Friday, October 19, 2018

Redacted for your benefit...

Just yesterday I wrote about how the PLCB finally managed to get down to one minor inventory mistake on their listings for Jack Daniel's. That was based on checking their "database" the week before. But I spoke too soon. Never ones to rest on their laurels or maintain high standards, the registraters and data enterers have corrected their excellence. This week's database iteration shows a 200% increase in bad JD data. Back to "PLCB normal."

We have been telling the PLCB — and showing them! — EXACTLY what some of the mistakes were for five years. We aren't trained specialists like they have at the PLCB, but we do know a thing or two about whiskey. Apparently we know about twice as much as the 40 year vet of the PLCB's Chief Executive Of Doing Things Wrong, Charlie Mooney. The buck doesn't stop with with Chuck so much as it kind of blows onto the floor and slips under a desk where you can't see it...problem solved!

But we did learn something from inside the Forbidden City at 910 Capital Street. Remember that 1792 Full Proof bourbon I wrote about yesterday? The one that both the online Product catalog and the "Fine Wine and Good Spirits" (the money they paid for that name, we should use the whole thing!) website didn't show?
It isn't missing because the PLCB doesn't have it in stock, OR that they don't have the information entered yet. One of our secret army of disgruntled and fed up clerks sent us a screenshot of the secret employee version of that same page. Check this out:
Well whaddya know, there is 1792 Full Proof, just like it used to be listed on the consumer site! You know, the one ordinary citizens have to use. I know the PLCB has products in inventory that are licensee only, things that they not only don't want you to buy, but make sure you aren't allowed to buy, because they know better about what you the consumer wants than you do. A lot of that stuff isn't available for general purchase mainly because if it were someone up in Potter County might actually want to "Special Liquor Order" it — you know, like the PLCB's supporters always say is so important, the right to access to special booze in Coudersport! — and they'd lose money on the deal. Of course they would, that's what they do.

Our source didn't know why we couldn't see these "regular" and "luxury" items that are available for sale to the consumer, but he thought it was because the system was "broken,"  his word, not ours.

But we agree wholeheartedly. The system is broken, and not just the website: it's the entire agency and its reason for existence. From the preamble of The Almighty Liquor Code: "for the protection of the public welfare, health, peace and morals of the people of the Commonwealth and to prohibit forever the open saloon," or as Governor Pinchot put it, to "discourage the purchase of alcoholic beverages by making it as inconvenient and expensive as possible."

It is broken, it always has been broken, and always will be broken so long as there is a monolithic, monopolistic, and inevitably incompetent bureaucracy, run by people with no real industry experience, little to no oversight, doing any harebrained things that their crazed bosses come up with (wine kiosk, anyone?). This agency has no vision, no insight, no real knowledge of what consumers want, and does not want to hear anything about that from any well-meaning and industrious folks out in the individual stores. They only follow, like sheep, as real leaders in the booze business move forward with new ideas. How good can any police-enforced monopoly be, especially when they not only don't want entrepreneurial thinking, but have laws in place to prevent it!

When everything is broken, you can't fix it. You start over...and in Pennsylvania's case, you start over where you should have started in the first place: Privatize. No matter what the PLCBniks say about "well, if we were starting back in 1934, sure, this system isn't what we'd want, but now that we have it —"

Hey. Stop right there. This system isn't what we want. Let's go with that icy chunk of truth. Privatize now. Fix what's broken: everything.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

The world as we know it is ending.

It only took 83 years, with five years of us pointing it out, but the PLCB has finally — at least for this month — listed Jack Daniel's correctly across their inventory. There is still one small mistake, but considering how bad it was for DECADES, this is pretty amazing.

Of course, the "adaptive" inventory lookup that the Chairman spoke about well over two years ago still doesn't work.  Don't put in "Jack Daniels" or "Jack Danials" or "Jack Danial's" and expect to find anything...but that's something for them to work on for the next 83 years, I guess. Nope, as of October 2018, the only questionable listing is for item 2419 (the "Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey Family of Brands Combo," a pack of five different airline bottles) which is listed under the category of "Whiskies." Like a catch-all category, except it's one that the PLCB doesn't have. You can't search it on their "Product Catalog," but it does come up on the splashy '' page. Consistency, guys...

That doesn't mean they're off the hook. There are so many more inventory mistakes to be found, we'll be busy for years to come.

Here's something that made me delve into the PLCB inventory again. I was in New Jersey and bought a bottle of 1792 Full Proof (125 proof) Bourbon. I'm not a big fan of 1792 in general, but a high proof non-chill filtered bourbon isn't that common, even more so at under $50; so I took a chance. Well worth it...if you can find it. So, back to the the online PLCB Product Catalog.

That's never as easy as it sounds. Even the PLCB doesn't think too much of their system, because right in the instructions for using the keyword search, they say, "If too precise, the product may not be returned as expected." In other words, don't put in exactly what you want, put in something close...unless it's Jack Daniel's, because then you have to be exact with the spelling of Daniel's. Which is something the PLCB apparently couldn't do for eight decades. It's tough being a consumer in Pennsylvania.

So I put "1792" into the keyword search box, select "spirits" and hit 1792 Full Proof shows up.
OK, I'm used to the PLCB not having most things I buy. But this is pretty mainstream stuff, so I was surprised that it wasn't listed. Well, maybe it just didn't make it through the "good ol' boy" selection process, since it was fairly new. After a month I check again - still nothing. The search page says it is updated daily so if it hits the system, it should show up right?

Wait a minute...I head over to the FWAGS website to see what is there. Sure enough, the Full Proof is an "Online Exclusive." Now, the Online store is technically a store, and everything in it used to be shown in the Product Catalog because, well, you know, it lists "everything." So I randomly search for some things listed as "Online Exclusives" — McKenzie Rye Whiskey, Peerless Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey, Highland Park Full Volume, and a few others. None of them show up any more. That is helpful in a uniquely PLCB kinda way. Great way to sell product - don't let the consumer find it.  Must be that "control" they always talk about.

I know we don't do much wine here, but...if this is what they're screwing up with a few hundred whiskeys, can you imagine how they're screwing up thousands of wines? The mind boggles.

Hey, PA legislature — are you sure we can't do better?  Privatize.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Let's talk New Jersey just a bit

This is a blog about Pennsylvania's drinking problem -- the PLCB. But sometimes we look at how other states do it, either to see how it's done right, or how it's done wrong. Today, "done wrong" is the New Jersey Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control, and their recent "crackdown" on limited brewery licenses...which was followed by an amusing 180 when they were brought to heel.

