Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A year later, and inventory is still mis-managed

Back in November of last year, the PLCB Annual Report said they had "...improved the product search feature of the Fine Wine & Good Spirits online store." (pg. 13). I pretty much proved that was BS at the time in my "After 80 years they still can't do inventory" story in January.

Here it is a year later, and you may be thinking, there might been some improvement. Maybe the PLCB has come up with some internal cooperation so that the database, retail stores, and website all know what is going on. If you believe that, well, I have a bridge to sell you.

Take the entry on the Fine Wine And Good Spirits  Facebook page of October 26th at 9 AM, where they tout having a coupon for the "new" (their words) Casa Noble Crystal Blanco tequila. If you want to find this item, you can go to one of two places to search it out, the Online Product Catalog or the "fancier" FWAGS website.

The Online Catalog lists Casa Noble Crystal Blanco tequila as an SLO item: you must buy a minimum of six bottles, at $43.79 each. Not a great deal even with a $3 coupon, considering it can be had for under $35 across the border. Going to the FWAGS webpage and doing a search for Casa Noble Crystal nets you  six listings in the Available Online section, none of which are actually Casa Noble products. Then there are 33 entries in the In Store section, which includes some wine cocktails even though it was a Spirits search. Of course, none of these are Casa Noble either. Finally we come to the 56 listings in the Available Special Order section. After fourteen items -- White Rum, Creme de Menthe, Captain Morgan, white whiskey, and Cognac -- comes the one and only listing for a Casa Noble Crystal, the last item on page one; it's still a 6 bottle SLO.

Is this their improvement after a YEAR of work? How much "modernization" of the search function should have we expected after the entire Board said they improved it back in November of last year? The answer is the same amount of improvement we can expect from any of the PLCB modernization schemes...little to none.

This just proves that there is little to no internal coordination in the PLCB.  The highly trained people who run the Facebook page don't know what the highly trained people who do the inventory call the same product and can't be bothered to find out, and the highly trained supervisors seem oblivious to the difference.

Is this any way to run a business? The answer is no, which is no shock: they aren't any kind of a business, just a poor excuse for the status quo.


Friday, October 23, 2015

If the PLCB had a theme song...

Hey! I'm not dead, its the PLCB that's dead.

If the PLCB had a theme song, I wonder what it would be? Something light and snappy, or more dirge like and droning?  I can guarantee it wouldn't be a Love Story kind of song. So take off those tin-foil caps and put on your parody hats and see what songs you can come up with. It's Friday — what else do you have to do?  Post lyrics or video links if you want. The rules are pretty lax as long as the title or lyrics fit the idea of a theme song.

I'll start off with these few.

I'm a Loser - The Beatles

You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet - Bachman Turner Overdrive 
A bit of trivia, this was the first song that had a stutter in it that made it to #1 on the Billboard charts.

Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black) - Neil Young

Out of the blue
and into the black
You pay for this,
but they give you that
And once you're gone,
you can't come back
When you're out of the blue
and into the black.

Of course the winner would be the chorus from Beck's Loser but I don't think even the PLCB with all their semi-functional computers could figure out the rest of the song lyrics.

Soy un perdedor
I'm a loser baby, so why don't you kill me?
(Double-barrel buckshot)
Soy un perdedor
I'm a loser baby, so why don't you kill me?

For my favorite about the state stores? What else could it be besides the Dead's 'Ship of Fools'

Now you give it a try...

And please...no one is advocating "killing" anyone, or any kind of violence. It's just lyrics to a goofy pop song, and not even Beck meant it that way. Relax; it's a joke.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The PLCB has nothing to hide...unless it makes them look bad

Chairman Tim Holden:
What's the PLCB hiding?
As reported Sunday in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review the PLCB, an agency with no business reason to hide anything (since they have no competitors), has not been very open or honest when dealing with their bosses — that us, the citizens of Pennsylvania. After all, that's what their supporters keep telling us, that we're the owners of a "valuable public asset." Shouldn't the "owners" be able to ask questions and get answers?

