‘Keeping customers is as important as making new ones’
2007-06-28 15:23:42 -

In the latest instalment of Metro Eireann’s Meet The Boss,  SANDY HAZEL speaks to Laszlo Ardai, co-owner of Hungarian Wine, a wholesale wine importer 

Laszlo Ardai is from Hungary and has been in Ireland for three years. Previously Ardai had travelled on cruise ships as a restaurant and bar manager. “It was a good six years travelling through the seas and ports of Europe,” he says. “I was given good opportunities to decide which city I would like to choose to live in. A friend on the cruise ship had lived in Ireland and suggested it.”

Ardai started working in the restaurant at the Conrad Hotel in Dublin. He recalls: “It was good experience and I learnt more about wine and the wine market in Ireland.” He also soon realised that there was little or no Hungarian wine available in Ireland, and this surprised him: “Hungary has a very old wine culture. The climate and soil and the dedication of wine growers have made for a wonderful product.”

He explains that for generations Hungarian wine exports went to Russia: “Then it was based on quantity, not quality, but since the change from communism to democracy there has been more of a move to quality and now Hungary produces some excellent wine.”

Ardai and his business partner Krisztian Klausz, formerly of Chapter One restaurant in Dublin, were convinced there were possibilities in the Irish market for Hungarian wine. “We set up a wholesale trade initially, Hungarian Wine, which worked well,” he says. “We supplied restaurants and hotels, travelling around Ireland. Sometimes we would post some bottles to a potential customer as the journey would not be feasible, and we have secured orders that way too.”

With the wholesale part of the business going well, the partners felt secure enough to open a retail outlet two months ago at the new Moore Street Mall in Dublin. “We did approach the bank and obtained a business loan,” says Ardai. “They were very impressed in the way the business had grown and were happy to invest. We also used some of our own savings. Now that we have the retail unit we have to co-ordinate our time better. We take turns now with the travelling and the shop-based business. It is important to also timetable in some time off or you could burn out.”

Ardai is proud that Hungarian Wine sources its wines directly from the growers. “We do not buy from merchants and we will go to the vineyard to see production and to personally taste,” he says. “We have good relationships with the growers, but not so good that we will not say ‘I do not like that wine, we will come back next year’. We are also in a good position at the moment that we are sole suppliers in Ireland and apart from selling to hotels restaurants and personal customers, we also supply other wine shops and off-licences.”

So how would Ardai improve an already thriving business?  “Hungarian wine is not being marketed at all well,” he admits. “We are glad to be able to do our bit and introduce Hungarian wine to Irish people, but the Hungarians themselves need to push it more into the world. Internationally people need to be aware that it is really good wine.”

Another big problem for Ardai and Klausz as wine importers is the huge tax payable on the product as it enters this country. “It is the highest duty in the world,” according to Ardai, “and it is a problem for all wine dealers in Ireland, not just us.

“We were at The Taste of Dublin festival last week and it was a great success for us. We had a great location at the event, next to Lindt chocolates. Some of our wine complemented the food there. We used the festival to build our contacts book and make our name familiar to many in the industry. It was a good event for us.”

Plans for the future will involve more marketing and opening new shops. “We need to put our wine into peoples’ consciousness as well as keep our current customers with loyalty cards and regular tasting,” says Ardai. “Keeping customers is as important as making new ones.”
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