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!


Bud King said...

If your idea of a good liquor store (aesthetically) is the one pictured in your third most recent update to the blog, you are in for a surprise. Quite a few of the suburban Philadelphia and several Philadelphia County PLCB stores are beautiful. One in the heart of Center City even has a seating area with wine books. And all the stores I have in mind are from BEFORE the latest "Fine Wine & Good Spirits" name was rolled out.

Also, they are quite rare, but the smaller cities in PA do have some very nice PLCB stores. The ones in northern Allentown (between Target and Weis on Cedar Crest Blvd), Whitehall, Wyomissing, northern Lancaster (in the basement of the Giant on Fruitville Pike), Hummelstown, Camp Hill, Shrewsbury, Chambersburg (the store by the Giant, NOT the one by the ALDI), and Altoona are all very nice. And I went to one in Erie years ago that was great but I completely forget what it was near.

Albert Brooks said...

Why would I be in for a surprise? Not one of the stores you listed cones close to the on the shelf selection nor product knowledge of that MD store (which I have been to numerous times) Why? Because the owner and manager make their living from being able to satisfy the consumer or else they will go to another store.

No worries about that in PA. If your store closes they ship you off to another one or if you believe in the Peter Principle - promote you.

You say good state stores in smaller cities are quite rare but there is more than one in Hagerstown, I only pictured one. YoOu even admit the nearest place with two state stores (Chanbersburg) only has one good one in your opinion.

That is what the free market does. Allows you to shop where you want based on YOUR criteria as a consumer and not what some ill informed cube rat who has never worked in the private liquor retail industry thinks you want.

There are no state stores as good as some private stores, There are no state stores with the selection as some private stores. There are no state stores with the level of knowledge as some private store. In short there state store system cannot provide the best to the consumer even though they don't allow any choice. They don't know how and they don't particularly want to.

What the government allows is not the same as what the consumer wants.

Bud King said...

If privatization ever does happen, I hope these ten stores stay open, but with a new owner. And I am rooting for privatization.

One other issue I need to bring up... I must say I found an early story on this blog that is missing an important fact:

While it may be shocking that PA only has a fraction of the liquor stores other states (and even cities) do, one must not forget that most inner-city liquor stores in private states are much smaller than a medium to larger sized PLCB store. Also, there have been many rounds of consolidations occurring to the PLCB store system since 1970, when self-service was introduced. Many, many small PLCB stores (especially ones that started with the counter service) have closed when one large store replaced two or three smaller stores.

The PLCB has 22 stores in Delaware County and 50 in Philadelphia (which is smaller than Delco in land area but much more populated), but I expect a lot of consolidating to happen in Philly soon. Lots of the PLCB stores there are very dumpy and small.

To get privatization done, I think someone should stir up anger among residents of the many Philly suburbs that despite their wealth and population, are stuck with a dumpy PLCB store, or have none at all despite land being available for one.

One trend that I do find disturbing is that some of the smallest PLCB stores have been converted to the Fine Wine & Good Spirits format. This is a sign the PLCB is confident that no kind of privatization whatsoever will happen anytime in the next 100 years.

Albert Brooks said...

Going from a high of 756 stores in 1973, it may have been more at one point but that is the most I can reliably prove, to right at about 600 today means a loss of 25% of stores compared to today. It really doesn't matter that they were consolidated, the customer lost what little convenience they had.

PA state stores - all of them - are smaller than what can be found in other states. Do you think there are fewer medium size stores in other major cities than state stores in Philly? I don't but I'm not sure how I could prove it.

What is comes down to is the private states have more larger stores in populated areas...PA has no real super store in the state. Private states have at least as many medium stores and private states have more small stores.

I look at the transition to Fwgs as a desperate measure designed to try and fend off privatization by putting more lipstick in the state store pig and not a sign of confidence. They are hoping they can fool the public and that the citizens won't know that they are carrying less skus per store size or that the underlying graft, nepotism, incompetence and lack of ability is not only still in place but trying to expand by putting on colored aprons and listing 80+% of the wines as "Luxury items" and other desperate grasping of straws.

Philly and suburban residents are angry but with better price, selection and service a river away they have an outlet for that anger called shopping out of state. The PLCB says it is over $300 million and that was in 2011.

Bud King said...

As for your unhappiness with the consolidation, private retailers do the same thing all the time. For example, Rite Aid and CVS often replace two older stores (often both in strip centers) with one new drive-thru pharmacy store.

Supermarket chains also love consolidation. For example, after A&P went out of business in Greater Philadelphia in the early 80's, they soon reentered the area under the new name Super Fresh... with one large new store usually taking the place of three or so former A&Ps, which were almost all smaller.

And around 1995, Kmart opened a number of Super Kmart stores while closing as many as four older, smaller Kmart stores at the same time. Each older store was probably 70,000 to 80,000 square feet, but a Super Kmart combined a full-service grocery section, the size of a supermarket, with an already supersized non-grocery Kmart store.

Albert Brooks said...

I understand the business well. However, you don't consolidate when the market in general is under served. You consolidate when the market is saturated (in general) in order to have cost savings which can then be passed on to the consumer in things like better pricing, more selection, more convenience to your target market etc etc.