Let me explain. A limited brewery license is a relatively new thing, an adjustment to the NJ Booze Code that was just passed in the Garden State in 2012. I'll save you the trouble of looking at it: it's a license for breweries that produce under 300,000 barrels a year, and allows them to sell to wholesalers or direct to retailers, sell directly to consumers on their premises (by the drink, or in quantities up to a half-keg at a time for off-premise), and give limited amounts of free samples. The license is an annual fee, between $1,250 and $7,500, depending on the size of the brewery.

There are two restrictions in the law. On-premise sales must be "in connection with a tour of the brewery" (which has been interpreted to be as simple as signs on the brewing equipment or a three-minute instructional video). And "The holder of this license shall not sell food or operate a restaurant on the licensed premises." And that's it. 

And yet...last month, David Rible, the director of the NJ Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC, and why does it say "control" if they don't have state-run stores?) took it upon himself to arbitrarily issue a restrictive ruling that suddenly limited that "limited license" with a load of restrictions that seem to go way beyond the NJ legislature's original intent of "in connection with a tour" and "shall not sell food." 

Rible's ruling on consumer freedom
According to Rible's ruling, the limited license holder was now restricted to 25 "events" per year; "Trivia night" is given as an example of an "event," but so are "live" television display of sporting events, and each event must be approved by the ABC. The license holder may only do 12 off-premise events in a year; beer festivals are not included, but events in the brewery parking lot are. They are allowed to host up to 52 "private events," but only in a walled-off area. These "rulings" make things a lot less fun, but then Rible just got stupid. Yeah: David Rible got stupid. PLCB-level arbitrarily stupid.

The food thing got crazy. No food trucks are allowed, Why can't a food truck park in the lot? Then this one is just a killer: "No restaurant menus of any kind shall be placed or maintained on the licensed premises of a Limited Brewery." Which, one, in the era of GrubHub and Yelp is just stupid and pointless, and two, would seem to violate all kinds of commercial free speech.

Then there's this one, which is just weird: "A Limited Brewery licensee shall not allow, permit or suffer other mercantile business, such as "pop up' shops, bazaars or craft shows, to occur on the licensed premises." Sounds like Rible doesn't like hippies.

Upshot: there was a huge uproar from consumers, breweries (and I suspect the legislature), and within about a week, Rible was back-pedaling like mad. The whole thing was suspended, and now the Legislature is going to revisit the limited license. (And some brewers are pleased with this! Be careful what you wish for...)

Sigh. This is exactly the kind of crazed arbitrary rulings the PLCB loves to make, regardless of consequences. Rible is not a judge, he's not a legislator, he's certainly not the governor. But he took a law, and simply rewrote it. He presumed to know what the legislators really meant when they said "in connection with a tour" and "shall not sell food," and that was "don't take business away from complacent tavern owners." 

Rible's Library of Arbitrary Decisions and Policy Mistakes
Whoops. Did I say that out loud? Yeah, it sure looks like he did this to please tavern owners, who felt they were being gored by this limited brewery license. After all, because New Jersey has the same stupid limits on licenses that Pennsylvania does -- only worse! -- they had to pay a LOT more for their license, often over a million dollars. And that doesn't seem fair. 

Well, it isn't. But it's not the brewers' fault, and they shouldn't be punished for simply following the law. There wasn't any news of breweries selling food, and every New Jersey brewery I've ever been to (a lot of them), has offered some kind of "tour". 

No, the real problem here is that the licensing system is broken, and no one who currently has a license wants it fixed. Sound familiar? 

I'll spell it out for you. The arbitrary decision by the PLCB to allow grocery stores to sell beer because they have purchased a restaurant license (and maintain a "cafe" area separated from the rest of the store) is a bad idea, and it is only making the broken licensing system worse. And in the future, if the Legislature wants to fix that by creating a new, reasonably-fee'd store license, guess who's going to be spending a lot of money to convince them that's a bad idea? The grocery chains who spent millions buying restaurant licenses, that's who. 

Leave it to the Legislature. They answer to us. Bureaucrats like Rible, and the PLCB, rarely answer to anyone. Though I do have to admire the brewers of New Jersey for standing up to this bullshit. Well done! Hold onto those menus!

New Jersey's example is clear. As long as the PLCB has this kind of arbitrary regulatory power...mistakes will be made. The solution? It's at the top of the screen, as always: Abolish the PLCB. Rewrite the Code. 

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Oregon: the 2nd highest liquor taxes in America! Or are they?

Today we are going to look at Oregon, home of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC), and generally considered to have the second-highest liquor taxes in the country behind Washington State. They are a control state for liquor sales, but wine sales are private business. This chart by The Tax Foundation shows the tax levels for 2016; Oregon appears to have a tax rate of 3.1 times that of Pennsylvania.

Wow. If we have high prices, the prices in Oregon must be astronomical, right? Let's compare some of the top selling liquors in the two states today, now that we have the additional wonder of variable pricing. Keep in mind, the PLCB's very own report on variable pricing says nothing about using price negotiation to benefit the citizens, only about how much more money they can take from us in "Revenue."

We're going to compare the prices for the top selling spirits in the PA State Stores from 2017 (Fiscal 2018 ended 3 months ago, but the new report still isn't out) to those same bottles from Oregon, using both state's website prices. We'll give you the OLCC price, and the PLCB's shelf price (and out the door price). We'll explain that shortly.

First on the list is Tito's Handmade Vodka. Oregon # 8488B is selling at $23.95. The PLCB has it as # 9359 and it is on sale this month for $17.99. ($19.07) Yay us!

2. Captain Morgan Spiced Rum: Item # 0475BB in Oregon, selling for $16.95. Here it is Item #8865 at $17.99 ($19.07).

3. Jack Daniel's No. 7: OLCC Item #0146B, which sells for $21.95 (on sale this month); or you can pay $25.99 ($27.55) for Item #4291 in the State Stores. Such a deal!

4. Fireball Cinnamon: Oregon item #0939B for $15.95 in plastic, or $17.95 in glass. The PLCB equivalent, #4302, is on sale for $17.99 ($19.07). Even on sale they can't match the Oregon price. How much do you reckon they had to variably mark it up for that to happen?

5. Jameson Irish Whiskey: Item # 0391B for $29.95 in Oregon; or pay $29.99 ($31.79) for item #7303 in Pennsylvania.

6. Bacardi Superior Rum: Oregon #6179B is currently selling for $12.95. But it's on sale at the PLCB! Yeah! Item #7970 is on sale for $13.99 ($14.83). Wait...what?

7. Grey Goose Vodka: Oregon's #0636B at $35.95 compares to the PLCB's # 8963, selling for $32.99 ($34.97). Hey, we won one!

8. Crown Royal: Oregon's #0311B is going for $27.95 there; but #5186 is selling for $28.99 ($30.73) here. Screwed again.

That's the tale of the tape. Now we'll explain it.

