Barley Mowat 

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Focus on the LDB II

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Again, because they sure as hell aren’t doing it, I might as well tip y’all off to some great beers currently available via the LDB. But before we get to the part of this article that will actually be useful, please allow me to have a mini-rant.

I’ve gone on record about how the LDB weirdly loves to ignore beer in their advertising in favour of, well, anything else. This despite the fact that the majority of their sales are for beer, and that craft beer is one of the few product categories that is consistently seeing increased sales.

Now, though, I’m going to keep track of this bias. As of today the LDB main website at http://www.bcliquorstores.com features 7 advertisements–four in their rotator and three below that. These can be categorized as ads for:

Liquor: 1
Corporate Responsibility: 1

and, drumroll:

Wine: 5

Yup, that’s 71% of their ad space dedicated to a product that comprises only 30% of their income. I will keep track of this every month or so, and put a running tally on the right. I will also take bets on what # wine hits before beer hits 5. My guess is 140.

Now on to the delightful beers that this same store rather confusingly has in stock right now.

Beer 1: Brooklyn Sorachi Ace

Summer’s almost over, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up drinking light saisons. If there is a better mild saison on the market, I’m not aware of it. Sure, the price has gone up over the $9.99 it was first listed for, but I’m not gonna quibble over 66 cents.

Listing: http://www.bcliquorstores.com/product/132910
Price: $10.65 for 750ml
Availability: Very Limited

Beer 2: Unibroue U17 Grand Reserve

As of posting this beer is almost gone from the shelves, but there are a few out there still. Upon release this one didn’t get great reviews, and I concur. However, despite it’s not being as awesome as we’d all hoped, it’s still a very good beer, and now it’s being offered at a very good price.

Listing: http://www.bcliquorstores.com/product/837005
Price: $10.99 for 750ml
Availability: Extremely Limited

Beer 3: Howe Sound King Heffy Imperial Hefeweizen

Possibly the best hef in BC, but that’s not why it’s here. It’s here because Howe Sound has moved over to producing their fall seasonal, Pumpkineater, and that means King Heffy is gone for the season. Stock up now and crack one open when the rains come for a glass of sunshine, or to make yourself very depressed about how many months of dreary winter remain until this fine brew is new again.

Listing: http://www.bcliquorstores.com/product/127571
Price: $8.50for 750ml
Availability: Widely Available (for now)

Written by chuck

September 15th, 2012 at 7:17 pm

Posted in Beers

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Open Letter to the BC Liquor Distribution Branch

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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

Liquor Stores Go Mobile

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It was only a matter of time before the LDB decided to spend a chunk of their government funding and pay some local schmuck a metric assload of hard currency to crap out an iPhone app. I guess the only real surprise here is that it took them so long to do it.

The app is out, and it’s free. And thus ends the long list of positive things I can say about it, really. It makes a grand total of zero changes from their website, although I suppose storing the LDB database locally for faster searching is kind of nice, and the use of the location API on your phone to display local stores is also swell, but then again both of these things are available in desktop web browsers, so it really just points out the absence on the regular site.

Exactly like the website, the app is a portal into the LDB’s inventory database. A database that is helpfully updated Every. Single. Day–in its entirety–despite any changes very very likely having nothing to do with the products you’re after.

“But Chuck!” you say, “It’s just what you say it is. A mini-database of all cheap liquor available in the province… IN YOUR POCKET! Why don’t you love this?” Good question. Let me get my ranting cap on. Huh. Could have sworn I was keeping it by my pontificating pants… ah there it is.

And here we go. In list form, of course.

  1. First, and foremost, the inventory numbers are 2-3 (or more) days old. See that list of 3 bottles of Saison Dupont remaining? Well, that’s probable zero now, sucker.
  2. It doesn’t improve on the website in any measurable way. The website was already in my pocket, so I’m not 100% convinced of the benefit. Sure, the speed improvements that come from a native app will keep me using it in lieu of the website, but they could have done so much more. Perhaps they will, but somehow I doubt it.
  3. Since it’s just a raw viewer of the LDB’s database, it really lays bare their nigh contemptible attitude towards beer. Aside from the staples like producer, country, bottle size and price, wine has the following meta data attached:
    • Type (7 values)
    • Colour (3 values)
    • Varietal (>30 values)

    Beer, however, suffers from a lack of such attention. It has a lonely single form of meta-data (Type), which has one value (De-alcoholized). This is beer, after all, I guess the LDB figures the only information we’re really after is whether it’ll get us loaded or not, how much is it, and where do I get some.

  4. Again, much like the website, it focuses on a product-first approach to search. Find your product, get a price, then find out where to buy it. Now, this is is not always a bad idea.


    Hmmm…. $9.99 you say?


    However, I don’t always shop for beer like I shop for clothes (need jeans, go to jeans store, buy jeans, get the hell out of mall). I sometimes like to browse, and that means lingering in a store seeing what they have for sale that I might not thought of. However, the e-equivalent of this is not possible on the app. You can’t select a store and then see what beer they have available. Not possible.
  5. Again, because this is a raw view into the LDB’s database, we also suffer from their rather flat data structure. For instance, products are not grouped into hierarchical categories, e.g. Booze -> Beer -> Wheat Ales -> Driftwood -> White Bark. Rather, the db is sadly organized around their SKU, kind of like a SIN for booze. Thus instead of the human friendly and informative list above, we get: Booze -> 186718. And this is apparent.
  6. The “Showcase” button there is just a summary of the current banner promotions on the website, and you will likely never click it more than once. Again, their current “Craft Beer” button is pretty indicative of their view on the matter. While I do appreciate that this is very likely the first time they’ve ever highlighted craft beer, doing so by shining the spot light solely on mixer boxes is a bit insane.

Huh. I just realized that every single one of those points is a fault with the LDB’s system, and not the app itself. So I guess I don’t really have a huge problem with the app, aside from it only providing a thin venire on a weak backend.

There *is* one iPhone-y feature worth talking about, if only to point out how sucky it is. The app has the ability to scan a bar code of a liquor product, and display that item’s page, if found. At first blush, this sounds like a great feature with lots of wow-factor, and I’m 100% positive that this is how it was sold at the kick-off meeting for the project.

That no one pointed out the obvious saddens me. The prerequisite for using this feature to find the liquor is holding the fucking bottle in your hand. You’ve already found it, and presumably drunk most of it. You have enough information in your bloody hand to find the LDB’s entry without resorting to a flashy camera-based scanner that, in all likelihood, won’t work given the typical lighting under which I am normally intrigued by liquor products I haven’t heard of before.

There is lots of info on the website that somehow never make it into the app: Tasting events at the 39th store, drink and food recipes, and even wine and mixed-drink reviews (notably no beer reviews). The website also has a list of consultants, which stores they work in, and a nice little quote from each on how much they love The Sauce. (Again, this page uses the word “wine” 32 times, and “beer” twice). All of this is saved for people with computers.

Then there’s the info that is missing from both places. What about new arrivals? In-store product samples? Marked down specials? Rare or seasonal items that are about to go out of stock? How about an ability to do bulk orders without involving a remote meat puppet in order to type six numbers into the computer at 30-odd dollars an hour? Or any slight improvement over the treatment of beer as a bulk commodity product that no serious connoisseur could possibly take seriously. LDB, BC is one of the foremost areas in North America when it comes to craft beer, perhaps it’s time you took the segment seriously and hired someone to promote it (in completely unrelated news, I’m available. Wink. Wink. Ok, fine, Bribe. Bribe.)

Alas, this app is as good as it’s going to get. I know how these contracts work: it’s a one-off budget item in a single fiscal year with perhaps a rider for small maintenance/bug fixes. A second revision is many years out, as any suggestions will just be met with “but we just did that” in the budget review.

Written by chuck

August 12th, 2011 at 1:10 pm

Posted in Beer and You

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