Monday, January 26, 2015

PLCB: We can't do our job! (so you have to suffer for it)



You may have read that the PLCB stopped all Special Liquor Orders (SLO—how appropriate) because of a backlog, apparently caused by the departure—OVER 6 MONTHS AGO—of  two data entry clerks. The huge amount of people qualified to be data entry clerks that are currently in the Civil Service system and in the general populace only emphasizes the PLCB's lack of decision making ability.

Pretty much the excuse for this stoppage was that PA residents are offered so many items in the SLO process that the staff can't keep up with the entering and deleting of them all in the product catalog. But are we really offered that much? Of the 40,000 items listed as available, the PLCB admits that there are "tens of thousands of outdated or nonexistent special liquor order items that must be deleted from the state catalog each year." If there is only one catalog that lists everything, yet some unspecified but large percentage of that catalog (tens of thousands!) are nonexistent or outdated on a rotating basis...then you really don't have 40,000 items available, you have 40,000 items listed. Note that this is exactly the same thing Joe "Da CEO" Conti used to accuse the large over-the-border superstores (like Total, Joe Canal's, and Roger Wilco) of doing; saying they had 12,000 items, but then talking you into something else once you actually got there. Guess he was just projecting his behavior on them.

Would Lowe's, Target, Sears, etc. be in business if they let the public order and pay for 25% (or maybe more) of the items listed on their websites, only to tell them days or weeks later that the item isn't available? I mean that does happen...but with a damn sight less frequency then with the state stores.

Imagine telling your boss (and we are the boss of this government-run retail monopoly, even if they won't do anything we want) that you can't do your job, so you are going to stop for a few weeks to catch up. How do you think that will go over?

Not surprisingly, once this business incompetence was reported the PLCB suddenly was able to start taking SLO orders the very next day a week ahead of schedule. Not unlike the situation in "The 90 days to do something story"  I posted back in November. The PLCB doesn't "fix" anything unless they are found out doing something stupid, incompetent or anti-consumer.

PLCB says it is planning to install a system that allows for greater automation of application processing, which could help to alleviate future delays. Notice that they don't say it will fix the problem but just band-aid it enough so the citizens won't see it fail like it just did. News flash: if we privatize, you won't see it fail either. Socialist monopoly retail can not react to business and consumer needs anywhere near the way private industry can. Why continue to have the State Store System try to act like a badly-run business when real business can do so much better, and does, every day?

Call, email or write your Representatives and Senators and tell them to make a deal to get rid of this albatross; trade it for a shale tax or just sell it outright to close the deficit.  We deserve better and we'll never get it with the PLCB.

Privatization IS Modernization.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The PLCB: Where luxury starts one step above Mad Dog.

Luxury — Merriam-Webster defines "luxury" as "something that is expensive and not necessary."
Just a tad below 'Luxury', says the PLCB
The January PLCB product catalog lists 11,146 luxury wines starting at $5.49, which to me seems to be a bit of an oxymoron, since that's only 50 cents more than Mad Dog 20/20...which is definitely not a luxury (although it is "not necessary"). In comparison, there are only 2,451 "regular" wines listed, with the most expensive non-holiday offering being $155 — but that isn't luxury, according to the PLCB.

82% of the non-SLO wines listed are Luxury items, including all of the so-called "Chairman's Selections", and ALL of these wines are selected by the Luxury Product Team...six people in Harrisburg. The PLCB says that "Luxury Product wines are personally selected by our Luxury Product Team." Since there is also a Chairman's Selection team and all Chairman's Selections are Luxury items, I guess they get selected twice.

The selection criteria is stated as, "The products are managed geographically and reviewed for soundness, price/value relationship, and market appeal. The luxury division reviews wines during offering periods throughout the calendar year to insure a constant flow of the world’s best wines into our premium collection stores." No mention about tasting, just the marketing, which given that there aren't any highly wine certified people in the PLCB makes sense....unless you are a consumer who isn't allowed to go anywhere else and choose for themselves. 