Why did I include the out the door price for Pennsylvania, but not Oregon?  Because there are no extra or hidden taxes in honest Oregon. The price you see on the shelf is the price you pay: no hidden variable markup, storage fees, extra 1% 'just because' fees, and no sales tax dumped on top of the already taxed liquor. Kinda makes you wonder about the "negotiation" on those JD prices in Pennsylvania, doesn't it?

Remember that these are the largest selling 750s in Pennsylvania*. If there was any buying power leverage that could be used, it would be on these items. So what did that buying power get us? Jack went up a dollar, as did Fireball, Bacardi Superior and Crown Royal.

Looks like Oregon has pretty competitive prices even though their tax rate is THREE times as much. How is that possible? Hidden taxes, with the main one being product markup, the bloated PLCB "profit" that's being used mainly to pay for bloated PLCB operating costs. It used to be fixed at 30%, but now it is whatever they need it to be -- that's "variable" pricing! -- to pay off their burgeoning overhead, incompetent decision making, and of course to maybe pay some of the pension debt they owe. Need more money? Just vary the pricing! UPWARD!

You see, in Oregon they just have taxes, and it's transparently easy to find exactly what they are. From that they pay for the OLCC's costs. Here in Pennsylvania, we have the super-secret Variable Markup that no citizen is allowed to know, used to pay for the PLCB and whatever idiocy they come up with: wine kiosks, house brands, courtesy training, bad contracts, renaming stores for the 4th or 5th get the idea.

Oregon's listed tax rate may be OVER 3 times that of Pennsylvania, but our secret taxes make them almost equal on many, many items. This is what we get with an "independent" agency with almost no oversight, no experienced business people in charge, and 80 years of cronyism and incompetence at every level. Is this the system that is best for the citizens? Are you sure we can't do better by having real business people run real businesses in competition with each other for the consumers' dollar? You know...just like you buy everything else?

Privatize - now more than ever.

* (Oregon does not carry the same bottom shelf vodka that the PLCB does, so that was left off the comparison.)

Orwell's 1984 and PLCB-world — the similarities are striking

Although George Orwell was likely unaware of the PLCB's Stalinist ways when he wrote 1984, his classic tale of a dystopian future (writtenalmost 16 years after the PLCB was forced onto an unwilling Pennsylvania), parts of it are strikingly close to what the PLCB has become.

Let's take the three sacred principles of Orwell's totalitarian government, the ways they control the population of Airstrip One, and see what parallel ideas the PLCB — a monopolistic government agency — runs on.

First: Newspeak. The official language of all party members, the prime method to eliminate all thoughtcrime. Any thoughts that are unorthodox or outside the official government platform are only describable as "thoughtcrime" in Newspeak; they are crimes by their definition.

All organizations have their own language, their jargon, of acronyms, contractions, and task-specific verbiage that outsiders have a difficult time understanding. PLCB employees talk about facings (how many rows across a product has on the shelf) sku's (s
tock control units; products with individual barcodes), self-audit (the act of looking over your own shoulder to see if you're doing what you say you're doing), border bleed (smart shopping, American-style), chronic alcohol abusers (that's us, the customers), and our favorite, variable pricing (which means higher pricing). These terms force the conversation into the PLCB's favor, and make all customers criminals.

Second: Doublethink. The act of simultaneously holding two opposite, mutually exclusive ideas or opinions, and believing in both absolutely. Doublethink requires using logic against logic or suspending disbelief in the contradiction.

PLCB Doublethink abounds. We're told the PLCB "controls" alcohol sales, because the private sector can't. But the PLCB also issues license to thousands of privately-owned beer distributors, restaurants, and now grocery stores and convenience stores that also sell alcohol. They must be out of control... The doublethink at the heart of the PLCB though, is the one that increased consumption of alcohol is bad...when the private sector is selling it. It is beneficial when the State Stores are selling it, because the State benefits. You can't get more doublethink than that!

Third: The Mutability of the Past. The deliberate changing (manipulation) of the past through the use of ‘Newspeak,’ by destruction and alteration of past history elements. The aim of this manipulation by Big Brother is to change the social consciousness of the system.

The PLCB and the unions that support it like to use this to prove they are a benefit to the citizen. "We contributed X million dollars in local taxes" is a favorite ploy in changing what happened. They didn't contribute anything. The State Stores merely collected taxes and by law had to return them to the municipality. With private stores, the municipality would collect those taxes on their own terms at a time convenient for them if the state wasn't in the middle.

But there are more parallels beyond the three principles. Drop into PLCBspeak and see how they work.

to rid oneself of unwanted thoughts that interfere with the ideology of the PLCB, a necessary mental discipline for indoctrinated members of the PLCB. Good employees are in a state of constant enthusiasm about the goals set by the State. 
This is achieved by not grasping analogies, failing to perceive logical errors, misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they are inimical to the PLCB: call it protective stupidity. The main example of this in the PLCB is variable pricing: how to suck more money from the citizens while giving them nothing in return. Sound business practices show that lowering prices to increase sales has more total benefit, but not in PLCBvania! Everything for the State (Stores) — nothing for the citizens! Productive stupidity!

Big Brother: The bureaucrats in Harrisburg make all the buying decisions for every single store, no exceptions. We tell you what you can buy. We tell you where you can buy it. We tell you when you can buy. There is no other choice. Dystopian regime or the PLCB or both!

Thoughtcrime: Any ideas, wishes or thoughts that contradict the idea that the PLCB knows what is best for you. They are the pinnacle of access to alcohol, even when the facts show otherwise. To think otherwise is a crime. You laugh at this, but as an American citizen, in direct defiance of the spirit of the U.S. Constitution (because of the terribly written 21st Amendment), Pennsylvania tells you that you can't go buy booze across the Delaware River in New Jersey. Laugh that off. 

Room 101: In the novel, Room 101 was where you were tortured with your worst fears.  Here in Pennsylvania, Room 101 is the entire state under variable pricing. All our worst fears about the PLCB come true (we warned you about this over and over, damn it!).

2 + 2 = 5: The mathematically false statement that control over physical reality is unimportant; so long as one controls one's own perceptions to what the PLCB says ("We make millions in revenue for the State!"), then any act is possible, in accordance with the principles of doublethink. A prime example: the commonly held belief in the Legislature (and among the citizens) that the PLCB is profitable, while it is over  $1 BILLION in debt, with total liabilities approaching $2 BILLION.

Memory hole:
A small chute in the wall used to carry documents to a large incinerator, in order to censor information and or remnants of the past. What's the connection to the PLCB? They tried to dump who was responsible for the wine kiosks and House Brands. They buried the truth about the Point Breeze warehouse firings in 2010 (and rehired all the union employees). And we go on like nothing happened. No one gets arrested, no one gets fired. Okay, ONE guy gets arrested, despite obvious corruption. Do you remember who? 

1984 never came to pass...except in that weird Apple Macintosh commercial. We certainly don't need it here in Pennsylvania. 

