In years past, the role of National Alcoholic Beverage Control Association (NABCA) chairman transitioned to the incoming leader at the organization’s annual conference, which was set to take place this year from May 18 – 21 in Phoenix, AZ.
But this is not a typical year, due to the overwhelming disruptions caused by the novel coronavirus.
Like thousands of other events across the world, this year’s NABCA conference was canceled. NABCA itself, however, is still hard at work, and the role of chairman will transition as scheduled to Zander Guy, chairman of the North Carolina Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission (NC ABC), on May 20. He will succeed Dan Noble, Director of the Wyoming Department of Revenue and overseer of the state’s Liquor Division, who has served as NABCA chairman since May 2019.
Guy will face unpredictable challenges in the coming year, both in his role with NABCA and in his home state. However, his unique approach to leadership and his successful track record make him an ideal candidate to reimagine the work that lies ahead in a time of unprecedented change.
The Agency at a Glance
Born in Jacksonville, NC, Guy is a lifelong resident of the state. He spent more than 40 years in the real estate industry, and has 25 years of previous experience holding elected offices in municipal government.
The NC ABC is run by a three-person commission. Agency operations are directed by the chairman. North Carolina also has 170 boards across the state, which operate as separate entities from the agency. Guy served as a member of the NC ABC Commission from 2009 to 2013, and was chairman from 2012 to 2013. In March 2017, Governor Roy Cooper appointed Guy to serve, once again, as chairman of the NC ABC Commission.
Headquartered in Raleigh, the NC ABC employs approximately 45 full-time staff and about 10 temporary workers throughout the year. The agency manages retail permits for beer, wine and mixed drink sales across the state, but only sells spirits across the 439 retail stores. The commission also has oversight for commercial permits, including all breweries, wineries and distilleries in production.
During the 2019 fiscal year, the NC ABC generated $1,220,246,457 in sales, with $462,863,919 distributed to the state’s general fund and the cities and counties where alcohol sales are allowed.
“It’s a big business, and we are growing so much every day, opening more stores and adding new products,” Guy says. “We’re focused on taking innovative approaches to move North Carolina forward and best serve the people of our state.”
Customer service is a major priority for Guy. He recognizes that the NC ABC provides a valuable service to citizens, and is committed to ensuring that they have the best possible experience. The agency has developed extensive cross-training programs at its commission headquarters in an effort to make sure that customer needs can always be met. However, some aspects of customer service are a bit harder to control, and require additional efforts.
As in virtually all states across the country, consumer demand continues to grow. Customers are seeking the newest products and are also looking for variety. In North Carolina, the agency saw an increase in liquor sales by 8% in the 2019 fiscal year. Product allocation is an ongoing challenge, as the NC ABC constantly reassesses how to best distribute products fairly across the state boards.
Guy reports that millennials make up a large percentage of the state’s customers, and that they’re interested in trying new things and constantly seek out premium products. Women are another consumer demographic that is consistently rising across the state. Bourbon remains a top-selling product, and the state has also seen a rise in the demand for flavored products.
To ensure that the agency is best equipped to maintain its rapid growth, Guy is currently leading a RFP process to determine the company that will manage the NC ABC warehousing operations and fulfillment process. The current contract expires in June of 2021. Guy plans to have a new warehouse contract in place by next April to give the state at least 60 days to transition to a new management process.
Part of the RFP stipulates the need for off-site warehouse storage, which the agency currently utilizes with its current contractor as a supplement to its own storage facility. Additionally, Guy’s team recently hired a space utilization contractor to develop a vertical racking system for the agency’s 204,000-square-foot warehouse.
“We currently keep 2,700 products in stock and we are running into space issues,” Guy explains. “The new vertical racking system will give us a lot more space for new products without requiring us to make any brick-and-mortar additions.”
Promoting Safe Practices
While store and product growth have been huge priorities for Guy, he maintains that prevention and safety are the most important components of the NC ABC’s work.
Building upon the work of his predecessor, Jim Gardner, Guy made underage drinking education and prevention a priority for his administration. After enlisting support from an external marketing agency, Guy spearheaded the development of a multichannel marketing campaign designed to connect with underage youth across the state, with particular attention on the middle school population.
Research conducted by the NC ABC indicated that the average age young people across the state begin experimenting with alcohol is 14, making it imperative to provide outreach to children as young as sixth graders in order to curb that statistic.
