GUEST COLUMN


Wine Is Serious Business in Pennsylvania

When you enter a Pennsylvania Wine & Spirits Shoppe, you’ll know you’re in for a shopping experience. A wide array of wines, liquors and taste-tempting cordials fill the shelves. Each of Pennsylvania’s 650 stores is well-stocked, attractively decorated, clean and well-lit, and knowledgeable store clerks are eager to assist you. What consumers will often discover is that Pennsylvania stores are very different from others they’ve seen — particularly when it comes to wine.


Act 14 of 1987 established within the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, a Bureau of Wine for the purpose of improving the selection of wine available to Pennsylvania consumers. But the improvement process had actually started years earlier, in 1980, with three specialty stores and one man, Ken Phillips, who was responsible for selecting and purchasing the wines, devising distribution plans and advising store personnel on the marketing of the products.


The Board’s commitment to Pennsylvania wine consumers is evident today through the continued growth and good work of the Bureau of Wine. The Bureau is responsible for locating, purchasing and distributing premium and unique wines. Store managers may now order from a menu of about 2,200 regularly listed wines and over 4,000 specialty items on a statewide basis.


 
J. Fred Hamilton
Director of Marketing
Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board


Specialty stores are generally located in upscale areas where wine sales are brisk. Ambiance is essential, and store personnel work hard to insure that wines are properly showcased and that each customer has the optimum shopping experience. Consumers are treated to comfortable seating and a number of wine publications in the reference area of each specialty shop and superstore, and specially trained wine specialists are available to assist customers with their purchases. In many cases, point-of-sale materials accompany the wines, providing tasting notes and reviews for customers’ guidance.


While it’s virtually impossible for all stores to carry all available products at any given time, regional superstores come close. These stores measure over 10,000 square feet and carry more than 5,000 different items. Whether it’s wine coolers or vintage champagnes, if it’s available in Pennsylvania, you can get it at a superstore.


 

The force behind the progressive wine program: PLCB Chairman John E. Jones III.


The Special Liquor Order process expands Pennsylvania’s product selection even more, giving Pennsylvania consumers access to virtually any product in the world that is commercially available, including over 11,000 wines. By dialing (800) 332-7522, consumers can place orders for any wine or spirits brand — 24 hours a day. Gift merchandise may be purchased in the same manner. Using a MAC, Visa, MasterCard or Discover card, callers may dial the toll-free Wine & Spirits Hotline, order a gift and have it delivered to a specific store where it will be giftwrapped and tagged with an appropriate gift card. The PLCB then notifies the recipient that a gift awaits them at their local Wine & Spirits Shoppe. The most recent customer service initiative involves personalized labels for 187 ml bottles of wine. Specially printed labels can now be ordered at stores and through the Wine & Spirits Hotline. They’re perfect for weddings, anniversaries and other special occasions. The Wine & Spirits Hotline is staffed Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. After hours, consumers may leave a message, and the appropriate personnel will return calls and fill orders the next business day.



The Bureau of Wine central office personnel: (front, left to right) Mark Hazur, wine specialty manager; Sharon Cunio, wine and spirits purchasing technician; Jody Sloop, clerk typist; (back, left to right) Jim Dodd, wine information specialist; Ken Phillips, director of the Bureau of Wine; Dave Dipple, wine and spirits purchasing agent.


The Bureau of Wine


The Bureau of Wine, under Phillips’s direction, researches, locates and obtains the wines that will be included in Pennsylvania’s specialty shop superstores. In doing so, they carefully seek out reviews by noted wine writers and critics to insure ample supplies of those products will be available for consumers whose purchases hinge on what is written. Many decisions, however, are based on market trends. That information, along with forecasting data, enables Bureau personnel to anticipate demand for certain items. Keeping in mind that a good bottle of wine doesn’t have to cost a lot, the Bureau is continually seeking out exceptional values for consumers in lesser-known, yet quality, wines.


 


The Philadelphia superstore features a well-planned design in the wine department.


As a means of enhancing consumer enjoyment of wine, the bureau has developed a series of informational brochures. These brochures, which are available to consumers in any Pennsylvania Wine & Spirits Shoppe, contain basic information about many of the world’s wine regions and the different grape varieties produced there. Maps are frequently included to familiarize readers with the regions, and suggestions are often made in pairing the wines with food.


Tom Dunkle,
chief of purchasing and distribution,
Bureau of Logistics.


