Tuesday, January 19, 2016


If you like wine or whiskey that's not the usual, like I do, and you live in Pennsylvania, like I do, you'll soon find out that the State Store System doesn't want to make life easy for you. Not only are the prices gouging and the service almost non-existent, a lot of times the bottle you want isn't even on the shelf. You have to order it, through a service that the PLCB calls, with a straight face, "SLO." That stands for "Special Liquor Order," and I think the person who thought it up must have been subversive. I salute them; it's genius.

Having to order something's not that bad, though; even at private stores they don't carry everything. But where they really put the screws to you is with the minimum orders. Six is the most common, sometimes it's two (I've seen them list a "minimum order quantity of 1"), but you'll see twelve listed as well; I'm looking at a twelve minimum right now, Oban Little Bay single malt.
One order. Please to make minimum.
What kind of crap is that? Is this to keep our singleton consumer hands off so the restaurants can corner the market? Are they just being stupid? Again? Why do they put these ridiculous minimums in place?

What follows is a paraphrase of three conversations I've had on the topic with people who either work for the PLCB, work for their suppliers, or politically support it.

Apologists: No, no, you don't understand. It's not us! We don't put those minimums in place, it's the wholesaler!

Me: But the PLCB is the wholesaler. The only one.

No, no, the suppliers. We call them wholesalers sometimes. 

That's confusing, but that whole situation is confusing. So you're saying that the suppliers tell you that you have to sell these in lots of at least two, or six or twelve?

Yes, it's their fault. 
You want this whiskey? You must buy all this whiskeys!
Is this another one of the great deals you got with your fantastic buying power? That you have to do in your own stores what the suppliers tell you? Just kidding... But if that's true, then why don't I have to buy a minimum like that when I buy at a private store, in any other state or country? They don't force me to buy at least two of something.

Well, it's because of the stores out in Sullivan County, and Mifflin County, and [names eighteen other counties with only one or two stores]. If we have to ship to them only one bottle for a customer order, that's expensive and inconvenient, so we have the minimums.

That kind of makes sense if you're shipping one bottle to Sullivan County's one store, but don't you say that rural selection will go down if sales are privatized? What kind of selection do you have if you have to buy twelve of a bottle that costs $85?

You could get eleven friends to buy one. 

But then I'd be like that guy in Malvern the BLCE busted for reselling wine, wouldn't I?

We didn't tell you to do that. 

Yes, you did!

No, we didn't.
Many bottles, so many! You must buy them all. Or buy NONE!

Whatever. In any case, even if it does make sense for the far-flung stores, it doesn't make sense in the stores in Philly, and Pittsburgh, and the major suburbs where the store density is so much greater, does it? You're doing supply runs more often, to more stores, it would be easy to include small orders.

We can't. Those are the rules, because it has to be the same for everyone. 

Wait...you told me it was because the suppliers said you had to do it.

We didn't say that.

Yes, you did, not two minutes ago.

No, you're confused.

Here's my promise for you, for 2016. I'm going to ask the PLCB these questions, the hard questions, the ones that make no sense, in writing, and keep asking them until I get solid, acceptable answers that make sense, in writing. We'll see how that goes.


Anonymous said...

The answer is don't shop at the PLCB. There is nothing they have you can't get out of state in the quantity you want.

Anonymous said...

Actually Arthur Goldman (the guy shut down by the BLCE) was in Malvern, which is Chester County, not Delco. Anyway as for fine whiskeys, can normal people buy them from PLCB wholesale stores? I found a message board thread on that topic but it didn't come to a clear resolution: http://www.city-data.com/forum/pittsburgh/1483279-state-store-outlet-store-number-0215-a.html

Lew Bryson said...

Thanks, I fixed that. As for shopping at the PLCB wholesale "stores"...I'd have said no, especially having seen that place on The Strip many times, but if the guy says he actually did...I wonder if that kind of thing was what led to this:

Again: a question that needs to be asked. Thanks.

Albert Brooks said...

Store 215 while it certainly exists, does not show up on any consumer listing for products. If you go to the product search page and look for the state mandatory 750ml bottle of Jim Beam for example the wholesale store #215 isn't listed and that is true for all the wholesale stores. It is my understanding that the public is not allowed to shop there so until somebody posts a receipt with a wholesale store number on it I'm sticking with that.

Wholesale stores or fulfillment centers as the PLCB likes to call them are stores #215, 222, 940, 2207, 2301 3616, 4015, 4817 and 5103

Type any of the wholesale store numbers in to see that they don't come up.

Anonymous said...

Why would PLCB wholesale store employees sell product illegally? Remember, this is a government monopoly that has no real incentive to meet sales goals or upsell anyone anything. In fact, the original idea of the PLCB was to discourage alcohol consumption.

Albert Brooks said...

The "why" , "who" and what happened is something the PLCB has decided not to tell the public.

girrlrocker said...

I've actually attempted to order SLO products from my local store. I asked about the minimum quantities myself (because they are ridiculous). The manager at my store told me that when suppliers list products on SLO, they (the suppliers) set the minimum quantity that they are willing to ship and that the PLCB does not have any influence on that. He also offered up a phone number for a representative of that supplier (Southern Wine and Spirits) and said that if I ask, they may reduce the minimum number. So I called.

The representative was very polite and explained to me that there are a few reasons for SLO.
1. sometimes the PLCB chooses not to carry a product because it may not sell well outside of a few stores. That makes sense from a retail standpoint with 500 stores, I work in retail, I understand it. But then why not carry it at a few stores? She said that with smaller quantities of orders aren't worth the time because they (suppliers) don't make much money on them. She also explained that, as an SLO, the PLCB and Southern do not need to keep inventory on hand because those orders are supplier direct. Shipping from Southern's warehouse (or one of their constituents warehouses) directly to a PLCB store.

2. Some products have availability issues. She explained that Southern is a "bailment" vendor. Which apparently means that Southern owns their product in the PLCB leased warehouses and the PLCB doesn't "buy" the cases until they ship. And because of that, the PLCB issues fines to vendors when supply runs too low. Southern opts to put items on SLO if they are unsure that they can commit to a consistent supply flow to avoid these fines.

So then I asked the million dollar question: Who determines if there is a minimum quantity? The answer I got is "the vendor of record". Apparently, Southern is just a broker for most of their products and they represent a large percentage of the liquor brands in PA. Some items they are the vendor of record for and some items the producing company is the vendor of record. Regardless, those are the people who set the minimum quantity according to Southern Wine and Spirits. So I asked why have a minimum quantity? And the answer was shipping costs. Sometimes it's just cheaper to ship 1 box of 6/12 to one location than 6/12 boxes to 6/12 locations. Another question I asked is why the prices for SLO on the PLCB website are higher than regular bottles. She told me that those prices have the per bottle shipping cost already figured in.

I then asked if I could only order one bottle and she said that was fine. I went to my store and asked to place the SLO for one bottle, the manager seemed happy that I actually called Southern, but the order was placed and 4 days later I got my one bottle. While it wasn't the most convenient time to get that bottle, I got that one bottle and I didn't have to drive to Jersey to get it (I live in Allentown). I felt really good about getting that bottle!

Lew Bryson said...

Well done! Thanks. I see some follow ups but that's great.

Albert Brooks said...

It still boils down to the PLCB causing the problem, If they didn't exist then there would be stores with that bottle because private stores would try to fill the demand. How do we know this? Because there ARE stores in private markets that carry the product and don't make you buy 3 or 6 or 12 of them. It still would be far better to have those dozen stores that carry the product and in-state shipping. Eliminate the PLCB and the SLO quantity all in one shot.