A free citizen does not need the PLCB.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

6 Reasons to Keep The State Stores - Does it still hold up?

Marc Stier, a Philadelphia-based full-time progressive political activistpublished six reasons why we should keep the State Stores five years ago. I thought I'd take a look at those reasons and how well they hold up today.

1. Poor regulation
"First, in an ideal world we could count on government regulation of private liquor stores to control the sale of alcohol. That’s important, because alcohol abuse remains a major public health hazard. But in the real world, regulation fails when it is carried out by those who hate government. And academic studies show that states that control the sale and distribution of alcohol have lower levels of problem drinking, drunk driving, and the violence and death that go along with them."
In an ideal world we could count on the government to control the sale of alcohol, Stier says, then makes the self-evident observation that the world isn't ideal. It never has been, it never will be. And what does "regulation fails when it is carried out by those who hate government" even mean? The state's liquor regulations are carried out by PLCB employees and BLCE cops: are they known for hating government? Doubtful.

So we're left with our non-ideal world, where the PLCB simply isn't very good at all at control or regulation. Pennsylvania has higher levels of DUI, underage DUI, DUI fatalities, underage DUI fatalities, binge drinking, and underage binge drinking overall than the states on our borders; the non-control states. So while academic studies (set in the ideal world, apparently) may show that states that control the sale and distribution of alcohol have lower levels of problem drinking, the reality is Pennsylvania, where the alcohol problems are in the stubborn middle, despite control.
2. Union organization
"Second, in an ideal world, the workforce in privately owned liquor stores would be able to form a union simply by securing the support of a majority of workers.
But in the real world, laws created and implemented by Republicans have made union organization in the private sector almost impossible. So I stand with currently unionized employees of the state stores."
Hung by that real world again. Stier didn't know that laws (and regulatory interpretation) would change to allow supermarkets to buy restaurant licenses and start selling beer and wine. And what happened? The majority of licenses purchased were by grocery stores which are already heavily unionized, most by the same union that the State Store workers already belong to. Guess union organization in the private sector isn't impossible after all.

3. Tax revenues
"Third, in an ideal world, businesses, including those that sell alcohol, would be taxed at reasonable rates, wouldn’t get to keep 1 percent of the sales tax to cover costs of collection they no longer have, and would pay all the taxes they owe.
In the real world, because we don’t have to worry about those problems, the wine and spirits stores generate more revenues for education, health care and other public needs than private stores would."
As we've always said, in the real world, the world we actually live in, tax collection problems are not a liquor store problem, they are a department of revenue problem. And having an average number of liquor stores for a state our size (about 2,400, compared to the 600 the PLCB manages to keep open...most days) will generate more tax revenue just due to the extra convenience. And don't forget the hundreds of millions of dollars that won't be going out of state to buy things that the bureaucrats in Harrisburg have decided we don't need or want. (BTW, if Stier thinks that in an ideal world alcohol would be taxed at reasonable rates...does he think the real world rates aren't reasonable? Because that's something we'd agree on.)

4. Wage disparity
"Fourth, in an ideal world, our governor and general assembly would be working to increase wages for working people and the middle class. But in the real world, the Republicans are attacking public sector workers and privatizing public services mainly to drive wages in the private sector down. So I stand against a proposal that is likely to make income even more unequal in our state."
In the real world, there would be LESS wage disparity. There wouldn't be the artificially large difference between a stock clerk in a grocery store and a stock clerk in a state-run monopoly liquor store (who are both represented by the same's that work?). Also, I don't in any way consider the PLCB a service. It limits selection, never leads in new products, severely limits locations, and generally prevents entrepreneurs from providing the services consumers want. The PLCB stops job creation and is a drag on the economy, being well over a billion dollars in debt.

5. Discrimination protections
"Fifth, in an ideal world, the state would protect worker from discrimination by private businesses, including new private liquor stores. But in the real world, LGBTQ workers are only protected from discrimination by organized labor."
Simply not true..."in the real world." Again, Stier's pessimism (and drama) has undercut his positions, as the real world moved on and changed for the betterWorkplace protections are provided by state law or regulation. Union agreements do not over-rule written law.

6. Corporate influence
"Sixth, in an ideal world, elections and public policy would be determined by the number of people on each side,  not by campaign contributions given by each side."
We strongly agree! Because by this measure, the PLCB should have been gone ages ago, since for decades the majority of people polled wanted private liquor stores. And we all know who gave more money to politicians -- those against privatization, even though it was against what the people wanted.

So what does this all mean?  In 2018 -- in the real world -- there are no reasons to keep the antiquated, anti-consumer jobs program called the PLCB.


Monday, September 17, 2018

At the PLCB, ALL money is TAX money

Well, the good 'ol PLCB got their annual report out, and proudly lists the following as "Contributions to state and local governments" totaling $749.6 million for last fiscal year:

• $371.5 million in liquor tax
• $146 million in state sales tax
• $185.1 million in cash transfers

Of course, the first number is the Johnstown Flood Tax, which was raised twice since the flood in question, the second time about 30 years after the flood. Still, at least they call it a tax. Same with sales tax. That's what passes for honesty in Harrisburg.

It is the last one that the whole PLCB rides on, the reason they still exist: $185 million in "cash transfers," or what they like to call "profit." They don't want to call it tax revenue, but that is exactly what it is, a tax. Webster's defines a tax as: A charge usually of money imposed by authority on persons or property for public purposes. Don't like that one?  This is even more specific: A compulsory contribution to state revenue, levied by the government.

When a government entity -- the PLCB -- is levying a compulsory charge -- which is anything above break-even on their monopoly retail operations -- to increase revenue - it is a tax.

They do that so the codified taxes -- the Johnstown and the sales taxes -- pretty much remain the same. And as we've pointed out many times, they have a police-enforced monopoly and their own pet judiciary system that allows them to do pretty much whatever they want anyway.

No matter what they say, this is not a service to the citizens, nor is it a business. Successful businesses do not have record sales and still go further in debt. The PLCB is well over $1 BILLION in the red...and it isn't going down, it is going up. Businesses do not lie to their shareholders (and they keep saying...that's us!) about plans that have no hope in reaching the levels they promise.

Remember all the money bailment was supposed to save: $100 million. And opening more Sunday stores: $22 million! Opening.remodeled/new stores faster: $25 million. Variable pricing: $75 million. That all totals up to an "extra" $222 million, ON TOP of what they were turning in previously. Wow, dolla dolla bills, y'all!

Have any of these things happened?  Maybe bailment? Probably not since after the first time the PLCB didn't have to take out a $110 million loan that money was never seen again.  No increase in capital spending, no increase in pension contributions, no increase in "profit," and no explanation where it might have gone. Uhhhh...gee, guys, what happened to all that extra money?

