Saturday, April 6, 2013

Worth posting: a word from an (Anonymous) LCB clerk

This comment and my response from the post just below was worth posting here on its own to get more attention. I've edited my response a little just to polish it. directed at the PLCB employees. It's about how to keep your jobs, and take pride in them.

Anonymous said...
Another word to my fellow LCB employees:
You cannot, and should not, expect anyone to choose sides on the privatization debate based on our losing our jobs. On the positive side, the thing we CAN do is educate ourselves about the products we sell. Product knowledge is a skill that will serve both to break the stereotype of the potable-ignorant LCB clerk AND also to give us a strong leg-up if we end up having to apply for jobs in the private sector.

My response...
Bullseye. The service at the State Stores isn't being talked about in the high-level debate in Harrisburg, for the human and political reason that no legislator wants to be quoted criticizing people's performance, but it is definitely discussed among the people who actually have to use the system.

I've said all along that the service I've received at the register has almost always been satisfactory, and often quite friendly. But the service out on the floor is distinctly sub-par, with a very few notable exceptions. I've been given to understand that there's no real program in place to increase product knowledge, and it shows.

Your union reps may tell you what a horrible work environment Total Wine is, but fail to point out that while their employees complain about their treatment by management, they almost never fail to admit that the training they receive in wine and spirits is exemplary...and they often use it to go elsewhere.

If you get motivated about what you're selling, and get excited about helping the people who need help...that's the very best thing you can do to stop privatization. Much better than the chanting and shouting that the UFCW encourages, much better than the flimsy "control" statistics, much better than allying yourself with anti-alcohol groups (because that just emphasizes the innate and bizarre dichotomy of the whole control/sell dual nature of the agency).

If you want a "modernization" program that could actually save your jobs, look to Sweden's Systembolaget, their state monopoly wine and spirits retailer. I've heard nothing but praise for it from producers (I was on a press trip with the Swedish brand manager for Pernod Ricard, and she never stopped praising it) and from consumers; a fraternity brother of mine now lives in Stockholm -- he's very picky about wine -- and he raves about the service and selection at Systembolaget...and as a former Pennsylvanian pities me for the State Stores.

Real modernization would include linking product knowledge and sales performance to advancement, would include a wine specialist and a spirits specialist at each premium store. It would give the local store managers much more training, and much more control over what's sold at their stores. It would take the control of shelf facings away from the people in Harrisburg and give it to you, the people who are actually selling, and seeing what your customers buy, and what they're not finding.

I don't think that's likely to happen, but if it did? It would go a long way to shutting me up on this issue. It would also help if some of your co-workers would stop trying to tell me that private stores in other states aren't as good as the State Stores, because I go there, and that's simply not true. Doesn't help your case. Instead, do what you can to make your service, your store better. Just do what you can, where you are.

I don't go to New Jersey for the prices. I go for the selection, somewhat, especially on spirits, because the State Store is, for whatever reason, scared of whisky. But the main reason I avoid the State Stores is the service. I get much better, much more helpful service at the private stores in New Jersey, New York, Maryland, and Delaware. Fact.

And let me add: I've already talked about how to change the State Stores and save them here. Add this stuff, and you've got a good formula for it. But...I still don't think it's going to happen. Because no one in the upper bureaucracy of the PLCB cares -- because their jobs aren't directly at risk -- and Wendell W. Young IV doesn't care, because up until now, shouting and chanting and yellow shirts and campaign donations have been all he's needed to just keep things the way they are. You're being encouraged to keep the status quo, but the status quo is what 60% of Pennsylvanians don't want (and remember: a large chunk of the 40% or so that says they're in favor of keeping the State Stores don't drink, and would really rather just have Prohibition). You can do better. You can do better on your own. Think about it.


Anonymous said...

Hi Lew. I'm the one who posted that comment earlier. I do want to emphasize that I'm as concerned as anyone about the prospect of losing my job, which is why I'd love to be able to inspire ALL my fellow LCB employees to give a crap about what they sell. It's as simple as that. I've always said that the best way to pull the rug out from under the privatization effort is to CULTIVATE SATISFIED CUSTOMERS. Since we (at the store level) have no control over the taxes, the store hours, or the selection, the only tool we have to use is product knowledge and professionalism. I'm a proud servant of the state of Pennsylvania. That is, it's my job to serve PA. Not PA's job to serve me.

Lew Bryson said...

Agreed. Thanks for your post, I admire your attitude. Best of luck, whatever happens.

Anonymous said...

The Ferlo modernization bill touches points made by you in your post on July 2012, How to save the PLCB. Most people who work for the PLCB recognize a need for change. Whether it should have been done earlier or now the fact is it need to be done. I don't think privatizing is the answer because eventually the license's will end up in the hands of big box companies, also all profits will continue to be collected by Pa ($100 million). Here's a thought how about making all store level positions non civil service?

Anonymous said...

There are extensive wine class training session being held on a weekly basis within the stores. Prior to hiring there is a wine education class along with an exam for all Plcb employees. I'm sorry that you feel that the service on the floor is sub par, in the stores Ive worked in that's not the case. Most everybody is somewhat knowledgable about product and if they don't know they will find someone who does. We are evaluated on product knowledge yearly.

Unknown said...

I want to start by saying that I'm not a PLCB employee, but I do work closly with the system in the stores for the most part. The PLCB does make wine and spirits classes available however it is voluntary. And obviously not tied to advancment.

To bring up another point. Most if not all of the Premium stores already have (or are in the process of getting) wine specalists. To my knowledge there is no position for spirits specalists at the moment, but if you know who to ask certain ones can be a big help.

As to your last point about the higher ups in the PLCB not caring.. You're absolutely right. There is a theory going around with some of the people I talk to that believe the higher ups are purpously trying to bring the system down from the inside with some of the stupid ideas they've had in recent years.

Anonymous said...

I've been employed by the plcb for the past 27 years at the central office building in harrisburg. There is one store clerk that i was very impressed with, a young man in his mid to late 20's who works in the Summerdale Plaza store in Enola. He is more knowledgable about wines and spirits than some of the more seasoned central office employees who work in the bureau of wines. However, since there are no positions available his knowledge and training is being wasted as far as i'm concerned. I spoke with him for about 15 minutes about how he likes his job and what he wants to do as far as staying with the plcb. He said that he wants to be able to move into the central office one day but there isn't anything available. I had stopped in to buy a couple of bottles of wine for a party we were having and i couldn't have been more impressed. One of the "older" clerks wouldn't even stop to answer any of my questions. It wasn't until i told this older clerk that I work for central office then he stopped wandering around the store with his hands in his pocket and acted like i was important enough to "try" and answer my questions, he failed miserably. Just because someone comes in to the store wearing shorts, sneakers and a t-shirt don't think that they aren't worth your time or attention. I was embarassed, not just for his lack of knowledge, but for the treatment he would give someone who came in to buy something and he didn't even seem to care one bit. Unlike the younger man who had no problem answering all of my questions. He knew enough about the variety of wine products to recommend some that i wouldn't have even thought about trying. He was right about all of them because the comments i received at our party about the wine were terrific! It comes down to this: the older employees either don't want to take the time to learn what the public needs to know, or, they just don't give a damn. Those are the ones who are hurting the state stores and making the other employees look bad. I hope the rest of the customers who go to this store will ask specifically for this younger guy, he knows his stuff!