Could you imagine 6 people actually trying to taste 11,000+ wines that would be only...let's see...11,146 divided by six is 1,857 each, over 240 work days, or just under 8 wines per day every work day.  Doable but not feasible.Or maybe they get together every Friday and do 38 different wines each.  More likely they don't try the majority of the wines selected as "Luxury."

The PLCB where Luxury starts at $5.49. God help us rid ourselves of these idiots.

Privatize.

Monday, January 12, 2015

After 80 years they still can't do inventory

Back in November when their latest annual report was released, the PLCB touted that they had updated their website. I guess reporting bad info more inaccurately is an improvement to them.

Here are just some of the things I found this week.

Laphroaig 25 #36279  - Listed as an "On Line Exclusive!!!" which is true, as long as you don't count the ones sitting on the shelf in Allegheny county.  Plus, you don't want to take advantage of the "restructured the website search engine" they've been bragging about by searching for Laphroaig 25 instead of Laphroaig Single Malt Scotch 25...because if you do, you won't find it.

Buffalo Trace White Dog #30570 - Also listed as an On Line Exclusive, but depending where you look one PLCB website says it isn't available and the the other one says it is. One listing won't find it if you look for Buffalo Trace White Dog and the other one will.


Laphroaig Cairdeas 2014 Edition #36485 - Another one that is listed as not available in the product catalog but is on the website.

Is not the On Line store listed as a store in the annual report?  If the PLCB product catalog says "There were NO Locations found for your selected search ..." and they claim "
Store inventory is accurate as of the close of the previous business day", this pretty much shows the brick-and-mortar left hand hasn't a clue what the online right hand is doing. I guess judging by the overall lack of large retail or even alcohol industry experience in the PLCB we, the citizens, should not expect a well-run organization who can keep track of what products are available for sale or not.

Maybe they need to hire an outside consultant for a few million like last time, rename the stores again, and switch the apron colors. Maybe Governor-elect Wolf  can take the executives, after they sign another pledge not to take gifts (since the first one didn't seem to work), and make them wear old Nixon buttons. You know, the ones that said "I Am Not A Crook." That should show the public they are "modernizing" and perhaps save them for a few more months.

We deserve better. If your Representative or Senator doesn't think so, ask them why. Then hit them with some of the stuff you've learned here...and ask them again.

Privatization IS Modernization!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

We need the PLCB! Because it...does what, exactly?

When talk is raised about privatizing the state's 80 year old monopoly on sales of liquor and wine, of doing away with the PLCB-controlled State Stores, we hear a variety of reasons against it. "Reasons" like these:

"We need the PLCB because it collects taxes."

Really? The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania....
  • collected about $1 billion in cigarette tax last year without state employees selling cigarettes.
  • collected about $9 billion in sales taxes without having state employees in WalMart, Target, car lots, Burger King, KFC, Dollar General, dry cleaners, furniture stores or any of the thousands of other businesses in PA.
  • collected about $1.25 billion in motor vehicle fuel taxes last year without having state employes work in gas stations.
  • collected taxes on about 1 million firearms and ammunition sales without having state employees sell firearms or ammunition.
"We need the PLCB because it controls alcohol consumption."

Really? New York, New Jersey, and  Maryland have lower DUI fatality rates than PA. Ohio is statistically a tie and only Delaware and West Virginia are worse. (And Ohio and WV are control states...) New York and New Jersey have lower underage DUI fatality rates than PA; Delaware and Ohio are statistically tied; only Maryland and West Virginia do worse.

The UFCW -- the union that represents State Store clerks and has been a major lobbying foe of privatization of the stores -- claims that PA has the lowest death rate in the country associated with alcohol consumption: it is not true. The PA rate has gone up almost 31% since 2007 and is now higher than Maryland and New Jersey and may fall behind Delaware when the latest report is released. The most open private state in the country -- Louisiana -- has a lower rate than PA. What does all this mean? Alcohol consumption is affected by many independent factors, and "control" is not particularly effective.