The only thing that has consistently gone up is how much red ink the PLCB uses. For real businesses, record sales does not equal record debt for too many years in a row, but the PLCB keeps on with lies to the public about how much of a benefit they are. That's right, lies because if you read the underage drinking report, look at alcohol related DUI and fatalities both underage and legal age. Look at consumption which according to the National Institute of Health spirts consumption - the thing the PLCB is directly responsible for - went up 56% in the past 20 years. We're barely in the middle nationwide. Look at binge drinking and we are 43rd best out of 51; dropping eight places in the past four years. Worse than all the surrounding states, worse than all the free states on our borders, worse than most of the entire United States. "Control" isn't really effective. All it is.... is annoying and expensive.

The PLCB does not control anything, they still exist only to provide a jobs program for the people that work at the PLCB. They aren't even good at what they do. At the last reporting -- well over a year ago, since the PLCB not only doesn't have to report these numbers, they make it a point not to -- 81% of the items they "negotiated" lower costs on had ZERO benefit for the consumer. As a betting man, I'll take every dime you have saying that percentage has gone up and they are screwing the citizens even more.

What they supposedly contribute is meaningless when compared to what they owe, the limited selection and poor service compared to other billion dollar stores, the universally bad reputation they have had over 80 years and the outright proven malfeasance of the leadership are just some of the ways you can see what we have to put up with in Pennsylvania compared to free states.

Maybe this has really been the plan since privatization efforts started in earnest. Run things so poorly, manage so ineptly, lead so incompetently and be so financially inadequate that it will cost far more for the state to bail them out to be able to rid ourselves of this outdated jobs program than to keep them. 

Naw...they ain't that smart...are they?

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Great Minds, Great Quotes...and the PLCB

Apply great wisdom to the situation of the PLCB...and you realize how badly this has all turned out.

"Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy, its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery." - Winston Churchill 
     What organization does that sound like?

“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” - Henry Ford

“Failure isn’t fatal, but failure to change might be.” - John Wooden

“Don’t bury your failures, let them inspire you.” - Robert Kiyosaki

“It’s fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” - Bill Gates
"It certainly wasn't a failure." 
- Joe Conti, about the failed wine kiosk program.

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” - Winston Churchill
     Then the PLCB must be an immeasurable success; 
that's all they ever do!

"Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently." - Henry Ford
     "Intelligently" being the key word here. Of course, you have to have a Board that has some intelligence for this to work.

"Honesty is the fastest way to prevent a mistake from turning into a failure." - James Altucher
destroying evidence are probably not what he's talking about.

"You have to be able to accept failure to get better." - LeBron James
Joe Conti, again: "It certainly wasn't a failure." Yeah, Joe: it was.

"Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive." - Andy Grove
Isn't that right, Charlie "40 Years At The PLCB" Mooney?

"Inability to make decisions is one of the principal reasons executives fail. Deficiency in decision-making ranks much higher than lack of specific knowledge or technical know-how as an indicator of leadership failure." - John C. Maxwell
And when you have all of the above -- plus $1.9 billion in liabilities -- 
you have the PLCB.

Tragedy in life normally comes with betrayal and compromise, and trading on your integrity and not having dignity in life. That's really where failure comes. Tom Cochrane
Read more at:

"Failure is not a single, cataclysmic event. You don't fail overnight. Instead, failure is a few errors in judgement, repeated every day." - Jim Rohn

"If you can't admit a failure, you're not an entrepreneur. You are not a good business person. There's nothing brilliant about what you are doing." - Mark Cuban
Failure comes only when we forget our ideals and objectives and principles. Jawaharlal Nehru
Read more at:
One more time: "It certainly wasn't a failure."
Honesty is the fastest way to prevent a mistake from turning into a failure. James Altucher
Read more at:

There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure. Colin Powell
Read more at:
There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure. Colin Powell
Read more at:
There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure. Colin Powell
Read more at:
There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure. Colin Powell
Read more at:
There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure. Colin Powell
Read more at:

Monday, April 30, 2018

We Regret The Error...

We make mistakes, too. 

On April 25th, we put up a post titled "Proof the PLCB is screwing us - in their own words." It was almost all about how the PLCB said it had gotten cost reductions on "almost seven hundred items" through 'flexible pricing.' We cackled with glee, and noted that Act 39 limited flexible pricing (changing of the mark-up) on only the 150 best selling wines and 150 best-selling spirits: they were either lying, or breaking the law.

Only...we got an email from PLCB Director of Policy & Communications Elizabeth Brassell, who pointed out that Act 85 (signed into law about a month after Act 39) amended that 150 "items" to "brands and product types." So instead of the best-selling Jack Daniel's 750ml as one item, Jack Daniel's would be one brand or product type, so they could negotiate the price (and raise the price to us...) on the 750, the 1.75, the liter, the 375, the 50, and any gift packs. Multiply that by the 300 best selling wine and spirits brands...and you easily have "almost seven hundred items."

We regret the error. Albert wrote the post, Lew edited it, we share the responsibility. We've always said the Almighty Liquor Code is arbitrarily, willfully complex; we got caught by it.

Our apologies to you, our readers (of which Elizabeth Brassell is obviously one). We'll try to do better in the future. In the meantime, we'll remind you that in a proper private system, the main thing affecting the margin would be competition on price for your purchases. You see how that works in other states.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Proof the PLCB is screwing us - in their own words.

Please see the "We regret the error" post of April 30 for clarification.

The last post showed how even the most basic of business math escapes the political appointees that run our anti-consumer, police-enforced, cronyistic, unqualified, graft-tainted, incompetent (I can keep going) monopoly liquor control system. But even basic math — like you learned in 2nd grade — escapes them. Check this out: they can't even count!
No fair! You said there wouldn't be any more math!
This is taken straight from the law that made recent substantial changes to The Almighty Liquor Code, including "flexible pricing" (the law is commonly referred to as ACT 39):
"The board may price its best-selling items and limited purchase items in a manner that maximizes the return on the sale of those items."  
This is the flexible screwing pricing we have been talking about. We added the emphasis, and you'll see why shortly. ACT 39 then further defines what "best selling" means.
"Best-selling items" shall mean the one hundred fifty (150) most sold product identification numbers of wine and the one hundred fifty (150) most sold product identification numbers of liquor as measured by the total number of units sold on a six month basis calculated every January 1 and July 1." (Again, emphasis added.)
So using what you learned in 2nd grade, there are a total of 300 items that can change price, 150 wine and 150 liquor. Everything else is still under the 30% markup rules as before; that hasn't changed. If the price to the PLCB goes up, your price on the shelf goes up; and if a price goes down your price goes down. Pretty simple: 150 wines + 150 spirits = 300 items affected by "flexible the "limited purchase items."

