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Out of Stocks: an unfortunate reality as the pandemic continues
Editor’s Note: Retailers across the U.S. are caught between suppliers and customers as they deal with products being out of stock due, overall, to the COVID-19 pandemic. This issue crosses many types of goods, including alcohol, which is different than any other kind of product in the market as it can cause harm.
The article below is written by Nancy Drumsta, manager of Delano Wine and Spirits in Delano, MN. The article is expanded from what originally appeared in the Minnesota Municipal Beverage Association’s (MMBA) newsletter. In it is a column titled, “As I see it,” where a member provides their opinion about an issue. NABCA is sharing with you Nancy’s thoughts about how she is managing out of stocks at her location. It may reinforce what is already being done as well as offer solutions to those facing this situation.
As I See It...
Out of stock products are a real struggle right now for all of us. We don’t want the consumer blaming us, our distributors don’t want us blaming them, and neither does the manufacturer.
So, who do we blame?
Answer = NO ONE!
Let’s not play the blame game.
We need to get creative with products to try to please our clientele the best that we can. As we move toward the holiday season, customers are looking forward to a more joyous occasion with friends and family. I think we all have traditions to some degree with our loved ones that we anticipate every year.
Now is the time to start thinking about how we can provide our customers with the best possible shopping experience as they visit our store looking for gift ideas and holiday cocktail recipes to make their gatherings fun.
As I am typing this and with reported cases of the Delta variant of COVID-19 increasing, I see our future of social gathering possibilities spiraling downward rapidly. But I am going to be hopeful that we will not get back to 6 feet apart by November-December.
So, what do we do in the meanwhile? My advice to you is:
• Work with your vendors to come up with drink ideas and recipes to help your customers with their holiday shopping.
• Build displays to enhance what you have to offer to instead of what we can’t get.
• Try to keep your shelves and cooler rails looking full and without obvious holes when possible.
• Do your research to see “what’s new” out there and offer customers new selections.
• Communicate with your vendors about out of stocks and order up when you can.
• Look at previous sales on items and, if you can, buy up now to get you through the next few months.
Making sure your employees also feel informed about what is happening is another critical component in customer relations. I have a communication book that my staff reads when they come for their shifts. I use this log to give them any updates that I have from my suppliers with ETAs on products and any new out of stock information.
I also create and share through email a memo for employees that includes their schedules for the following week. In this memo I relay as much information as I can to assist them in keeping customers informed as we get updates from our suppliers.
As far as how I deal with my suppliers, I ask them to keep me as updated as they possibly can on any day-to-day changes on their end. I operate a large enough store that they are very proactive in getting me as much product as they can, as soon as possible, after it rolls into their warehouse.
We have had to learn to adapt to many changes over the last 18 months. We added in delivery and curbside to assist us when the possibility of having to close our store was lurking. Luckily, we have remained open for business and my staff has stepped up to the plate, worked hard and adapted to changes as we have moved forward. We will work through this and discover what our “new normal” will be.
Delano Wine and Spirits
About The Minnesota Municipal Beverage Association
MMBA is a NABCA member and statewide association that consists of municipally owned and operated alcohol beverage facilities whose members promote moderation and control in the sale and use of alcohol beverages – while simultaneously generating income for their community. Each year, these facilities generate approximately $300 million in sales and contribute approximately $20 million in net-profits to various city funds. MMBA's primary purpose is to help members operate their facilities more efficiently and economically through education and consultation. In addition, MMBA serves as an information resource for the beverage industry and the general public.
Communicate and Collaborate to Prevent Product Loss
The Vermont Department of Liquor and Lottery successfully changed practices where audit variances dropped by 34% and which decreased workload
Product loss can come from any number of areas, be it through breakage, inventory miscount, theft, or something unexpected. In a retail setting, this experience can have a negative impact on revenue, and if not addressed, can be frustrating on many levels.
Over the last year, the Vermont Department of Liquor and Lottery’s (DLL), which has contract liquor retail stores, changed its model of inventory counts which decreased inefficiencies by 65% and where audit variances dropped by 34%. It also decreased the workload of staff and licensees, giving both the tools to be successful.
Remembering that business operations became disrupted during COVID-19, prior to the pandemic, DLL staff would go into the retail stores to perform monthly counts or audits and provide in-person trainings. The monthly counts were time consuming for the retail partners and the DLL was often receiving inaccurate data. During the pandemic, the DLL changed the model to a smaller subset of items to be counted bi-weekly across the State, which included the central warehouse. Recognizing shrinkage would be problematic due to staff shortages, a large increase of business and theft, it was important to have a plan in place once the Retail Operations team was back in the field.
Once the marketplace reopened, the DLL’s top priority was to reestablish relationships with the retail store managers/owners to identify areas where the workload would be efficient and easier for internal and external partners. The State owns all inventory until it is purchased by the consumer. Therefore, relationships with these retail partners are critical in identifying loss prevention in an objective, non-punitive manner.
As shrinkage was a major issue, the DLL team connected with local police to identify some of the affected localities. The DLL followed-up with retailers to discuss loss prevention efforts and solutions to address the issue. The products impacted by shrinkage varied. In some areas it was rum, in another it was vodka and in yet another, it was brandy. “It was not consistent with where the loss was occurring,” said Kim Walker, director of retail operations at the DLL’s Division of Liquor Control/ 802Spirits. “In these instances, we would either put the products behind a counter and put a placard in its place or move the product to an entirely different location to avoid loss,” she said.
The DLL had implemented a subset count system called the Master Replenishment Program where a product for a store will not regenerate until the inventory levels match the order threshold. “This allowed us to identify an issue sooner, as a retailer would notice an item did not generate on their planned order for the location,” said Walker. A discussion would then occur between the retail team and the retailer to identify the issue, within two weeks. “We could address a miscount, breakage, or theft swiftly and implement the next appropriate course of action,” she said.
Understanding that more needed to be done, the retail operations division partnered with the DLL’s education and enforcement divisions to provide retail partners support that offered instruction to their employees. Together, the collaboration resulted in an 8-minute online training module/resource available on any device, with specific information about preventing product loss. It is accessible for retail partners and their employees to watch at their leisure. The messages were clear and simple and included actions such as making direct eye contact with customers and welcoming someone into the store. The DLL’s internal and external partners received the same details to keep the message consistent.
While the module provided the convenience of watching at any time, the DLL retail, compliance and enforcement staff also offered in-person training to their partners. “It was a coordinated and collaborative effort with my colleagues who were amicable and willing to do this for the betterment of the retailers, the agency and for public safety,” said Walker.
Kim Walker is available should anyone like to discuss loss prevention. She can be reached at email@example.com or 802-828-4923 (office).
The interactive loss prevention module is available to the retailers on the DLL website.
How COVID-19 Tested the VA ABC Authority
Premiere Issue, October 14, 2020
There is an upcoming session during the virtual NABCA Administrator’s Conference titled, “Hope is Not a Crisis Plan.” The speakers for this session will distinguish a Continuation of Operations Plan (COOP) from a Crisis Communications Plan. While many may believe that once an organization has a COOP they are covered in the event of a crisis, it is not exactly true, especially from a public relations perspective.
According to Nick Schimick, Director of Communications for the Virginia ABC Authority, a COOP addresses an emergency from an all-hazards approach. “It establishes policy and guidance ensuring that critical functions continue, and that personnel and resources are relocated to an alternate facility in case of emergencies. The COOP keeps the organization running,” he said.
A Crisis Communications Plan address gaps in information which may cause rampant speculation and foster misinformation which attacks an organization’s credibility and reputation. A crisis plan includes clear and consistent communications which need to be made frequently, even if repetitive. It is essential in successfully handling all crises and provides transparency which fosters trust among numerous organization stakeholders.
The Virginia ABC’s Crisis Communication Plan had been in the works for about two years. Spearheaded by Dawn Eischen, Public Information Officer, the plan provides a comprehensive strategy that:
- Facilitates overall communication between the Authority and its employees, customers, partners, board members and other state leaders, the news media, and the public.
- Ensures an effective response structure and chain of command for information, input, and decision-making.
- Contains and/or minimizes brand-damaging media coverage.
- Ensures that media coverage is as factual as possible.
Eishen’s crisis communications experience at the American Red Cross, the VA Department of Emergency Management, the VA Department of Transportation, and the VA Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, were meaningful to senior leadership who understood the dangerous gap in not having a formal crisis plan.
They realized that having a COOP simply was not enough and approved a scheduled roll out of the crisis plan. Nearing its completion, the communications team began working with the Authority’s emergency management and safety teams in early March on communications and media relations protocols. The test for the plan did not happen exactly as planned as the COVID-19 pandemic meant swiftly implementing it.
“It is completely safe to say that had we not proactively developed this plan and actively promoted it to leadership, our response to the pandemic would have been quite different than the professional and polished one we were ultimately able to deliver,” said Schimick.
Making Clear Where the Money Goes
New Hampshire Liquor Commission launches campaign and web page with details for all to see
What points do you consider when deciding to contribute to a charitable organization? Some things that might factor in could be the reputation of the agency, knowing how many cents on the dollar goes toward supporting programs versus covering overhead costs, and knowing the specifics of where the money goes.
Control systems offer a continuous and generous revenue stream to state budgets with much of the money going into a general fund. Because this category is broad, it is also unclear, leaving many to wonder and possibly negatively assume how the dollars are spent and why they should continue to believe in the system. Decisionmakers and the public are usually unaware about how revenue dollars generated from control systems support their communities. Even within a general fund, the money can be earmarked for local governments throughout the state, to support rehabilitation programs, to fund education initiatives, and a host of other designations that benefit state residents.
Taking heed of this and connecting it to what is happening at the agency, Chairman Joseph Mollica and his team at the New Hampshire Liquor Commission (NHLC) brainstormed about a proactive campaign to educate and reinforce the benefits of the state’s control system model to its 425+ state legislators and policymakers, 12 million annual customers, the public and the media. The message would focus on the NHLC’s milestone of surpassing $4 billion in revenue.
The NHLC, founded in 1934, is obligated by statute to maximize revenue. Since then, the website notes, more than $4 billion in net profits have been used to support state services such as education, health and social services, transportation, natural resource protection, and addiction treatment and prevention programs. The web page also details that in addition to revenues generated by the sales of liquor in the stores, that sales to the state’s 3,314 restaurant and retail partners also help to increase profits.
According to E.J. Powers, the NHLC’s strategic communications consultant, the agency consistently reinforces the benefits it delivers to citizens of New Hampshire on its existing website and boiler plate for news releases. However, launching a campaign specifically dedicated to demystifying “where the money goes” in relationship to surpassing the $4 billion milestone would draw more positive attention to the NHLC and provide concrete details about where and how the revenues from liquor and wine sales are helping state citizens.
The campaign launched on May 25. The promotional avenues used to drive people to the website and to catch the attention of legislators, elected officials and the public included news coverage from the media, paid coverage through print and digital ads as well as social media posts.
Additionally, there are posters in the stores and an interactive component where an oversized and customized $4 billion bill is sent around the stores so customers and employees can take and post photos of themselves holding it.
Further, the NHLC is offering four winners each a $1,000 gift card to its stores as an engagement incentive in the campaign. So far, more than 7,500 people have signed up to win the gift cards.
The NHLC firmly believes in proactively pursuing opportunities to promote itself to key audiences and took a similar approach to capitalizing on milestones when it launched “85 Years of Cheers” – an integrated consumer-focused campaign celebrating its 85th anniversary in 2019.
The NHLC’s “Where does the money go” campaign is designed to be evergreen and its website will be updated as the agency continues to produce record revenue for New Hampshire citizens. It will also be a critical tool for informing state legislators. In New Hampshire, legislative terms are just 2 years, pending election outcomes, so continuing education is key. With the public signing up to win the gift cards, they will start receiving regular emails from the NHLC, keeping them informed and connected with what is happening with the Commission, as well as sales and promotions on the 14,000 products available at the states 70+ NH Liquor & Wine Outlet retail locations.
Here is where you can see the NHLCs materials regarding the “Where does the money go” campaign:
- NHLC website
- NHLC poster
- NHLC ad
- NHLC customized $4 Billion bill
- NHLC staff photos w/$4 Billion bill
Editor’s Note: Welcome to Sharing Solutions! Good work that results in creative ways to connect, whether it is with legislators, customers, vendors, employees, media, friends of the agency or another important public, does not need to be a secret. This publication is a platform for the NABCA community to share successful implementations and lessons learned about the good work you do so all can applaud, borrow, shape, create and support each other. We are pleased to showcase innovative programs from our members in this e-newsletter. If you have an idea you would like to share for consideration for a future issue, please contact Maggie Barchine, firstname.lastname@example.org.
New Hampshire Mocktail Week
New Hampshire has long embraced its mission of balancing generating critical state revenue with responsible alcohol sales and consumption. It’s first-ever NH Mocktail Week event is the latest example of showcasing the importance of responsibility that is getting the agency positive recognition from many important stakeholders. The week-long event is a collaboration between the New Hampshire Liquor Commission (NHLC), Brown-Forman, and The Mocktail Project, a grassroots movement helping to create a safer, more inclusive drinking culture.
Restaurants throughout the state were incentivized to add mocktails to their drink menus during NHLC’s Distiller’s Week in November, an annual celebration of spirits that culminates with the Distiller’s Showcase of Premium Spirits. To promote the program, Jesse Hawkins, founder of The Mocktail Project, created the state’s first official mocktail – the Squam Sunset. Crafted with locally-made Squamscot ginger ale, New Hampshire maple syrup, cinnamon simple syrup and fresh lemon juice. The Squam Sunset recipe can be made using the tutorial on Live Free and Host Responsibly website, which also includes recipes for Autumn Peach and Blackberry Smash mocktails.
Why mocktails? “People are becoming more health-conscious and want to know exactly what they are consuming,” Hawkins said. “Working with NHLC and Brown-Forman is a great example of how a more inclusive drinking culture can be embraced, and that it is perfectly acceptable to take a break from imbibing without giving up the experience of a bar setting or hosting a gathering at home.”
More than two dozen restaurants featured specially crafted alcohol-free drinks or mocktails on menus that week, building excitement for the event. Participants were encouraged to snap pictures and post them on social media tagging @themocktailproject and @nhliquorwine and hashtag #shareamocktail.
Mocktail Week is a continuation of the NHLC and Brown-Forman’s “Live Free & Host Responsibly” program which began five years ago. The award-winning collaboration has received praise for its creative approach to promoting responsible consumption with consumers, licensees, and business partners.
“We have a responsibility to our consumers to encourage safe and responsible consumption of alcohol,” said NHLC Chairman Joseph Mollica. “As our state celebrated Distiller’s Week, we wanted to be just as welcoming to those who either can’t imbibe, make the personal choice not to consume alcohol, or want to take a break from imbibing. Offering well-crafted, alcohol-free options is growing in popularity and we are proud to partner with Brown-Forman and The Mocktail Project to promote positive attitudes toward alcohol consumption.”
Plans are already coming together for 2020, although the format may change due to health and safety precautions related to COVID-19.
For more information visit www.liquorandwineoutlets.com/responsibility
For more information about this program contact:
E.J. Powers, 603.644.3200 extension 11, email@example.com
Building a Crisis Communications Plan
The Virginia ABC Authority shares its plan with NABCA control jurisdiction members.
Communications Plan. This issue of Sharing Solutions gets into more detail about the Crisis Communications Plan and the need for having a comprehensive one on hand should an unfortunate circumstance occur. Additionally, the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority has agreed to share its entire Crisis Communications Plan with our control jurisdiction members.
In two words, a crisis plan helps with reputation management. In addition to an organization, an individual has a reputation to manage. In exploring personal thoughts and feelings, consider what comes to mind when you see Facebook or Harvey Weinstein? The most common examples demonstrating the need for having a crisis plan in education institutions even today, are Three Mile Island (an example of what not to do) and Tylenol, which recovered from its crisis within a year. Consider even the reputation of your agency.
It is critical to keep an organization operating using COOP protocols and at the same time dedicate staff, outline processes, and designate resources so the organization can maintain its reputation. By having and implementing a Crisis Communications Plan, it helps to reduce misinformation, encourage effective communication, and increase message timeliness.
Putting together a comprehensive plan takes a lot of time and support from leaders in an organization. Virginia ABC’s plan has been in the works for five years. Public Relations Manager Dawn Eischen took on the task of revising the organization’s plan three years ago when she joined Virginia ABC. She had previously used her crisis communications skills as a public information officer for the American Red Cross, Virginia Department of Emergency Management and Virginia Department of Transportation. According to Nick Schimick, director of communications for Virginia ABC, the plan became meaningful to senior leadership who understood the dangerous gap of not having a formal crisis plan.
With the Authority sharing its end product, the detailed plan includes examples of realistic and possible crisis scenarios, the critical staff needed to help take care of a crisis, the steps to be taken in developing messages, the forms to complete, and many other requirements for an organization to manage its reputation well.
NABCA appreciates the Virginia ABC Authority for allowing this entire document to be shared.
DISCLAIMER: Please note the Authority granted permission to circulate this plan with the NABCA board, the six advisory committees, and NABCA staff. The document is not for distribution outside of this group. Thank you.