Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The 90 days to do something story

A prime example of how the PLCB doesn't work.

Just under four months ago I was working on a story and needed to check some information about the District Managers. The PLCB had a webpage for that where all you had to do was click on the county and a pop-up would tell you what district it was in and who the district manager was, at least that is what the instructions said. Great, just what I needed.  So I click on the county and .....nothing happens.  I try a different one....same thing, nothing happens. So I email the "LB Webmaster" who tells me: "The link below is an outdated page.  We will submit this to our IT department for removal from search engines."

About 6 hours later I get this message from Stacy Kriedeman, the Director of External Affairs; certainly an acceptable response time.  "Here is a current list of our district managers.  If you need anything else, please let us know."

So, taking her up on the 'if I need anything else,' I reply: "Thank you very much.  Will this information no longer be on the website if the page that it was on is going to be removed?"

Stacy responds shortly thereafter:"We're looking into it. I don't believe it's on the current public website, but that doesn't mean it can't be added. I just need to do some research and that's going to take a little time.Thanks for your patience."

Now I'm thinking - if the webpage isn't on the current public website and I don't have any non-public access, then how did I get to it from the PLCB website? Plus, it doesn't need to be added since it is already there, all they have to do is update it with the information she already sent me. Don't they know what is on their own website?

The question is now will they update the website with the information that they have or will they delete it from the public view? So everything is well and good, the page will either be fixed or deleted if I have some patience and she did send me the info I was looking for. So how long will this take I wonder? I check once in a while and finally AFTER 3 MONTHS I send this.

"It seems we have a vastly different idea of what "a little time" is. It has been 90 days since I pointed this out and the non-functioning webpage is still non-functioning and still accessible... I'm not entirely sure why the PLCB no longer wants to provide this information to the general public, perhaps you can offer an explanation?"

Well, guess what?  That next morning, the page was no longer accessible, the information it provided is no longer available, and there was no explanation forthcoming as to why what used to be available to the public was no longer going to be available to the public. Not keeping the public informed is easier, I guess.

Just like anything else it seems, the PLCB only does something when pushed, or when their mistakes are pointed out, or when the threat of privatization looms. That is no way to run a state agency and certainly no way to run a business.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

3 for 25. Pitiful isn't it? Want the best wine - shop out of state.

Rejoice Citizens! Out of 101,000 cases for the Wine Spectators top 25 wines your PLCB managed to secure about 10 of them! 

In a stunning display of wine buying ineptitude those highly qualified, knowledgeable (so we're told) buyers responsible for satisfying the wants of almost 13 million citizens of the Commonwealth managed to select even fewer of the Wine Spectator top 25 wines this year than last. With numerous private stores across the country doing as well or better one has to wonder how they do it with such limited buying power and no PLCB experts on hand to help them.

This yet again proves that to be a savvy wine consumer in Pennsylvania one only has to travel out of state

Without further ado, Wine Spectator's #11-25.

11. Mt. Eden Vineyards Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains 2011, 1,692 cases.  
      Not available in PA
12. Château Guiraud Sauternes 2011, 7,000 cases.
      Not available in PA
13. Fonseca Vintage Port 2011, 2,190 cases.
      Not available in PA
14. Fontodi Colli della Toscana Centrale Flaccianello 2011, 4,000 cases.
      Not available in PA
15. Bedrock The Bedrock Heritage Sonoma Valley 2012, 500 cases.
      Not available in PA
16. Two Hands Shiraz Barossa Valley Bella's Garden 2012, 6,000 cases. 
      Not available in PA
17. Soter Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton District Mineral Springs Ranch 2012, 1,500 cases.  
      Not available in PA
18. Château Doisy-Védrines Barsac 2011, 3,500 cases.
      Not available in PA
19. Luca Malbec Uco Valley 2012, 7,000 cases.
      Not available in PA
20. Peter Michael Chardonnay Knights Valley Ma Belle-Fille, 2,080 cases
      Not available in PA
21. Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico Riserva 2010, 4,000 cases.  
      Not available in PA
22. Podere Sapaio Bolgheri Volpolo 2011, 7,500 cases.  
      Not available in PA

23. St.-Cosme Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2010, 1,300 cases. Hey, we've got some! There were 4 bottles left in the entire state Monday morning. Better hurry...because you know the clerks won't hold them.

