Profile: The Wyoming Liquor Distribution Division

Bigger isn’t always better. However, the state of Wyoming doesn’t let its massive size get in the way of providing excellent customer service. Even though Wyoming is the tenth largest state in the country in terms of square footage, that doesn’t stop it from providing next-day service to almost all of its customers. Recent enhancements to warehouse facilities and an impressive new voice recognition technology have allowed the state to maintain and improve the impeccable service it provides to licensees and constituents alike.

The Wyoming Liquor Distribution Division is a part of the larger Department of Revenue, and it is the sole wholesaler of alcohol throughout the state. Headquartered in Cheyenne, the Division operates with a staff of 40 full-time employees and seven contract workers. While the state doesn’t own any stores of its own, approximately 1,200 licensed retailers operate as independent businesses licensed by the government.

All Wyoming licensees enjoy next-day delivery service by the Division on all orders that are placed by noon. (Special orders may take up to five or six weeks for delivery.) Cheyenne customers receive deliveries two days per week, and are also given the option of picking up their own orders at the warehouse anytime.

 

Delivering Customer Service

“We’re very proud that we can deliver that kind of customer service across the state, even to those licensees who live in the most remote parts of the state,” says Dan Noble, Director of the Wyoming Department of Revenue. “Even the people who live in small towns several hours away from the heart of Cheyenne are getting the same service as those who are right here in our city.”

In February 2012, the Division moved into a new, 145,000-square-foot warehouse. The new facility exceeds the size of the old warehouse by 45,000 feet, giving Wyoming much-needed additional space for new product storage. Additional products equate to more sales: during the last fiscal year, total liquor sales for the state of Wyoming surpassed $99 million, a 7.96% increase from the year before.

Currently, Wyoming ships an average of 900,000 cases per year and lists 2,100 different products. However, more than 23,000 special order items are available in their database. According to Greg Cook, Administrator of the Wyoming Liquor Distribution Division, special orders are on the rise, increasing by 12% in the past year. Of those special orders, about 85% of them are wine-based. Along with an overall increase of wine sales, Wyoming is also seeing a rise in sales of high-end bourbon and Scotch.

“Everyone wants a wine you’ve never heard of before, or whatever the latest new product is,” Cook says. “We get hundreds of new item inquiries each week, and we need to do product research on each and every one of them.”

For Maurice Brown, owner of Town & Country Supermarket Liquors in Cheyenne, excellent service and wide product selection are important to his business. His customers appreciate new product offerings, and Brown makes beverage rotation a priority in his store.

“We get several deliveries each week. Service is reliable and the product generally arrives in good condition,” Brown said. “There’s a large inventory of products to choose from, and the state only charges a $2 service fee for special orders, which is very reasonable.”

Kevin Georges owns DT’s Liquor, a chain of two “combos” in Cheyenne featuring a retail store with a bar in back. Georges estimates that one-third of his sales are from special orders, and appreciates how easy it is to obtain a variety of products.

“Our relationship with the Liquor Division is top-shelf,” Georges states. “We move a lot of product, and working with them is one of the easiest partnerships I’ve ever had in my entire career in business.”

 

Modernizing Processes

Along with additional space for more products, the Division’s new warehouse facility also allows for separate shipping and receiving areas and an enhanced conveyor system featuring a 300-foot-long bottle line. These updated facilities have made a tremendous impact on the Division’s overall efficiency.

Wyoming split-cases every item it lists, making quality control a challenge. Even though the warehouse only runs one 40-hour shift per week and the number of cases it ships per day is on the rise, it currently boasts a 99.2% accuracy rating, which is its highest ever. The Division attributes this success to the warehouse and technology upgrades it has undergone over the past two years. In addition to more square footage, the new facility is equipped with 17 dock doors (the old warehouse only had seven). Wyoming has also invested in a state-of-the-art voice technology system. These additional resources have allowed the Division to reassess its bottle-picking and case-picking processes.

Using Datria Voice from Knighted, a voice recognition technology, the warehouse has increased its average of picking 60 cases per hour using scanners to picking 100 cases per hour using the new system. The voice-over IP (VoIP) functionality utilizes wireless phones instead of conventional headsets, which communicates directly with Wyoming’s warehouse management system.

“The system is so easy to use,” says Scott Sheppard, IT Administrator with the Division. “There are no cords. It’s completely wireless. You don’t have to keep track of things like descriptions or quantities, because the system keeps track of everything for you.”

Overall, the entire Division is pleased with how seamlessly the new voice technology has been implemented, and how quickly it has improved overall warehouse operation performance. The system will also end up being more cost-effective than the previous version. Wyoming’s old scanners cost $3,500 apiece, and the warehouse used an average of 20 scanners. Those scanners have since been replaced with the new wireless phones, which only cost $500 apiece. That cost savings coupled with increased warehouse efficiency (which also results in a lesser need for worker overtime) adds up to a huge return on investment for the Division.

 

Compliance and Socia Responsibility Initiatives

While the state of Wyoming is basking in the glow of its many impressive operations overhauls, there’s still plenty of work to be done, especially on the compliance side. With only three agents covering Wyoming’s 98,000 square miles, the Division must cover a lot of ground with an extremely small staff. How do they manage to do their jobs effectively?