A toll-free number has been established in the PLCB’s Bureau of Consumers Relations. Consumers with questions or concerns may dial (800) 272-7522. Gary Miller, Joe McConnell and Kevin Slane are regional wine coordinators in the Bureau of Wine, located in Harrisburg, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh respectively. They oversee specialty operations in each of the regions, sharing their knowledge of wines with store personnel and consumers. In addition, they teach product knowledge courses for employees and conduct wine tastings for consumers.


Jim Dodd, affectionately known at the PLCB and to his many readers as the “Wine Doctor,” also leads tastings and freely offers his opinions about wine. He’s the guy at the PLCB who answers consumer inquiries or complaints about wine. Dodd produces the quarterly newsletter, Shoppe Talk, in which he reveals the new items available in specialty stores and may also share tips on such important matters as the proper glassware to use when serving table wine or champagne.


 


Product Knowledge Program


The Bureau of Wine oversees the product knowledge education program for all store employees. A key element in good customer service is the presence of knowledgeable store employees who can answer questions and provide consumers with skilled assistance in making purchasing decisions. This program is designed to provide the PLCB with such employees. The basic course is required for all new employees, as are people-skills seminars. These are followed by advanced and master courses, which provide more in-depth knowledge of the world’s major wine-growing regions and the wines produced there. Completion of these courses is tied to educational field trips to vineyards in Pennsylvania, New York, California, Washington and Oregon.


Clint Rose,
director, Bureau of Logistics.


These trips provide employees with an ideal opportunity to enhance their wine knowledge and their credibility with customers. On these educational trips, employees meet with winemakers, tour vineyards and production facilities and taste the wines produced. The knowledge they gain can immediately be put to use upon returning to their jobs. Since the program began in 1994, more than 2,000 employees have completed the basic course, about 600 have completed the advanced course and 98 others have achieved “master” standing. A number of personnel in the Bureau of Wine have attended several international trade shows, wine festivals and seminars.


Bureau of Logistics marketing team: (front) Joy Taljen, manager of special liquor orders; Jim Short, marketing manager; (back, from left) product managers Tony Jones and John Friedman.


The PLCB’s Bureau of Logistics, under the direction of Clint Rose, is responsible for purchasing, distributing and marketing the wines regularly stocked and available through three distribution centers. All of these wines can be ordered in case or single unit quantities by Wine & Spirits Shoppes across the Commonwealth. A store may order only the bottles they need, enabling the lower-volume store to expand their selection without adding excess inventory. Before a product is listed for sale in Pennsylvania, recommendations of the marketing division are reviewed by a committee, which considers category and consumer trends and the needs of the stores based on current product offerings. The committee’s selections are forwarded to the director of marketing, and then to the three-member Liquor Control Board for review and approval. Then the Bureau of Logistics decides what quantities will be purchased and measures consumer demand to determine which stores receive the products.


The Purchases and Distributions Division of the Bureau of Logistics, headed by Tom Dunkle, is then responsible for issuing purchase orders for newly listed items and maintaining inventory for each product, in effect, managing each item as long as it remains in the system. Software provides sophisticated forecasting and requirements planning. Sales data for each product is combined with safety stock figures and other data in the software to automatically recommend orders, which buyers then approve or alter as necessary. In this way, listed wines are kept stocked and available to stores at all times.


Regional wine specialists (from left):
Joe McConnell, Gary Miller, Kevin Slane.


The Marketing Division develops a monthly marketing plan that includes special price promotions on over 250 wines and spirits. To qualify, suppliers must reduce the regular retail prices of “sale” products by a minimum of 10%. At least 40 of these items are given priority placement in stores each month, based on profitability, discounts and volume/velocity factors.


In addition to regular sales, the PLCB also offers special promotions on one-time buys. International wine promotions, which feature the wines of a specific country, have proven very popular with consumers and are being conducted with greater frequency. In all, Pennsylvania imports wines from 43 different countries. Special prices and mass merchandising invite consumers to try different types of wine and expand their knowledge of the wine-growing regions of the world.


The state is noted for upscale presentations, such as the wine department in the Camp Hill, PA, specialty store.


A very progressive Board, an extremely knowledgeable and dedicated group of employees, and a world class selection of over 18,000 wine and spirits items have earned the PLCB a reputation as one of this nation’s premier beverage alcohol retailers. It’s a commitment to excellence that few in this industry can rival. Indeed, when you walk into a Pennsylvania Wine & Spirits Shoppe, you’re in for a shopping experience like no other.

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