There are already over 20,000 licenses for private businesses to sell alcohol; none of them have state employees on their registers. Why do the private employees have to take RAMP (Responsible Alcohol Management Program) training from certified instructors...but State Store workers don't?

"We need the PLCB because it keeps alcohol from minors."

Really? How do we know that this even works? State Stores are NEVER checked for underage sales by outside agencies, like the police, or the state's Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement, but private businesses are. There is no independent proof that the State Store System makes any resident of the state -- young or old -- safer.

"We need the PLCB because it provides revenue for the state!"

Really? The State Store System provides under 4 tenths of one per cent of the state budget. It also owes over $600 million as its share of the pension deficit, a number that's missing from the PLCB's sunny annual report.

The State Store System limits employment, since every state or province that has fully privatized tripled employment in the industry.

The State Store System does not pay any business taxes -- 2,000+ private stores would.

The State Store System does not pay any license fees -- 2,000+ private stores would.

The State Store System limits access to product, thus limiting sales made and taxes collected (and sending thousands of Pennsylvanians across the border to buy booze -- and gas, and smokes, and lottery tickets -- every day).

These aren't reasons; they're illusions!

Why is selling liquor and wine considered an essential part of government? If we could go back to 1933, do it over again, pick a different way of selling liquor and wine...is this what we'd choose?

Really? 

Why does the legislature refuse to correct this aberration? Is it because satisfying union bosses is more important to them than increasing employment, going along with 40 years of public opinion polls, or treating citizens like adults?

Really?

Privatization IS Modernization. Really!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The PLCB - Not taking care of the citizens again

The one liquor store in Waynesboro closed on September 13. On August 20th the PLCB was told by the lessor that the lease -- which ended on September 30th -- would not be renewed. It apparently takes the state store system seventeen days to move the equivalent contents of a largish 4,000 sq.ft. house; yet another thing they don't seem to be very good at.

That means there are four State Stores that remain open in Franklin County, which has a population of 152,000. This closing has the residents of Waynesboro driving 8 miles to Greencastle to the nearest State Store (or 15 miles to Chambersburg, a city of 20,000, which has two State Stores!) or having the choice of over fifteen different liquor stores in Hagerstown, MD, a town of 40,000...only 12 miles away. How big does a town have to be to have more than fifteen liquor stores in Pennsylvania? I'll give you a hint: there are only two cities in the whole state that have that many, they both start with "P," and the smaller one has about 306,000 people.

It's not just quantity that's better in Maryland, either. This is Long Meadow Liquors in Hagerstown. You can bet the Greencastle state store doesn't look like this.

So spacious! So well-organized! So friendly! So non-PLCB!
Fear not, Waynesboro! On January 2nd, it was announced that a new store would open...sometime.  No date given, no month even. Not that it matters to the PLCB; making citizens wait months, or even years for a store in their area is not uncommon at all. (Could be two years, like it was in Mountain Top.) Real businesses take less time to build stores than it takes the PLCB to lease and move into a current location. An ongoing PLCB FAIL. I mean, it isn't like they are a real business that has to take care of their customers or is worried about losing sales to the competition. They have no legal competition.

As you would suspect there are a number of grocery stores -- Giant, Foodland, Save-A-Lot, Martin's -- that would love to satisfy the wants of their customers by selling them wine and liquor, or at least wine. While they may not take the place of a full service liquor store, it would be far more convenient then relying on the one state store. Not every liquor store has to offer everything; not every grocery store does. Choice is always better for the consumer.

So there you have it. 2015 starting out like last year with more lipstick for the state store pig, and just like the 80 years prior, the citizens are left out again.

It's up to the Legislature and Governor Wolf to hear the needs of the citizens. Privatize and reap the benefits of the free market.

