 13 the number of outlets in Cork city and county, and to 114 the number of outlets nationwide.
“We have had an outlet on the North Main St for several years and had been looking at opportunities in the city for some time but the business has changed over the 10 years or so,” said Mr McDonagh. “There has been a fall-off in pubs and nightclubs, so we looked at the city outskirts for ease of access and drive-thrus. We are also examining potential opportunities in the West Cork region over the next year or two. “We have career opportunities at all levels and we are looking for managers, store managers, assistant managers and catering assistants. We have a structured career path in place for staff which leads to store manager positions as well as site and area managers. We want people that will stay with us and develop with us. “To date, over 150 new promoted managers were awarded QQI Level 5 certificates in Management which they achieved through work-based training in their own outlets.”He said employers face new challenges in recruiting staff, most of whom were born in the late 1990s, but he insisted the salary is competitive, starting at the minimum wage and rising incrementally. And he said between 60% and 70% of their franchisees come from within the group.
Mr McDonagh, a former teacher who was nicknamed Supermac on the GAA field, opened his first fast-food outlet in Ballinasloe, Co Galway, almost 40 years ago. Today, his empire, which is worth a reported €110m, employs more than 2,700 people nationwide.
Buying is a highly competitive industry, meaning it’s crucial to ace the interview for the position you are going for. Excel’s Sarah Hurley takes the most common interview questions and how to tackle them.
Due to the size of the retail market in Ireland, there are limited Buying opportunities. Therefore, if you secure an interview, it is important that you build a strong case in order to land the job. Buyers hold a unique skill set so you will need to demonstrate this and relevant experience by giving your personal professional examples when answering their questions.
Tell me about your current area of buying responsibility?
To answer this question successfully, you will start off by giving the interviewer an overview of your department, what you buy and what that involves. Be prepared with your facts and figures and use this question as an opportunity to highlight any successes you and your team have had such as increased sales, increased sell-through rates or improved margins etc. You don’t have to talk actual sales figures but do give percentages if possible, ‘We traded up 5% on plan and reduced mark down by 8% year on year’.
What are your thoughts on the current range? Would do you anything differently?
The interviewer is looking for you to think commercially and critically, and to see that you’ve done your homework. Use your insights into the brand and their competitors to spot any gaps or missed opportunities within the range and explain your reasoning. Make informed suggestions by visiting stores beforehand and/or critiquing the range online and make reference to current trends, what competitors are doing, and what is happening in the wider market.
Who are our main competitors?
This question is to test your understanding of the retail market and where the business sits within this. Consider their customer, and what makes them shop with them over elsewhere. What does the business do better and worse than their competitors? Please keep criticism to a minimum and also be able to explain your thought process with actual examples. For any retail buying job, prepare by researching the market, who the big players are, any recent news (like an acquisition or merger), whose market share is increasing, whose is decreasing, etc. Ensure you discuss competitors operating within the same space and with the same customer base and aesthetic as the company you’re interviewing with. For example, if you are interviewing with Dunnes Stores, you will always talk about a business like Tesco as their direct competitor.
Tell me about some of your biggest negotiating successes?
A major part of any buying job is daily negotiation. Use real-life examples and demonstrate your ability to get the best commercial results for the business, while still maintaining a positive relationship with stakeholders inside and out of the business.
Other Common Questions for Buyer Interviews include: