Barley Mowat 

Open Letter to the BC Liquor Distribution Branch

with 14 comments

Dear BC LDB,

Hi there. I’m Chuck. Although you might remember me better as the guy who occasionally comes in to your stores and buys a big bag of local craft beer. I also sometimes hang out in the beer section and give advice to other curious beer purchasers when your staff shrugs off their requests for help. As well, the folks at the customer service desk might know me as the stubborn bastard that insists upon putting in custom orders for cases of Oregon beer, even though it costs ten dollars a bottle. Ten dollars! Imagine all the Molson I could get for that! (And yes, this is a conversation I have had with a CSR at the LDB).

So now that we’re past the introductions and pleasantries, let’s get to the real meat of this here letter: What gives with your attitude towards beer? No, really? What’s the fucking deal? Why do your CSRs try and talk me out of my purchase, or act like I’m insane when I talk to other clients about beer aged in oak barrels? Why does your website spend the vast majority of its time promoting new wines, exotic wines, and wine/food pairings, and basically ignore beer (8/8 current promotions are for wine)? Why is your current product consultant staff count 44, each with a nice bio about how much they love wine and how they can help you love wine, and only 1 of those 44 even felt it appropriate to mention the word “beer” (and even then only in the vaguest terms)?

I’ve been buying beer in this province for twenty years now, from around three dozen different stores, and the attitude towards beer has always been the same: beer is a bulk commodity sold to uninformed, un-savvy, low-class consumers. After all, if those that buy beer knew anything at all they’d be buying wine, amiright or amiright? Recently I’ve decided to push this perception a little further and even go so far as to ask store staff to recommend a beer for a spicy Thai dinner I was purportedly having that night. This type of recommendation should be Beer Basics 101. I’ve only done this four times, so the results are as preliminary as they are discouraging: two recommended quite literally the closest beer to us (both macros), one recommended Alexander Keith’s (which, as an IPA, is at least in the right direction). The fourth? She recommended wine, presumably because beer pairs with idiots and football, not food.


Truth be told, though, it’s an absolute BITCH to do this with wine bottles.

Now, let me get this straight, each of those folks about were kind, nice, and patient. And I do believe that they honestly tried to help to the best of their abilities. The trick is that they had no abilities due to having had no training.

I could understand this wine-myopia if perhaps it was where all your business was. But that’s just not the case. By your own numbers your business is quite obviously primarily about selling beer. Beer is responsible for 71% of the product going out the door by volume, and 40% of the cash coming in said door*. Yes, a lot of that is for macro beer, but macros saw a year over year drop in popularity while local craft brewers increased 19% in the same period. In a market where booze sales in general are hurting, craft beer is consistently increasing. Don’t believe me? Look at the past few quarters on that page. Pretty much every other liquor is flat or going up slightly at best. Local craft beer is +18% at worst and +40% at best.

Again, let me stress this: In a market where it’s getting to be harder and harder to compete for consumer dollars, you have one retail segment that is showing persistent, strong gains and interest from your clients. So why do you not only completely ignore that segment, but seemingly actively strive to hurt it? Why can’t you work with your dedicated sub-industry of craft beer importers to bring something interesting to your shelves? Oh yeah, I forgot: beer has to be cheap in order to sell to the unwashed masses, and have you seen that Upright stuff? It’s like $15 a bottle. You could get a bottle of WINE for that! Sure, it’s cheap, horrible wine, but at least it’s not beer!

I mean, it’s OK for every other alcohol product to be expensive. Just not beer. Because it won’t sell. Or something. This attitude persists despite the huge, booming craft beer store industry who seemingly stock nothing BUT $15/bottle product. Or at least they’d love to, if they could keep it on the shelves. But yeah, that shit won’t fly at the LDB because… um… uh… aliens, I guess?

Take a close look at the maximum price you can pay for each of the LDB’s three product categories, and you see where you’ve slotted beer in your lineup:

Spirits: $23333 per litre ($17500 for 750ml of Highland Park 50y)
Wine: $5800 per litre ($4350 for 750ml of Chateau Lafite Rothschild ’08)
Beer: $12.25 per litre ($7.95 for 650ml of Tree Double Hop Head)

So yeah, the LDB’s position appears to actually be that someone is more likely to spend $17500 for a bottle of (what is no doubt very nice) scotch rather than spend over $8 for a bottle of beer. Despite that exact thing happening thousands of times every day at dozens of stores all over the province. How long have you guys had that single bottle of Highland Park in stock for, again?

Ok, I’m done (for now at least). However, don’t just take this as a one way dialogue. I’m legitimately curious about the LDB’s strategy here. You guys no doubt have dozens of savvy admen and marketing types with a much better understanding of the retail space than I have. So what’s the story here? Is handing the craft beer market over to the LRSs wholesale an actual strategy?

Sincerely,

Chuck (the guy that has poured literally THOUSANDS of dollars into your competitors’ pockets)

* Yes, that’s gross income, not profit. So perhaps beer isn’t profitable? Without the LDB giving us the numbers it’s very hard to tell.

Written by chuck

January 10th, 2012 at 11:59 am

Posted in Beer and You

Tagged with

14 Responses to 'Open Letter to the BC Liquor Distribution Branch'

Subscribe to comments with RSS or TrackBack to 'Open Letter to the BC Liquor Distribution Branch'.

  1. So have you actually sent this letter (or something like it) to BC LDB?

    Kelly

    10 Jan 12 at 12:27

  2. Pffft, like they’d actually read it…

    flowbee

    10 Jan 12 at 13:29

  3. While I completely agree with you, I have to say that the craft beer selection in the BCL has been improving (not good but improving). Most of the stores near my house now have a good supply of Driftwood and there has been the odd surprize (they seem to have a had a shipment of Old Rasputin recently).

    PeeSeeGee

    10 Jan 12 at 13:43

  4. Well done sir! LDB is my pet peeve as well, particularly their totally untrained and clueless staff.

    Unfortunately, paying thousands of dollars at “competing” private LRSes doesn’t hurt the LDB that much, since they’re also the exclusive distributor who wholesales to those private stores. I can’t believe the Canadian Competition Bureau hasn’t don’t something about this (maybe outside their jurisdiction). At minimum, a monopoly such as the LDB should be regulated by the BC Utilities Commission & prevented from owning/operating retail stores (like BC Hydro, Terasen, ICBC) when it is also the exclusive distributor/wholesaler.

    Chad McCarthy

    10 Jan 12 at 15:22

  5. “Chuck (the guy that has poured literally THOUSANDS of dollars into your competitors’ pockets)”

    That statement is the biggest problem. You’re not pouring thousands into the pockets of competitors. At least not in the Province of BC. Those competitors have to buy their beer from the LDB before they can sell it in their stores. Yes they reduce the cost by a small margin (around 15%) as “wholesale” to private liquor stores, but when you take out the required infrastructure they actually make more when someone buys a product from a private store than they would in the BC stores.

    The only way to ensure you spend all your money in a competitors store is to buy all your booze down south, legally, with 48 visits on a consistant basis.

    Either that or Homebrew.

    … I homebrew a lot…

    VanBrewers.ca

    cbjerrisgaard

    10 Jan 12 at 15:27

  6. @Kelly : Of course not! Sending the LDB anything more than a Twitter mention would be perilously close to actual journalism, and we both know I’m far far too incompetent for that.

    @PeeSeeGee : Product availability has gotten better, but even so it’s not even a 4 out of 10. Where are all the seasonal releases? Why did it take so long for Driftwood to get a 5th SKU? etc.

    @Chad / @cbjerrisgaard : Yeah, I’m aware of where the LRSs ultimately get their product, but with the volume we’re talking about the LDB would love to get their hands on that additional 15%. I do regularly haul back loads of beer from the US, but it’s just not the same as supporting the locals (even if the beer is better). Per home brewing, I’m just not talented enough to satisfy my colossal inner beer-snob 🙂

    chuck

    10 Jan 12 at 16:17

  7. Great letter, unfortunately it is true in many of the stores. I do security for the LDB and am a member of CAMRA and am lucky that my store has beer geeks working there. We love our craft beer drinkers and will get as much inventory as possible 🙂 Just need to ask and we will do our best to get it in.

    King

    10 Jan 12 at 20:45

  8. Some BCLDB retail stores do have beer nerds on staff. Seek these people out, build a relationship, and they will gladly bring in and set stuff aside for you. Yes, let’s get BCLDB out of the retail game, but until then…

    Rob

    11 Jan 12 at 15:11

  9. Good thing you didn’t mention that Ontario’s provincial liquor authority, the LCBO, had to host a lottery for 70 bottles of Samuel Adams Utopias ($115/ea)… and over 1,500 people submitted their name for the lottery.

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/story/2010/12/22/lcbo-sam-adams-beer.html

    As per Rob’s comments above, ‘yes’ the BCLDB does have the odd beer-nerd on staff whom is usually very helpful (though reality may set in when a custom order reveals a $52 delivery fee upon ordering!?!!>). Truth be told, many private liquor stores also have a good % of unknowledgeable beer-staff but they do (in general) seem more inclined to help you.

    Todd

    11 Jan 12 at 15:39

  10. While I share your frustration with the bulk of the staff and stores, a shout out to Henning at the Nordel Crossing Signature LDB who has introduced me to numerous Trappist beers, Brooklyn Brewing, Rogue selections including a full case of St. Rogue red 650’s, and Moylan’s Hopsicle. Not that he gets much in the way of support, but one good guy is a start. It would be nice to see passionate and knowledgeable guys like this supported rather than them being relegated to surreptitious ‘abandoned customer orders’ to stock their shelves with good beer, most irritating is to go back with an empty bottle to the Customer Service Desk, and to be told “we don’t carry that” or “We can’t get that, where did you buy it? …. Here????”. Their ignorance at the Customer Service Desk is mind boggling….

    Steve

    11 Jan 12 at 15:43

  11. My other favourite anecdote was taking back some empties to the 39th and Cambie store to be told that they couldn’t accept them, and that I should take them back to where I bought them… which was the 39th and Cambie store (sure, via bulk order, but still).

    As helpful as the odd staff might wish to be, they are still stuck with the hand dealt them by corporate. If the SKU of the product you’re after shows Container World is out, good luck ordering it. And if the SKU isn’t in the system at all, well… then you get handed the Special Order form, which more often then not results in your never hearing from them again (or being informed there is no import agent for that brewery, and that’s that). On the odd chance a Special Order does arrive you’re going to have to buy a lot more than you initially intended (but I wanted 1 bottle!) and very likely will be handed a massive bill along with your prize (a la Todd’s story).

    However, I do like the idea of giving a shout out to LDB stores that have good beer nerds on staff and do the best with what they have. Keep those names and stores coming, so we can be sure to know where to go.

    Ultimately, though, the most telling stat is that the LDB has 3560 SKUs for wine and only 556 for beer. That gets worse when you realize that a wine might have 2 or 3 SKUs max for different sizes, but Molson Canadian alone has 8. The LDB dearly, sincerely wants to be a wine store (and a pretty bad one at that), and it very clearly is not. But somehow I doubt they’ll let reality get in the way of their dream.

    chuck

    11 Jan 12 at 16:40

  12. BCLS Fairfield Plaza (Victoria, Fairfield area) has an excellent Assistant Manager named Chad. He loves the challenge of seeking out and finding new beers – he also makes regular courtesy calls with status/order updates. I can’t praise the man enough…

    http://www.bcliquorstores.com/store/178

    Todd

    11 Jan 12 at 20:07

  13. Hey Folks…
    There is always being able to source out the brewery itself. There are several in Vancouver/Suburbs that can sell you all of their product at BCLDB prices. Most are open Saturdays too.
    You would be surprised how many beers each local brewery makes with no avail in getting it listed at the BCLDB.
    Happy hunting.

    Doug

    12 Jan 12 at 09:18

  14. It demands for a good co-ordination of your hands and eyes.

    Operatives who are highly efficient and trained, professional and courteous, are a bonus
    when they clean windows and make them sparkle brightly and make your home look more inviting and attractive.
    Warm water is not necessary but it can make things a
    bit more pleasant.

    i.imgur.com

    24 Sep 15 at 02:22

Leave a Reply