Now let's look at testimony given by the board at a joint legislative hearing about how Act 39 is working out...because the legislators had a lot of questions about "flexible pricing." (You can read the transcript here)
"This rigid markup structure was inefficient, resulting in missed opportunities for the commonwealth to realize additional revenue and for licensees and retail customers of the PLCB to share in cost savings."  
Share in cost savings, eh? That's important. We'll get back to that.

Reading further in the testimony of the board we find this:
"...pricing flexibility has resulted in a reduction of product acquisition costs for almost seven hundred products, retail prices decreases for more than one hundred and twenty products and retail price increases of a hundred twenty-five products." 
Okay. The law states clearly that there the PLCB could change the standard markup on 300 of the best-selling products. Of that 300, prices went up on 125 of them, leaving a maximum of 175 prices that could be reduced or unchanged. Of that 175, approximately 120 went down, leaving about 55 unchanged, or at least in an unknown status. That's all that are allowed to be changed under the law. However, the board said that costs went down for 700 items: 700 minus the 120 items that were lowered in price...means 580 items didn't get reduced.

The Chairman said "Immediately after the effective date of Act 39, we began using the flexibility we were afforded in pricing our limited purchase items, including luxury products sold in our Premium Collection stores, Chairman's Selection, and Chairman's Advantage products, Wine Club items, and products in our e-commerce portfolio. We have always been able to negotiate with our suppliers to obtain great values on these products, but with Act 39, we  have been able to price each item as appropriately based on our supply and anticipated demand and current marketplace conditions."

Math - The PLCB way

Those 580 items that didn't get reduced couldn't be any of the things the Chairman mentioned here, because he said they already had negotiating power over their costs, and ACT 39 didn't change that. What it did change was the mark-up, the price they could charge us on the shelf. Did they charge more? No, only 125 items went up in price. Did they charge less? Not according to their testimony.

Figure it out. By process of elimination, the 580 items that they are now paying less for aren't in the top 150 wine or spirits, and aren't in the group of items that the board said they could already negotiate on. That means they have to be regular items that should fall under the 30% markup rule, which means one of two things. Either the price for the consumer had to go down, which didn't happen according to the testimony, or the Chairman is lying about something. Of course, there is the third option: he has no idea what he's talking about, or he's inflating the numbers to make the system look good in general (which is probably just habitual at the PLCB). Not really all that reassuring either.

Will we ever know? Probably not, since no one on the legislative side of the table seems to want to ask the right questions. Why do we put up with this continued malfeasance that is being perpetrated on the citizens and consumers?

Privatize and end this BS.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The PLCB doesn't know business; just ask them

The PLCB plays at being a business, but they really don't know what they're doing. We've told you that many times. If you don't believe us, you can just listen to them. They'll make it pretty clear.

The PLCB -- the actual three member board, plus the so-called "executive director" Charles "Not a CEO, Nope, No Sir" Mooney -- testified in front of a joint meeting of the House Of Representatives Liquor Control Committee and Senate Law and Justice Committee about the effects of Act 39...especially about flexible pricing (you can read the whole transcript here). It's a big deal, these meetings and the change Act 39 brings, and the Board has to be ready for the legislators' questions.

And of course...they weren't. Apparently, they weren't really ready for flexible pricing, either, despite having asked for it for years. 

Let's start with the Chairman. Here's what he told the legislators when they started drilling him about why they hadn't simply negotiated lower prices to begin with; you know, with the huge "buying power" we always heard about. As we told you all along, the "buying power" bullshit was just that: bullshit. They never used it.

Holden: "If we would have sought lower product costs from suppliers, it would have resulted in reduced Commonwealth revenue due to the required application of a flat percentage markup and taxes." On face value, that would seem to make sense. Lower wholesale prices, run to a set mark-up formula to the shelf, means "reduced Commonwealth revenue," sure. Of course, it also means lower prices for us. You know, the citizens. But if it means the revenues are maximized, well, okay. After all, you can't make more money by lowering prices. 

But there ARE real businesses that make a profit doing exactly that. You may have heard of them: Walmart. Target. Aldi. Total Wine & Spirits. All of these real businesses, run by real business people, regularly make tons of money by cutting prices. It's established practice: lower your gross margin, so you make less money on each item; but at the same time the lower prices mean more sales, so you make more money overall. The PLCB doesn't get it; guess it's too much work. ("So many boxes to lift!")

They didn't need "flexible pricing," they could have been doing this all along. It's simple. For every item on the shelf, there is a price that will result in the maximum revenue. Higher, and sales decrease; lower, and total profit decreases. That price point is affected by things like competition, or price-matching, or sales, but the PLCB doesn't do any of those; they certainly don't have any significant legal competition. (And no, the PLCB does not have sales, at least, not in the usual sense: if the producers drop a price, the PLCB passes it through as is, and their slice of the pie remains exactly the same. They never cut prices, except on their ill-advised "clearance sales." Thanks, guys.)
Of course I'm lying. I don't know any of this math stuff.

But here's the thing that boggles the mind. Even under "flexible pricing," where they have to negotiate each price of the top 150 wine and spirits items, they STILL aren't using this business tool. So while they are screwing the suppliers and consumers, it certainly isn't as satisfying as it should be for either of us. 

No, the PLCB wants to really ream us. "...brands that are not within the statutory definition of best selling wines and spirits continue to be governed by the proportional pricing requirement of the liquor code. For a future legislative consideration, we respectfully recommend that the same pricing flexibility be extended on all products sold by the PLCB." 

And there it is. It's not enough that they raise prices on the majority of the best-selling items, they want to do that to everything. Keep in mind that there is no institutional pricing oversight by the legislature (only these hearings where the legislators gets to chide the Board about prices, and the Board gets to say 'oh, yeah, guess so, whatever') and as always, nobody with any experience in the industry is leading this parade of monkeys down the path.

ore bumbling ensued as the hearing went on. The Chairman: "We made some mistakes at the initial supplier meetings. We asked suppliers for significant reductions to their product costs to increase our margin. But we failed to take a few things into consideration. We miscalculated the reaction of some of the largest suppliers of our best selling brands, who refused to come to the table at all." Imagine that. You said, 'Hey, we want to pay less for these brands everyone wants,' and companies that deal with sharpened pencils every day said 'That's nice. No.' After all, they sell the same products in neighboring states...that don't have the PLCB.

And once again, we suffer for the mistakes of ignorance, just as we have done for the past 83 years. While the Chairman was being the mouthpiece for this failure, it fully lies on Charlie Mooney. After 40 years in the PLCB, Mooney might know about graft, nepotism, bribes: it's apparently the way the PLCB runs. But it looks like he had no idea how the actual liquor industry (or any industry for that matter) worked.
So after blundering around for nine months, and hiring two specialists to help them figure out how to do this, and -- once again! -- paying an outside consulting firm to gather data, that all eventually led to this statement: "... pricing flexibility has resulted in a reduction of product acquisition costs for almost seven hundred products, retail prices decreases for more than one hundred and twenty products and retail price increases of a hundred twenty-five products."