There were plenty of other stores to take up the slack from Kmart or Acme or Sears or whomever. There are no other places to go in PA. If you close 150+ stores there isn't any other choice.

Bud King said...

Today I found a full-page ad in THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER for Total Wine & More in DE and NJ, comparing prices to those of the PLCB. Why would they be allowed to advertise in a PA newspaper if bringing any alcohol into PA from a Total Wine store is ILLEGAL? Just wondering... if I got pulled over by a PA state trooper who followed me to Total Wine in Claymont and nicked me right afterwards, would Total Wine (or THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER) bail me out of jail? Or pay my ticket? What about get my car back that was confiscated?

If I showed them the paper with the ad would all charges be dropped? Or perhaps Total Wine is praying people are ignorant of (or can feign ignorance of) the alcohol laws of PA, and use ignorance as a successful defense?

Lew Bryson said...

Are you serious? You do know that the Inquirer is the major paper for the whole tri-state area, don't you? You really think that PA's idiotic repressive law about booze purchases trumps freedom of the press? Those ads have been running for years, I remember seeing ads (not from Total, but other stores) when I moved back to PA in 1991. If you go out of state and buy booze -- which I do, every time -- the responsibility is all yours. Thousands of Pennsylvanians do this, TENS of thousands. The PLCB and the State Police are aware of it. You notice how little they do to stop it. Even they know it's stupid. And now you know it too.

Albert Brooks said...

Well Bud King, If you are that stupid to be swayed by advertising, get caught (when millions don't) or be that worried about it. My advice is to stick to your Bud since you obviously don't know good beer you most likely don't know about good wine or spirits either. (Barefoot, Fireball and Red Stag don't count)

Bud King said...

I am all for privatization, and know enforcement of the border bleed law is rare (in fact the PLCB created the outlet stores about ten years ago to compensate for all the lost sales) but the idea of these ads is a bit bizarre. Who LEGALLY shops at Total Wine that otherwise just might be tempted to shop at the state store? People from PA headed to an NJ or DE vacation home (not the other way around)? Or people from NJ or DE who work in PA, and work next door to a state store, but live far from a Total Wine (or any other decent liquor store) in their home state?

In other words, would Al Capone have been allowed to run alcohol ads in newspapers during prohibition? Fact is, the PLCB legally has a monopoly over wine and spirits sales in PA. Total Wine may be lobbying for privatization and may be ready if it were to happen tomorrow (hypothetically), but it just would logically seem that while nothing is inherently illegal about these Total Wine ads, the PLCB lawyers should be descending on Total Wine right now. Also, advertising ethics would seem to dictate that luring your customers into legal trouble is simply a bad business decision.

I am wondering though... is the duty free store(s) at the airport in Philly regulated by the PLCB at all? Or are duty free stores everywhere immune to not just local taxes, but local liquor laws as well? Perhaps being in airports they are somehow on international soil?

And is it a crime to mail alcohol (as a personal gift) to a person in PA? Or what about to drive into PA with alcohol given to you in another state as a gift?

Lew Bryson said...

You keep saying you're for privatization, but you sure don't sound it.
More to the point, you apparently don't know squat about PA liquor law or federal law. This comes under commercial free speech, as ruled in Bigelow v. Virginia, a Supreme Court decision from 1975. Bigelow owned a Virginia paper, and accepted an ad from an abortion service in New York. Abortion was legal in NY, but illegal in Va., and the Va. court ruled that the ad was therefore illegal, and fined Bigelow. On appeal to the US Supreme Court, Bigelow was cleared. The ruling was that if the advertisement was for a service (or goods) that was legal where it was sold,, the advertisement was legal. Justice Harry Blackmun wrote that the First Amendment "should prevent states from prohibiting advertisements of products or conduct that is clearly legal at the place advertised." That's probably why nothing is done about these ads; because such actions would be unconstitutional. Selling booze from private stores is perfectly legal in NJ and DE; they do a really good job of it, too. Your Al Capone thing is specious, but I'll bet the Canadian papers in Windsor ran ads. You also said "advertising ethics," which made me laugh so hard I fell out of my chair.
It's been found several times that businesses are not liable to determine whether citizens from other states are "allowed" to make purchases that are illegal in those states. I dare say that a good lawyer could take Pennsylvania's monopoly law to the Supreme Court and dismantle it; only a generous interpretation of the 21st Amendment has prevented such a thing so far, and I suspect that may be the very reason that the State Police have been so lax in its enforcement. They don't want to create a test case that would bring the whole thing crashing down.
The duty free shops are just that: duty free. They pay no Pennsylvania tax. But if you buy there, you're taking it OUT of the Commonwealth, so they don't care. Amusingly, you CAN bring booze INTO Pennsylvania from other countries...just not from other states.
"Gifts" are allowed, but citizens are required to present receipts for them if requested. Needless to say, such requests are extremely rare, because even BLCE cops have better things to do.

And so do I.

Anonymous said...

If fireball isn't good why does it out sell all that barrel aged small batch crap that tastes like kerosene? Is this another case of everyone else is wrong and you are right? There is nothing wrong with making booze that actually tastes good.

Albert Brooks said...

It doesn't

It is