24. Massolino Barolo 2009, 3,165 cases.  
      Not available in PA
25. Bodegas y Viñedos O. Fournier Malbec Uco Valley Alfa Crux 2010, 1,250 cases.
      Not available in PA

Monday, November 17, 2014

Wendell Young and his minions lie and I can prove it Part 4

WWY4 still loves ya, baby.
Another in a continuing (as long as Wendell W. Young IV is around) series about the BS that he propagates.

On the United Food and Commercial Workers Chapter 1776 webpage, the Union -- under the leadership of President for Life Wendell Young IV -- says that in 2007, PA had the lowest death rate in the country associated with alcohol consumption. Although their link doesn't work (go ahead, click it, ours does), they are actually correct about this....for 2007.  By 2009 Pennsylvania's rate had increased over 25% (Page 87 in the report) and by 2012 had gone up even more (Table 19, Page 78), resulting in a rate 30.8% higher than the 2007 figures the union likes to use.
If you imply that the union-run, state liquor stores are responsible for the low rate, then aren't they also responsible for the higher rate?

Just to make things worse for Wendell, of the states with lower rates than PA for the past seven years, two of them are New Jersey and Maryland. (Damn those free privately-run states right on our border...that so many Pennsylvanians use.) You know what all this means? When Wendell or any of his underlings say that PA has the lowest death rate associated with alcohol consumption and they don't add "back in 2007", they are lying.

As president of the PA Wine And Spirits Council, Wendell clearly stands behind the statement when their webpage (which hasn't been updated since 2011; way to stay on top of things, Wendell) says that "State Police investigators have found just two instances in the past six years of wine and spirits shop employees selling alcohol to minors." The only problem (as we pointed out to the state's journalists and legislators back in early 2011) is that the State Police doesn't check the stores for underage sales. NOT AT ALL. So if they "investigated," it was only because somebody else caught them. If you really think that only two underage people bought liquor in a state store from 2004 to 2010, then I have a very nice deal on the Ben Franklin bridge for you: stop by Philly and have a look!

Amazing riverside views, and for you, I have a GREAT cash price: today only!
The BS continues with the statement that "Pennsylvania has the 7th lowest rate of youth drinking and binge drinking in the nation." No links or proof are offered but it certainly doesn't agree with the numbers from Responsibility.org (page 11) which has PA at a tie for 24th place barely making it into the top half of states with New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Ohio all doing better.
In fact, let's look at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration report on Underage Binge Alcohol Use. The picture doesn't get much better. Based on the National Survey of  Drug Use and Health it divided the country into 468 substate regions.  Pennsylvania was divided into 15 of these substate groups. Of those 15 - 13 were higher for binge drinking then the Mean or Median values placing the state firmly in the upper half for worst underage binge drinking and not 7th best as claimed by Fearless Leader.

So there is another one; Wendell lying about safety of children, which he does with some regularity. Have you seen those stupid UFCW commercials that the entire nation laughed at?

When you make a statement that can't be proven, then you aren't spinning, you aren't being misheard, you aren't being taken out of context. You are lying.

I'm sure that the first few months of next year, once the legislature reconvenes, will provide Mr. Young with more time to practice his lies, which is fine. I'll be watching and waiting with the truth.

Remember to write your Representatives and Senators and tell them we want the state out of the alcohol businessSend a note to Governor-elect Wolf too (or Tweet to him @wolfforpa), so he knows this won't go away.

Friday, November 14, 2014

PA doesn't deserve the best (or maybe the PLCB doesn't know what good is). Part 5

The Wine Spectator Top 10 list started to come out this week, and this is another place where the people of PA can see in so many ways that they are not treated as most other citizens are when it comes to having the best available.

Today, Friday 11/14 their Number One wine was introduced.  The PLCB has managed to score just one of the other top wines so far.