Monday, December 15, 2014

No joy for whisky drinkers - thanks PLCB.

First we had the Pappy Van Winkle debacle, where the PLCB didn't know that when you have a monopoly on a product that is in very high demand for that product, and you tell everybody all at once that the product is available...there will be a rush to get said product. It seems nobody in Harrisburg went to business school or understands basic demand.

Now we have the picks for the top malt whiskies of the year being released, and like with the wine lists that I chronicled on the blog starting back on Nov, 11th, it doesn't look good for PA.

Top Speyside Single Malt - Craigellachie 17 - NOT AVAILABLE IN PA.

Top Islay Single Malt - Signatory 1998 bottling of Laphroaig - NOT AVAILABLE IN PA.

Top Islands/Highland Single Malt - Arran The Devil’s Punchbowl III The Fiendish Finale -
NOT AVAILABLE IN PA.

Top Lowlands/Campbeltown Single Malt - Rosebank 21 - NOT AVAILABLE IN PA.

Top World Whisky - Broger Burn Out - While also not available in PA, they get a pass, since I can't find it anywhere in the U.S.

The PLCB slogan should be - "Only the rest, never the best"

Friday, December 12, 2014

Selling Allocated Van Winkle Whiskeys Online is the "Most Fair" Method. Really?

Stacey Kreideman, the PLCB's spokesperson, told us that the most "fair" way for the agency to sell their allotment of relatively rare and highly desired Pappy Van Winkle whiskeys was to put them up for sale all at once, online, with no warning but an email to say "We got 'em, time to buy!" So let's look at how much, if any, thought was put into that statement. After all the PLCB has to serve ALL the population: we can't legally go anywhere else.

Pennsylvania's population is about 12.9 million.  Of that about 3 million are under 21, leaving 9.9 million adults who can legally buy liquor. About 800,000 people work in non-management manufacturing, mining, and construction, mostly during the day, so they aren't  -- can't be! -- looking to get twitter blasts in the middle of the work day.  That takes our number down to 9.1 million who may have the time, internet connection, and desire to buy a bottle on line.

Service jobs make up the largest part of PA workers, almost 4.5 million of them.  Even after you take out the IT folks, real estate and "professional business services" that still leaves 3.4 million working in retail, warehouses, restaurants, utilities, and all other manner of service jobs. Most of those people aren't responding to every tweet and email in the middle of work either. Down to 5.7 million

Health Services is another large employer with about 1.2 million employees. Take out the night shift, and the administrators and other desk jockeys, and that is near 800,000 who are actually at work doing something when the PLCB sends out it's email blast. Down to 4.9 million now: half of the population that will never get a shot at the PLCB's rigged Van Winkle race.

Drop another 500,000 for Leisure and Hospitality workers - wait staff, cooks, busboys, hostesses, hotel workers etc., etc. Another 200,000 for government workers like road crews, maintenance, military, police, firemen, state store clerks (they're certainly not checking Twitter; they're too busy shoveling coal into their 1930s-era POS system) and what have you, and at least another 100,000 for non-traditional services, the number drops to 4.1 million or less.

So how fair is it when over 60% of your buying population can't buy what you are selling? Putting it all on sale at 5 AM would be far more "fair" to the majority of buyers, since most could actually try to get on the crashing PLCB website. Ahh, but then the PLCB workers in Harrisburg would have to get up early and actually try to do something for the people they work for. Can't have that, now can we?

I originally made the following up, as a joke, but it turns out to be more true than I thought. "It's the most fair to everyone that works behind a desk" said the PLCB. "If you have one of those laboring jobs we really don't care about you and you shouldn't be buying $100 bottles of whiskey. Our clerks will tell you so." 

The PLCB's online 'store' needs a new motto. Here's a proposal: "We don't deal with the public, we make the public deal with us!"







All the numbers come from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry website minus an estimated 10% for management