Partnerships are one important aspect. The compliance team has established close working relationships with local police departments and park rangers. Because the state is so vast and includes so many remote, mountainous regions, partnering with other government and community groups is an essential component of keeping compliance issues in check.

The Division works closely with the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police (WASCOP), which is the organization that handles compliance checks across the state. WASCOP conducts on-site, unannounced inspections of all licensees. Wyoming currently has an overall compliance rating of 87%, a number that increases slightly every year.

Wyoming routinely partners with other organizations and agencies across the state on various social responsibility initiatives. One such organization is the Governor’s Council on Impaired Driving. Created in 2011 by Wyoming Governor Matt Mead, the purpose of the council is to work toward reducing the number of DUI fatalities across the state. The Division is an active contributor to the council and has worked diligently on multiple responsible drinking projects as part of this process.

Another recent designated driver campaign (“Gotta DD?”) was successfully rolled out in December 2011 as part of another collaborative effort with the state’s Highway Patrol and Transportation Safety Department. This poster campaign featured a design made to look exactly like a Wyoming vanity license plate, with “Gotta DD?” as the license plate number. The posters were distributed to all licensees across the state to raise awareness among them and their customers during the holidays, when DUI fatalities are traditionally at their highest. The campaign was so popular that the Division has continued it for the past two years.

“We’ve actually had multiple occasions where bars have called us and requested that we send them another poster because someone stole the original one they had hanging up,” says Tom Montoya, the Division’s Compliance Manager. “I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. People like the campaign so much that they want to take it with them, which means our messages are really getting across to the intended audience.”

Building off of the success of the “Gotta DD?” campaign, the Division recently incorporated the campaign logo into the design of a high-quality bottle opener, which was also distributed to licensees across the state. Not only do licensees appreciate the functionality of the bar tool, but the messaging acts as a constant reminder to those individuals serving alcohol, encouraging them to be careful not to over-serve and not to sell alcohol to minors.

Community partnerships have also proved to be an effective way of spreading compliance messaging. After receiving funding from a National Alcohol Beverage Control Association (NABCA) grant, the Division developed special event tool kits, which were distributed through an arrangement with the Prevention Management Organization of Wyoming (PMOWYO), a community coalition group that is active in all 23 counties across the state. The kits are designed to be used at summer events such as beer festivals, rodeos, and concerts. Each kit contains a collection of materials designed to aid in the responsible selling of alcohol at these events, including signage, wristbands, and an ID scanner. The program was implemented in 2013, and the reactions since then have been overwhelmingly positive.

“The event coordinators loved them, and we received great feedback from our local law enforcement officials about how the ID scanners acted as a major deterrent to minors,” Montoya says. “The events were very successful, and officials reported fewer incidents of minors being caught attempting to purchase alcohol than in years past.”

The kits will be back in use at events this summer. Building on the success of that program, the Division is using funds from a new 2014 NABCA grant to create a lending library of 10 additional ID scanners. These scanners can be requested by the coordinators of any Wyoming event, and the Division will overnight the scanner to locations across the state, free of charge, to be borrowed and used for the duration of the event.

It appears that these responsible drinking initiatives have made a big impact: overall Wyoming traffic deaths in 2013 were at their lowest point in 70 years. While not all traffic deaths involve driving under the influence, the increase in alcohol awareness messaging across the state is thought to be one of the contributing factors.

In addition to compliance checks, the Division must also be mindful about confusing products entering the marketplace. Like all states, Wyoming is dealing with policing new alcohol products that might easily fall into the wrong hands. One of the newest product trends on the state’s radar are freeze-dried packets containing alcohol in a powdered form. While the product is currently unavailable, Wyoming officials are concerned of the possible ramifications that may result from eventually permitting it to be sold.

“With a product like this, you’re dealing with several factors,” Montoya says. “First, there’s the concern that the product is easily concealable, and could be transported into venues such as concerts or festivals undetected. There’s also a fear that the powdered nature of the product could allow it to be snorted, thus being absorbed by the body in a rapid way.”

Freeze-dried alcohol packets are just one example of products that the Division keeps a close eye on. Any product considered to have confusing or misleading packaging, along with products that seem likely to appeal primarily to underage individuals, is immediately brought up for discussion by officials in the Division’s listing meetings to determine if the product is appropriate to sell in the state of Wyoming.

There’s another area of compliance that hasn’t yet come into play in Wyoming, but Division administrators are keeping a close watch on how the matter is being handled in other states. In early 2014, a bill proposing the decriminalization of marijuana was rejected by the Wyoming House of Representatives. Despite the ruling, several organizations across the state have requested that lawmakers revisit the idea of legalizing marijuana. While it all boils down to just talk at this point, any future regulation decisions would most likely fall under the Division’s enforcement domain. For that reason, everyone within the Division is interested to see how similar regulations will play out in other states.

“It’s obviously a concern of ours, but we all need to learn some lessons from the other states, and the decision will ultimately be up to our voters and legislators,” Noble stated. “We will all be keeping a close eye on it moving forward.”

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