Let me put that in English for you - they saved money on 580 products and you didn't see a dime of it. They raised prices on more items than they reduced prices, and of the top 10 selling liquor or wine items you saw a reduction on only one: a pint bottle of cheap vodka. Remember those top 10 items are the ones they should have the most leverage on, due to sales volume. They screwed us again. Of course they did.

SENATOR MCILHINNEY: "... the state citizens own this system, and they should be able to get some, any benefit by having a good deal when they go to the liquor store."
MR. HOLDEN: "Absolutely",
Except they aren't. We aren't. Weren't the legislators paying attention? We got NO benefit on 81% of the products that the PLCB paid a lower price for. They said so themselves.

Charlie Mooney also came up with: "Senator, we -- I am confident, without all the data in front of me, that, overall, consumer prices have decreased." Well Charlie, without having all the data in front of me, I call BULLSHIT. Especially after you raised prices on 422 items just because you had crap negotiating skills and didn't get what you wanted.

Maybe they should rename it the PLCB principle.

Remember that the PLCB has over $1.7 BILLION in liabilities, they are a drag on the economy of the state and stifle a free market where large and small businesses do not exist because of their continued presence in the marketplace. They do nothing for the citizens, unless you happen to be one that works there. Even Russia has free market liquor stores. Pennsylvania doesn't.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Not Quite 10 Years Ago...

It's not quite ten years since I started this blog with this post. It was on April 22, 2008, and I should probably do the 10th anniversary post next month,'s snowing like mad out there right now, and I'm not going to be able to go do brewery visits like I planned, so I'm doing it now. What's a month?

Ten years ago things were pretty bad; they were worse than they are today. The State Stores were not under any kind of real scrutiny, they didn't have a useful website, and there hadn't been a serious push for privatization in 20 years. Beer was sold at distributors -- by the case and keg only -- or at taverns -- only 2 sixers at a time, and at a stiff markup -- and that was it...except for the occasional weird exception. The Legislature was in a long period of inactivity on the Almighty Liquor Code. And I was losing my mind after seeing how booze was sold all over the country.

So I started this blog...and things changed. I don't take any credit for this. Much like the success of my other crusade, the Session Beer Project, I don't feel that I caused any change. I just had a very sensitive ear to the ground, and caught the rumors and mumblings before almost anyone else did. At the most, I may have suggested lines of inquiry to reporters (who picked up on the blog fairly early; as did a suspicious number of IP addresses in downtown Harrisburg), and if that worked, well, that's always been the main aim and hoped-for audience of the blog. (A big hat-tip and thanks to my co-writer, the pseudonymous Albert Brooks, who picked up the pen while I was sidelined for over two years and has done a GREAT job feeding facts to that audience.)

What happened in the past ten years? Here's the dumb stuff.

  • The PLCB spent $3.6 million on public image, advertising, and store layout, paid to a California-based marketing firm. They come up with a new name for the State Stores: "Table Leaf." In a rare rush of smarts, the PLCB realized that's idiotic (though they did keep an option on it; see below), and decided to go with the basic stupid rename: Fine Wine and Good Spirits Store. Governor Rendell was furious...and the PLCB blatantly didn't care. Your money wasted: it's a monopoly (a police-enforced monopoly, as we would point out many times), there's no need for marketing.
  • The aptly-named Special Liquor Order (and they call it SLO, you can't make this up) system broke down again, and again, and again...
  • The PLCB so badly screwed up their new inventory system in 2011 that store managers over-ordered so much wine that they had to store almost 100,000 cases of it in tractor-trailers...un-air conditioned trailers, in the summer. Renting the trailers and hiring security guards cost about $500,000. (Numbers are from an Auditor General report.) Good job, morons!
  • Around 20 State Stores closed. A bunch more were moved for arbitrary reasons without input from local communities. And of course, we revealed that ten counties in Pennsylvania have only ONE State Store. There are ten others with only two.
  • The Courtesy Contract. The PLCB spent $173,820 on training State Store System clerks "how to greet someone, where to stand, and how to read a customer's cues." And the company doing the training belonged to a PLCB regional manager's spouse. Real nice. 
  • We saw several ethics investigations of the PLCB (one of which struck paydirt) and several harshly worded audits. The marketing director was found guilty of fraud...back in 2015, and he still has not been sentenced. Speculation is that he is cooperating in further federal investigations. Conti must be spooked. 
  • We saw again and again that the PLCB often actively made it harder for licensees and wholesalers and brewers to sell beer. You know...their only competition in the booze biz. Not bad, when you make the rules. This included the harassment of three Philly bars and a major Philly beer wholesaler for selling "unregistered" beer, carried out by the BLCE and supported by the PLCB (and their soon-to-be-exposed flawed database). After armed raids, seizures of beer, disruption of private (beer) business, and a full-blown legislative hearing...the result was a warning letter. Harassment, and they should have been sued. 
  • The Saga of Joe "Da CEO" Conti, from his disappearance, to his greatest failure, to his ignominious end, to his unlikely (and lucrative) return. We miss his shenanigans; his constantly wrong-footed instincts were the best thing that ever happened to privatization. 
  • The Wine Kiosks. Nothing more need be said. Possibly their biggest failure in the last 40 years, and that's saying something. 
  • Table Leaf: the brand. As mentioned above, they'd already (over)paid for this branding, so they used it for a house brand of wine. And then they decided to wield it as a weapon against their biggest suppliers...and Pennsylvania wineries. Who brought it to the Legislature's attention, and that was the end of another PLCB fiasco.
  • Privatization was repeatedly brought up by the House, and squashed in the Senate, mainly thanks to the efforts of Senator Chuck McIlhinney.
  • But in all the past ten years, the very worst thing that happened was that the Legislature let the PLCB have the one thing that they never should have: so-called "flexible pricing." This is the idea that the PLCB should not be forced to use the same set mark-up on every item; when they got a deal, they could pass it on (which is bullshit: they could always have done that). What it really means is that they charge more; we told you that for years, and golly, it was true. We're stuck with it, too.
    Ah, the wine kiosk. The Best Worst Thing.
Wow. I know I'm missing stuff, but those are the big ones. Yet somehow, these ding-dongs are still in business, still the sole wholesaler of wine and spirits in the state despite continual screw-ups.

