The Check’s On the Bag

2016 Control State Best Practices Winner: Best Consumer Education Program:

Liquor Hutch in Hutchinson, Minnesota

About an hour west of the Twin Cities, Liquor Hutch in Hutchinson, Minnesota, is city-owned and works in conjunction with the Minnesota Municipal Beverage Association. This doesn’t sit well with some residents of the 14,000-person town who “believe government should not be involved in enterprise in any way,” says Candice Woods, director of liquor operations since 2002.

This pushback led Woods, then an MMBA board member, to suggest a high-profile way to educate customers during the 2015-2016 holiday season about the healthy six-figure sum Liquor Hutch generates annually for the city’s general fund.

This year, Liquor Hutch will contribute about $475,000 to the city of Hutchinson; next year, she says, the amount will reach half a million. At an MMBA board meeting last year, some began talking about traditional promotions, like those often-stiff photos of city council members holding giant checks as newspaper photographers’ bulbs clicked.

“We were talking about whether we should do something like that,” Woods says, “but we came up with another idea—stapling a faux ‘check’ to customers’ bags—as an alternative. And we knew it would have more longevity than a picture in a newspaper.”

The “checks” immediately led to interesting conversations at the Liquor Hutch cash register. “I had customers tell me they had no idea how much money was going back to the city,” Woods says. Because the city finances run a calendar year schedule by state mandate and the money goes to its coffers January 1, “Our intention was to tell the citizens of our community on or around that date what we had contributed,” says. “That timing takes advantage of high traffic.”

In addition to increasing city funds, which have gone toward schools, roads and parks, Woods says Liquor Hutch used the checks to spur further conversation about the benefits of a city-owned alcoholic beverage operation.

“We take very seriously our role in the control of the sale,” she says. “It means we are that much closer tied to our law enforcement, who are our fellow public employees. There’s no incentive for me to sell to minors or intoxicated individuals. I’m salaried and not going to make any more money by doing so.”

With annual revenue just over $6 million, Woods says Liquor Hutch’s net profits are $550,000 to $560,000 a year, some of which goes to upkeep of its building.

To spread the idea to the other municipal liquor stores in Minnesota, last year at this time Woods wrote a MMBA newsletter article that included a printable, editable PDF of the check  for other retailers to use. “It had to be fast and easy for people to take advantage of it,” she says. “And it was.” •

Sarah Protzman Howlett is a freelance writer and editor based in Boulder, Colo. A veteran of Condé Nast Publications in New York City, her work has appeared in O, The Oprah Magazine; Prevention; Denver’s 5280; and trade magazines across various industries. 

Honorable Mention: IABD Ensures Safe Biking

The Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division’s latest initiative focused on educating licensees, law enforcement, local authorities and industry members along the route of the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, a non-competitive ride that crosses the state with a forty-year history.

The agency’s goal was to ensure compliance before, during and after the event. Staff reached out and scheduled face-to-face meetings with all stakeholders (41 local authorities, more than 400 licensees and 16 suppliers/wholesalers) to ensure a level playing field. The agency distributed educational materials created specifically for the event.


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