The #1 wine according to The Wine Spectator is:

#1 - Dow's Vintage Port 2011 - 5,000 cases.  The big question is can you buy this in PA?  The answer is Yes, 6 stores carry it.  Not the availability you can find in MD, NJ or NY but if you hurry you may be able to get one of the 14 bottles in the state.

Who would have bet that the PLCB managed to out do itself and get two out of the ten top wines in stock?  I know I wouldn't.  Although with just 6 stores having it "in stock" is a push. Next week I'll take a look at numbers 11 to 25 and see if the PLCB can redeem itself with a better showing in any way at all.  I'm guessing they may have 2 maybe 3 of the 15.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

PA doesn't deserve the best (or maybe the PLCB doesn't know what good is). Part 4

The Wine Spectator Top 10 list started to come out this week, and this is another place where the people of PA can see in so many ways that they are not treated as most other citizens are when it comes to having the best available.

Numbers 2, 3 and 4 were released on Thursday, 11/13:

#2 - Mollydooker Shiraz McLaren Vale Carnival of Love 2012, 4,729 cases

In what must be incredible piece of luck for PA wine drinkers the state actually lists this item and has 22 cases in the entire state and only at list price! I'm amazed! 

#3 -  Prats & Symington  Douro Chryseia 2011 2,400 cases. Not available in PA

- Quinta Do Vale Meão 2011, 2,300 cases
Not available in PA

Who would have bet that the PLCB managed to out do itself and get one out of the nine top wines in stock.  Nothing like giving a few crumbs to the oenophiles to try and placate them. Personally I think it was because Mollydooker was a name they recognized and not because they knew anything about it

Can they really improve to 2 out of 10 when the #1 wine is announced tomorrow and is a .200 batting average enough to keep them from being sent back to the bush leagues?  We'll find out!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The PLCB annual report - Let's look at some numbers

By all accounts, the PLCB had a good sales year. Well, hurray. It's nothing to brag about -- though they will, and have -- since they are the only game in town. The population grows (slowly, but it grows), the economy gets better, and people spend more money on booze. It isn't because the PLCB is doing a good job; it is because the citizens have no other choice.

PLCB touts "record sales": report shows net income down
That doesn't stop the PLCB from presenting their annual report as if they had something to do with the growth in sales. Here are some things they crow about in the report:

1. License fees returned to local municipalities $ 4,521,545 -- If the PLCB didn't get in the middle, local communities would get this revenue as a regular stream when businesses paid for their licenses TO THE LOCAL COMMUNITIES.

2. Philadelphia and Allegheny counties received $8,269,803 in returned local sales taxes. -- Again, if the PLCB wasn't in the middle, the taxes would be collected and distributed anyway. It must be nice to crow about following the law...except, of course, when it comes to trips and gifts for senior level PLCB employees.

3. Paid Total Annual Rent of $42,034,434 for 606 stores. -- This begs the question of how much rent would be paid if there were 2400 or so private stores? 2400 stores is about what the national average is for a population of almost 13 million.

4. Tweets sent: 723. -- Now this is pretty funny. A $2 billion enterprise managed to send out fewer tweets than my 16 year old niece does in a month. And then they go on to say that the PLCB was mentioned 2,516 times. This post counts as one of those mentions, just as an example, and so does this: "Hey @WolfForPA, can you do something about the PA Liquor Control Board, like get rid of it? ‪#‎priorities‬ ‪#‎wine‬ ‪#‎freedom‬" (tweeted by @mainlinehousewife on Nov. 4)

5. Updated the Fine Wine and Good Spirits eCommerce site with 'complete and accurate product names,' product descriptions and standardized acronyms. -- Really? From the people who completely cocked up the beer registration list just a few years ago? Let's look at just a couple easily-found examples.

George Dickel Tennessee Whiskey. The No. 8 brand is listed in the bourbon section and the No. 12 brand is listed in the Whiskey section

Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey has one listed in the bourbon section "Jack Daniel's 1St Edition Straight Bourbon Master Distiller Collection" Which only exists in the mind of some PLCB employee since Jack Daniel doesn't label ANY of its whiskeys as "bourbon." Not one. All the others are listed in the Whiskey section as they should be, except for one that is in the Blended Whiskey section; but Jack doesn't do blended whiskey either. I will give them credit though: it only took them 80 years to finally learn how to spell "Jack Daniel's" correctly. I pointed out mistakes on that as recently as this past spring.