That's not what happened, according to the Trib's reporter, Kari Andren; instead, the LCB instructed their press secretary to delay the release of such information by forcing the Trib to go through Right To Know channels:
The agency's board members directed a press secretary not to provide basic information about a former employee, such as dates of service, job title and salary, unless the reporter filed a formal request — a move that could have delayed the release by more than a month, the emails obtained under the state's Right to Know law show.

We have to watch what we ‘give' her regarding employees without going through the Right to Know channels, even if it is public information,” board member Michael Negra wrote in a Sept. 23 email. “Agree,” Chairman Tim Holden responded the same day.
LCB spokesperson Elizabeth Brassell said the agency, “fully respects and supports the release of public information to interested parties.” But Erik Arneson, head of the agency charged with overseeing the state's open records act, said the board members' actions were not in keeping with the intent of the law. “The Right to Know (RTK) Law was not designed to be a tool used by agencies to delay access to clearly public information,” Arneson said.

More proof of this use of delaying tactics is the now 111 days over which the PLCB has refused to release their yearly financial statements. Some were verbally stated during the Ross hearings over two months ago, but so far nothing has shown up on paper or online. If the PLCB were a "real" business, they would have had to release their yearly statement before the first quarter earnings statement. However, the PLCB doesn't update the citizens with quarterly statements. Why not? It's a painfully simple answer: they aren't a real business, and never have been, and never will be.

Melissa Melewsky, a media lawyer with the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, agreed that the LCB's approach doesn't follow the spirit of the open records law, or Gov. Tom Wolf's call for government transparency. Wolf said he was “confident in Chairman Holden's ability to continue to make the LCB more transparent,” and the previous Chairman (and still current board member) Skip Brion has said, “This is a state agency; we should be as transparent as possible.” Apparently he has changed his mind.

This is not the first time the board has used RTK to delay, or has done things in the dark that should have been in the sunshine of public scrutiny. Years of notational votes (where the Board members meet informally and off the record to make decisions, and then only vote on 'that thing we talked about' in official meetings) and vague to non-existent board meeting information have keep the "owners" (you and I) in the dark about the working of the PLCB.

Who knows, if the public were privy to the machinations of the State Store System, we may never have had wine kiosks, or $66 million in computer system cost overruns, or paid over $4 million for an out-of-state firm to come up with that snappy "Fine Wine And Good Spirits" branding. All money well spent, I'm sure...once the real facts finally come out in a few years, the brilliance of it all will shine clear. Or not.

This is not the first time the PLCB has been publicly charged with ignoring the intent of state law; this is not the first time they've lied by omission. This is not the first time they've delayed the release of reports on their performance. So we have to ask: why the delay this time? We see the smoke, what is the fire that the PLCB is trying to hide while privatization is still a very real possibility in the Legislature? We urge the Trib to keep digging — faster, if possible — and encourage the reporters at the Inquirer, PennLive, the Daily Record, and the Post-Gazette to do the same. Because we the citizens — the owners — need this story to come out before privatization slips away. It's clear that the PLCB feels threatened by it; that's enough reason to dig out the truth.

The time to privatize is now.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

NEWS FLASH! PLCB Supports PA Wine Month

Dateline Harrisburg: October 13, 2015

The PLCB announced today that as long as the threat of privatization continues they will support Pennsylvania wine makers. Chairman Tim Holden stated that the the PLCB is fully behind Pennsylvania wine makers, and the proof is the 50% increase in shelf space allotted to Pennsylvania wines.

"The change from two to three shelves of Pennsylvana wines is a big step for the state's vintners," Holden announced. "We support all Pennsylvania wineries, even the ones that can't afford to sell to us because of our pricing policy (a majority of the over 200 wineries in the Commonwealth). In the past 5 years we have instituted ONE new policy to help Pennsylvania wineries, an increase of 100% over the previous 75 years, to try and make up for selling bulk California wine that undercut the state's own producers. We won't get caught doing that again."