Meanwhile, we did get some things, although almost all of them were mixed blessings. 
All right, break it up!
  • The case law is finally gone! That was one of the big ones. We no longer have to buy an entire case of beer at the distributor. That'd be great, except we still can only buy a 12-pack at bars and grocery stores (more on that shortly), then walk out the door and walk back in and buy another...What kind of bullshit is that?
  • We can buy beer and wine in grocery stores and convenience stores!! HOT DAMN! Whoa there, hoss. We can buy beer and wine in places that hold a restaurant license; that's always been true, but now these stores can buy those licenses (for as much as $500,000!), and put in a 'cafe' that seats at least 30, and sell sixpacks. About 450-odd stores have done so, out of the thousands in the state. So don't wet yourself with glee. And remember: a 12-pack of beer, or four bottles of wine, and it's out the door you go
  • Direct wine shipment (and beer...but not liquor) is now a thing. That's a big deal for a small number of people. 
  • The PLCB had to start telling the truth about their financials; specifically, their deep pension debt. And just like that, they were no longer making money, net of taxes. They still are paying money into the General Fund, because they have to, but they're doing it out of reserve assets. The day of reckoning is coming. 
  • We got some really cool stuff: Pennsylvania booze producers can cross-sell their products. A winery can sell PA-produced beer, cider, spirits, mead...and, what, kvass, I guess? Any of that. And they can have satellite stores off their main production premises, which can also sell those other products, which has led to Pennsylvania Libations, the first privately-owned liquor store in Pennsylvania in almost 100 years. And that's cool. 
  • About a thousand (I think) liquor licenses were blown out of escrow and auctioned off. Mostly picked up by grocery stores. So that's kind of good, but...all those grocery stores buying bar licenses is making the price of a license go up, a lot in some places, and that's putting the squeeze on indie mom-and-pop bars and groceries. This is going to give us a lot more chain groceries and chain restaurants, and that, my friends, ain't optimal
That's all I can think of right now. There have been some other side effects. One, the PLCB is running scared, and the selection is about as good as it's been in a while. (You're a fool if you think that will continue if the privatization talk dies down, so let's keep 'em scared.) Two, the BLCE has been scared to do any enforcement of the monopoly, so we can buy out of state with impunity. Three, people have a lower opinion of the PLCB these days after the corruption charges, and that's good. Four, McIlhinney's retiring, and maybe we can get someone who really gets it in there.
OTOH...The GOP has, overall, been a huge friend to privatization of the PLCB in the past 40 years, despite numerous missteps. The unpopularity of the Trump administration may lead to a loss of the solid GOP majority in the General Assembly. Overall, that's how things go, but for this issue? If the Democrats gain a majority, or cut the GOP majority, you can kiss further progress good-bye. Because the Dems have made it crystal-clear that they are opposed to any further privatization of the State Store System. We'll just have to wait and see.

Overall, though? Good progress at the 10-year mark. We got rid of the case law, and the PLCB's sales are suffering from the wine sales at groceries. This is what union boss Wendell W. "Windy Wendy" Young IV referred to as "the death of a thousand cuts." Here's hoping he's right about that, and that "flexible pricing" doesn't bleed us to death in the meantime.

I feel for you folks who are far from a border. If Philly were where State College is, away from the liquor stores of Jersey and Delaware, the PLCB would have been long gone. Let's keep the pressure on.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Don't Let Them Fool You

The PLCB just put out their latest Retail Year In Review, patting themselves on the back — again — about how great the State Stores are doing! Yahoo! It's all here! Just don't look too closely at the numbers!

Because if you do look closely, peek under the gloss and sparkles, you can see just how crappy a job they are doing. Let's start with the record sales. Let's see: police controlled monopoly, citizens can't go anywhere else, rising prices, increased population... It would probably take a real marketing genius to have record sales under those conditions. And take a look at those record sales in the hottest market category - American Whiskey: the PLCB's growth there is less than the national average increase in sales. Not just a little less, it is about 30% less. Imagine how much more in taxes would be collected if Pennsylvania was able to match the strongest national trend in booze sales for just that one category.

The PLCB is over $1 BILLION in debt
Of course, our old friend Jack Daniel's isn't forgotten; after years of us saying that it isn't a bourbon, the PLCB in their normal bout of incompetency gets it half right. On page 32, table 19 of the report there is Jack Daniel's Gentleman Jack sitting in the number 10 spot for "bourbon." At least they didn't have JD #7 listed 3 times like they did last year (page 30, Table 19). It is hard to say if they left it out because it isn't bourbon or they just screwed the table up.

To prove they are keeping up with the "modern lifestyle," a whole one tenth of one percent (0.11%) of sales came from the Internet, which is really pathetic in this day and age for a retail company. Pathetic is the key word when talking about the PLCB's technology track record. Can you say "wine kiosk"?

Then there is the problem of saying things to make yourself look good, even when the numbers that you provide don't always match up with reality.  For most of us this is called lying, for the PLCB it's called "how we do business." Let's look at those "increased sales".  First we have the sales for 2015-2016 from the Retail Year In Review.  On page 4 it lists total sales of $2,303,405,801. On page 5 it lists sales by month and transaction; it doesn't total them up, but have no fear, I did it for you.

Notice that the total is about $23.5 million different. The PLCB doesn't say why, and apparently we don't deserve an explanation.

The next table is for the year 2016-17. Again, the monthly sales in total don't match the total listed by the PLCB on page 4 of the current Retail Year In Review ($2,443,725,791). Only this time, it is $76.5 million that has disappeared. Remember, as the owners of this mess this is our money, and I'd like to know where that $76.5 million is.

Here you'll see that the number of transactions was fairly flat, increasing only by 0.91%, while sales dollars went up 3.8%. What this tells us is that the citizens bought 1% more often, but it cost them 3.8% more each time, well above the inflation rate of 2.1%

Retail alcohol is one of the few major sales items where the individual product is elastic (in economic terms, this means that a small change in price can mean a large change in sales), because there are so many suitable substitutes. If your favorite vodka goes up, you can easily find another at a price you are more comfortable paying. The industry as a whole, though, is inelastic, meaning that people are going to pay for some form of the product no matter what the price changes to. The PLCB knows this (probably because they hired somebody to explain it to them), so they will increase prices and not have it affect overall sales that much, if at all. They are doing that right now, through the old variable pricing trick they foisted upon the public (and the gullible Legislature).

So now that you have real numbers in front of you, you have to ask where the PLCB came up with an "average statewide increase of 6.10%", when the numbers they give us don't match? What numbers are we supposed to believe Table 4 or Table 5? And why should be believe anything the PLCB tells us, given their history of anti-consumer behavior, their predisposition to screwing us? Why aren't they capable of making the sales numbers match on their own damn report? As far as that goes, why, in this age of almost instant information access does it take them six months to put this report out? Find another $2 billion business that takes that long...go ahead, I'll wait.

Face it, the PLCB does NOTHING for the citizens except cost them more in the long run. Remember: they are a BILLION dollars in debt and it isn't getting any smaller.