In any business, it’s essential to focus on both long- and short-term goals to assure continued success. For Jeff Painter, carefully planning for the future has been a major priority ever since he assumed the position of chairman of the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board in 2014. As a result, he’s helped Virginia ABC achieve record-breaking sales and other key goals. Now Painter plans to implement a similar philosophy when he takes on a new role as chair of the National Alcoholic Beverage Control Association (NABCA) in May 2018. By focusing on the future value of NABCA members, partners and customers, Painter hopes to build upon the successes of his predecessors and help to secure the organization as a valuable asset for years to come.
Building an ABC powerhouse
Painter has a long history with Virginia ABC. He previously served as its legislative and regulatory coordinator from 2006 to 2008 and as the chief administrative officer from 2008 to 2010. Prior to joining Virginia ABC, Painter was the executive director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters and was a small-business owner of a vacation property management and investment company. In April 2014, Painter was appointed to the position of ABC chairman by then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe. He was reappointed by Gov. Ralph Northam to a second term in January 2018.
When Painter returned to Virginia ABC after a four-year absence, he immediately met with staff to get an overview of the organization’s landscape and determine key priorities. One of the top initiatives for Painter was to begin an overhaul of ABC’s website. The initial phase of the large project was completed a year later and features an improved navigation that enhances the user experience and brings e-commerce to the forefront. Customers can now easily find store locations and store-specific information about inventory on the website’s individual retail outlet pages, order products online and access order tracking details. An improved search function with complete listings of products available, and an event planning module to help customers determine products and quantities for various occasions and reserve select products at a specific store, are popular additions to the Virginia ABC website. The enforcement section of the site was also completely revamped to include more accessible information and provide numerous online licensee forms that were previously unavailable electronically. The entire website is now mobile-optimized, making it easily accessible from all electronic devices. Upcoming plans to enhance the website include the ability for farm wineries and wholesalers to submit monthly sales reports used by ABC to collect Virginia’s excise tax.
“It’s amazing to look back on what we had before, which was very antiquated, and see what we have now,” Painter says. “The website has definitely been one of the greatest accomplishments we’ve had in the last four years, and it’s an evolving process. We constantly look for new ways to build upon what we have and make the experience even better for our users.”
Significant change to the organization has occurred on Painter’s watch, not the least of which has been its transition from an agency to an authority, a process which began in January 2018 and will be fully implemented by the end of this year. This large shift is the result of legislation which was approved during the commonwealth’s 2015 General Assembly session. By transitioning to an authority structure, Virginia ABC is now an independent political subdivision classification of the state government. This hybrid business/public sector classification gives ABC more flexibility to set its own policies and procedures. Some organizational changes have also been implemented as a result of the authority shift, including the creation of a new chief executive officer position and the conversion of the full-time, three-person board into a part-time, five-person board in an effort to mirror the structure of many private sector businesses.
“We had an opportunity to draft our own human resources, information technology and procurement policies,” Painter says. “We didn’t have to use the same templates that are standardized across other state agencies, which means we can operate more like a 21st century business.”
With a dynamic new website and new authority structure, Virginia ABC is poised to continue its historic growth and take its success to new heights. In 2017, ABC marked its 19th consecutive year of record-breaking sales, which totaled $940.1 million across 366 stores and 19,190 licensees—a $42.5 million increase from the previous year. These profits resulted in a $449 million transfer to the state’s general fund. Painter predicts that sales will surpass $1 billion in 2018.
As Virginia’s population continues to grow, the authority will grow along with it in order to meet consumer demand and keep up to date with the latest technology. ABC’s marketing department has employed many creative approaches to customer service and promotions. A series of radio and newspaper advertisements highlights in-store events like Mini Monday, which is held on the first Monday of each month. Customers who purchase $25 or more in spirits or wine receive a complimentary sample size of a selected product. Door Buster Days, launched in November 2017, are pre-holiday promotions at select stores that allow customers to stock up before holiday entertaining and save money on select products, in addition to Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales.
An online lottery system gives customers an opportunity to enter for a chance to purchase extremely rare products. Painter reports that 70 lotteries with a total of 236,486 entries have been held since the program’s launch in 2015. Each lottery encourages participants to sign up to receive additional ABC e-mail communications.
Additional focus areas across ABC include a new IT licensing project, which will involve taking seven existing applications and rolling them into one in order to simplify processes for internal and external users. The process is estimated to take 18 months to complete and should be introduced to licensees in early 2019. The authority’s enforcement division, which was named Liquor Law Enforcement Agency of the Year by the National Liquor Law Enforcement Association in September 2017, continues to focus on increasing diversity among its enforcement staff.
“We’re trying to recruit a much more diverse team to head up the enforcement group, especially people who speak more than one language so they can better interact with the diverse population of Virginia,” Painter says. “We have come a tremendously long way in the past two years, and we continue to make diversity a priority as we fill new positions.”