Board member Michael Negra chimed in with this bit of techno-hope: "Over the next five years we plan to attempt to put a tab on our website so you can see all the Pennsylvania wines available for order. Someday we hope to be able to allow a customer in Erie to order a Lehigh Valley wine and have it delivered to their local store! But for the moment we aren't equipped to ship and warehouse the hundreds of different SKUs that would require, and of course we couldn't allow the winery to ship direct to the customer; that would mean a loss of control. And 'Control' is our middle name, kind of." 

Consumer reaction has been mixed since the change in the stores.  "I don't know where to find the Riunite now." said a State Store customer, "It was always under the PA wine section before and now they have moved it. because of the extra shelf of PA wines."

"I think it is great!" said another consumer as he walked past the Pennsylvania wine section to get a box of Franzia. "I think the state should support in-state businesses. Maybe not having the PA wine section in the back corner of the store would be better...but hey, I'm sure they know what they're doing."

Friday, October 9, 2015

Three months and no financials?

It's over three months after their fiscal year ended, and the PLCB has still not managed to figure out how to report their financials. By comparison, the Department Of Revenue, an agency more than ten times the size with millions of accounts has somehow managed to get an unaudited year end totals  out which is all we are asking for. And they did it the day after the fiscal year ended!

I think I know what the problem might be and offer this suggestion.

BRIBES are an expense.

However, KICKBACKS are an asset.

There. That should help speed things along. No charge for the service.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The PLCB enters the lottery business

Well, it is getting to be that time of year when the PLCB decides what the "most fair" way is to divvy up limited bottles. Last year it was Stacy Kriedeman saying that selling the products online is the most fair method. This year we get Board Chairman Tim Holden presenting a new "most fair," saying "In order to ensure that all consumers interested in a particular high-demand product have a fair chance to purchase the product, we have developed a lottery system for our most limited products.” 

Doesn't that mean people haven't had a fair chance in the past? Maybe it just means that the contractor they hired to do this gets to be the fall guy if it tanks. and then PLCB can claim it wasn't their fault. Just like the Oracle roll out disaster; they don't have the expertise to do it in-house without screwing it up. (I wrote about what I thought the system should look like at the end of last July. They didn't take all my advice so we'll see what happens.)

But is this new most fair method...even fair at all? There are the questions of legality about selling only to a PA resident. The state already restrains trade for their own citizens -- the police-enforced monopoly prohibits us from buying booze anywhere but in Pennsylvania -- but can they restrain trade to non-Pennsylvania citizens? Does or does it not violate Federal statute and will somebody invest enough to find out?  Can they have two systems, in which they allow non-residents to buy alcohol on their website, but refuse to sell these limited items to them at the same time?  What about the military personnel who can maintain the state as their residence but obviously don't have all their bills sent here. State-sponsored discrimination of the very people who are defending the state and country? How cool is that, PLCB?

The only way you will get this set in PA
 is if you copy this picture

Then there are people who own property and pay taxes to PA but don't live here. Is this another benefit of paying your taxes to support a government agency that couldn't care less about you? (I don't want to hear that crap about no tax dollars are used to run the PLCB. As long as the taxpayers are on the hook for over $600 million in pension and medical debt, as long as we have no choice on where to buy our booze, ALL PLCB money is taxpayer money.)

So on the 13th we get to see the first shakedown of the new system, when 24 bottles of some Buffalo Trace Experimental bottles are offered in two lotteries of 12 each (25% of which — 3 bottles of each! — is reserved for a separate licensee lottery). I'm sure the demand level will be close to what the Antique Collection or Pappy frenzy is and will be a real test of their system.

Of course, don't expect to get a flight of the full set of Pappy releases, or a complete BTAC collection. That's impossible in the "most fair" world of the PLCB. 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The difference between the PLCB and freedom

Pennsylvania State Store 1945, an historic mistake

Barrel House Liquors built 1945, possibly an historic landmark