6. Also restructured the website search engine to allow searches using misspelled words, abbreviations, and synonyms producing much improved search results for customers. -- Let's see how that works.  Sticking with Jack Daniel's type in Jack Danial's into the search box.  You only misspelled it by one letter putting an "a" instead of an "e" in Danial's. The result.....a page and a half of Calico Jack rum first, but JD does show up on page 2.  

How about we just forget the "'s" and put in Jack Daniel into the search box.  Again a page and a half of Calico Jack rum and then the JD on page 2. An improvement! ...until you realize that if you spell Jack Daniel's correctly and search for it, you still get a page and a half of Calico Jack rum first! The trick, apparently, is to just put in Daniel's, and you'll get all the JD  listings. Just don't misspell it or forget the "s" or the apostrophe, because then you get nothing contrary to what the PLCB says. Not quite ready for prime time and certainly not a product a $2 billion company should be proud of.

I can find a lot more but let's look at some money.

Sales on the captive Pennsylvania population did go up 3.2%, which is to be expected, given that the state has a monopoly and overall spirits and wine sales were up nationally. But Gross Profit only went up 3%...and Net Income (which in a 'real' business would be called 'Profit') went down by 3.6%! Wondering why? Here's a clue: operating expenses went up 5.2% (which is a lot, considering what it bought them, as we'll see in a bit). Operating income went down, even though the much-ballyhooed 'bailment' is in effect (where the PLCB doesn't pay for a product until it leaves the warehouse). Contributions to the BLCE went up 4.1 %, but BLCE enforcement of border bleed is at the lowest it has ever been. Oddly, during this record alcohol sales year, the amount that went to Drug and Alcohol programs went down 3.6%, which seems a little contradictory, given the 'control' mission of the PLCB.

Don't overlook another big one: Return on Assets (usually called Return on Investment) went down 14.8%! ROA gives an idea as to how efficient management is at using its assets to generate earnings. Also, even though there was only 1 more store than last year, wages as a percent of sales increased an astounding 18.3%, which is not a good indicator of efficiency either.

Of course, a real business has to list all their debts on their reports to shareholders...and I don't see the over $600 million that is the PLCB share of the pension debt listed anywhere. Maybe it doesn't count since the taxpayers and not the PLCB have to cover it. 

Like any business with a PR department, the PLCB tries to put on its happy face when reporting on what a super duper job they are doing, but the end result is still less selection, less convenience, higher prices, no real increase in safety, and certainly more aggravation for the consumer than in states with a privately-run liquor retail and wholesale industry. One only has to travel to see that for yourself.

PA doesn't deserve the best (or maybe the PLCB doesn't know what good is). Part 3

The Wine Spectator Top 10 list started to come out the other day, and this is another place where the people of PA can see in so many ways that they are not treated as most other citizens are when it comes to having the best available.

Numbers 5 and 6 were released on Wednesday, 11/12:

#5 - Leeuwin Chardonnay Margaret River Art Series 2011, 600 cases Not available in PA

#6 - Chianti Classico San Lorenzo Gran Selezione 2010, 8,000 cases. Not available in PA
Compared to some limited editions, bottlings of eight thousand cases is a lot of product. So where were those 'world class' apron-wearing cube rat selectors the PLCB has in Harrisburg when the advances on these wines came out? I'm guessing not reading the Wine Spectator, even though they get free copies.

Since PA is the 2nd largest wine buyer in the country not getting an allocation of the #5 wine on the list shows that the distributor thinks that is isn't worth their time to deal with the PLCB or the buyers didn't try to get it or the system we have isn't as "world class" as they say.  Most likely a combination of all of that. You can buy it in New Jersey or New York still if you want from a private seller who somehow manages to know what fine wine and good spirits really are.

Six in a row not available in PA, let's see how they do in Part 4 when wines #2, #3 and #4 are released on Thursday.  Will the PLCB continue the losing streak we have come to expect of will they have made a mistake and actually gotten something exceptional . Any takers? Any bets?