ABC is concentrating on maintaining its close relationships with local distilleries. With nearly 60 new distilleries emerging across Virginia in the past decade, there have been many legislative efforts and policy revisions related to assisting small distillers. An example of this has been approvals for expanded product tastings both on and off site, enabling distillery stores to participate in events or festivals throughout Virginia.
Such explosive growth across so many areas requires ABC to start planning for physical expansion as well. A new ABC headquarters and warehouse is scheduled to open in 2021. The new 95,000-square-foot office building and 315,000-square-foot warehouse will be built on a site selected primarily because it will offer additional expansion opportunities for the authority in the future.
“We’re doing this in a way that, when ABC reaches capacity at the new facility years down the road, they’ll easily be able to build additions onto the new buildings without having to secure a whole new facility and location,” Painter explains.
Planning for NABCA’s future
Painter’s history as a visionary leader with Virginia ABC makes him an ideal candidate to lead NABCA forward during the next year. He plans to build upon outgoing chair Andy Deloney’s theme, “Bridging Divides,” with the theme of “Advancing Our Future Value.”
“Future value refers to the value of an asset at some point in the future,” Painter explains. “A year or two from now, we want to see an increase in the value of NABCA control states, and our business partners. I want to focus on working together to increase and enhance the great work we’re doing now across all areas.”
Jim Sgueo, President and CEO of NABCA, praises the accomplishments Deloney achieved during the past year and says that Painter is well-positioned to pick up where Deloney will leave off.
“Under Chairman Deloney’s leadership NABCA has been able to improve existing relationships and begin building new relationships,” Sgueo says. He notes that during Deloney’s tenure, NABCA met with and established stronger business ties with more than two dozen producers; hosted an international retail meeting where nearly a half dozen countries and several Canadian provinces participated; and increased interaction with public health, law enforcement, and governmental organizations. In the past year, NABCA also sponsored several education trips for control state officials to attend events such as the Modex Logistics Show in Atlanta, Alcohol Policy 18 in Washington D.C., and the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Government Affairs Summit that will be held in June 2018.
What personal qualities will Painter bring to the chair role?
“Jeff does not stand still,” Sgueo says. “As a strength, this means he has been able to implement significant operational improvements within Virginia ABC through an understanding and acceptance of the changing consumer environment and a recognition of the need to adapt to the ever-changing technology mediums. As fast as the world is changing, you need a leader who is not only willing to change with it, but wants to lead that change. Additionally, Jeff brings to the table a personal network of business and government relationships that offers NABCA opportunities for increased collaboration and communication on several different fronts.”
Deloney, who also serves as chairman of the Michigan Liquor Control Commission (MLCC), says that Painter brings a great deal of expertise to the role of NABCA chair.
“His insight and advice into how to identify solutions to problems that we face is sought after by many on the NABCA Board of Directors, and he is highly respected,” Deloney says. “He will effectively communicate his vision for the kinds of value that we need to be offering to our customers and partners to help ensure our mutual success moving forward. I’m excited to see the results his leadership will bring.”
Painter will become the eighth NABCA chair from the Commonwealth of Virginia, which has produced more chairs than any other state. In fact, Colonel R. McCarthy Bullington, the first Virginia ABC Board chairman, was also the first chair of NABCA.
“Everyone stresses that a year is such a short period of time, so you need to choose goals you can move on fast,” he says.
To that end, Painter will focus on three primary goals during his tenure:
Education. In order to continually grow business, satisfy customers and adhere to government regulations, education across all areas is key. “We’re always very busy putting out fires, and we need to make sure we take time to step back, see what other people are doing and implement the latest best practices.”
Collaboration. Painter plans to build upon existing communication platforms that exist across NABCA and develop new virtual communities to increase collaboration and share ideas. “Each time I get together with my counterparts, I hear about new things and get ideas that I’m very interested in,” he says. “We need to increase our collaborative efforts beyond what happens when a few people see each other at conferences. It is vital that we create additional opportunities for our members, partners and customers to gather and purposefully tackle current pressing issues, and I think that is definitely achievable in a year’s time.”
Awareness. It’s essential to remain informed about things happening across the control states and in the beverage alcohol industry as a whole. “We need to be aware of other influences in the market that have the potential to positively and negatively impact our business,” Painter says. He cites marijuana regulations falling under some states’ ABC agencies as an example of an issue that may not affect everyone directly at this time but could greatly impact every state in the future.
In addition to his main focus areas, Painter looks forward to the human interaction component of his new role as NABCA Chair.
“This is still a business largely conducted face-to-face, and I like that,” he says. “It’s all about continuing to build personal relationships, which is what I think I’ll enjoy the most.”
Melissa Sherwin is a freelance writer and marketing communications strategist from Chicago, IL. Her work has appeared in Chicago’s Daily Herald newspaper, Time Out Chicago, Suburban Life newspapers, and various magazines. She is also the author of several children’s books. Follow her @MelissaNSherwin.