For some time, the agency has focused on promoting its Talk it Out campaign. The NC ABC has developed numerous television and online advertisements designed to stress the dangers of underage drinking, and also encourages parents to address the topic with their children. These campaign ads continue running in English and Spanish across the state. Agency staff regularly visit North Carolina classrooms to connect with young people on a personal level, sharing information and providing supportive resources.
“When our staff visit schools, we ask the kids to take a pledge not to participate in underage drinking,” Guy says. “We also share that pledge with their parents in hopes that it will spark discussions about underage drinking between parents and children.”
Outreach efforts have also touched college-aged students through sponsorships of various university sporting events, as another way of sharing messages related to underage drinking.
Additional enhancements to the NC ABC since Guy’s arrival include the development of a new public-facing agency website, the creation of new online training programs for employees, information technology upgrades, and new guidelines to help streamline agency operations.
Privatization and Pandemic
Privatization is another issue that Guy has faced since stepping into his role with the NC ABC, and he expects the topic to resurface in the general assembly later this year.
“We continue making it a priority that the citizens of North Carolina are informed about the steps we’ve taken toward modernization, and also that they understand the repercussions that privatization would have on their communities,” Guy says.
In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, Guy and his team have faced unpredictable hurdles. They are currently working to determine how to keep operational processes moving while continuing to serve the people of North Carolina.
Several steps have already been taken to alleviate some of the challenges caused by the pandemic.
Payment renewal extensions have been granted to licensees who may have trouble filing for reapplication during this time. Curbside pickup has rolled out at retail locations, and businesses with on-premise permits are temporarily exempt from participating in several mandated statewide recycling programs. The NC ABC is also working with restaurants and bars that are unable to serve customers on-site, educating them about how they can still sell beer and wine to go.
Guy is currently working with the local ABC Boards to determine the possibility of a product buy-backs option for retailers who suddenly find themselves with a surplus of inventory.
“We’re very optimistic about how this will all unfold, and we’ve all been hard at work using various teleconferencing programs that let us continue meeting our obligations while maintaining the health of the public,” he says. “I cannot emphasize safety enough, both for our employees and our consumers. We will continue to provide our products and services in a safe way going forward.”
Sharing Solutions Across NABCA
Guy’s experience leading the NC ABC and his forward-thinking approach to the industry will undoubtedly serve him well in his new role of NABCA chairman. Each year’s incoming chairman unveils a theme for his or her upcoming year’s work. Guy plans to focus on the theme: Sharing Solutions.
“In North Carolina, we have many ongoing priorities that need to be resolved,” Guy says. “I put together an employee innovation team to focus on how to enhance our customer service and overall business operations. This idea of identifying innovative solutions and working together to solve problems will translate very well to NABCA.”
Guy believes that sharing information collectively allows for the possibility of making a much greater impact than acting independently. He credits his own success at the NC ABC with having surrounded himself with incredibly smart people who help move the work forward on a daily basis.
Focusing on sharing solutions will be crucial in the aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak, as all states work to develop ways to keep business operational while maintaining employee and customer safety.
As Guy prepares to assume his new role as chair, it’s important to reflect on the accomplishments that have been made during the past year thanks to his predecessor, Dan Noble.
Jim Sgueo, President and CEO of NABCA, is grateful to Noble’s contributions to the organization over the past year. Noting NABCA’s recent move into its new headquarters and the process of upgrading the association’s IT infrastructure, Sgueo says he appreciated the ongoing support offered by Noble and the board of directors. He also credits Noble with overseeing a study compiling legislation enacted in several jurisdictions that have legalized recreational cannabis, and for engaging in meaningful conversation with suppliers and government partners to establish testing protocols to help ensure product safety.
Sgueo is most thankful for the leadership Noble provided at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Dan has held several conference calls and remote meetings to keep the board of directors informed and actively involved in the decision-making process,” Sgueo says. “This has not been easy for anybody, and Chairman Noble has led and helped the association make the safe and appropriate decisions to protect NABCA’s staff, members and partners.”
Noble is grateful for his tenure at NABCA’s helm, where his work focused largely on the theme Balancing Conflicting Priorities. He cites the association’s international meeting in Oslo earlier this year as having been a great opportunity to learn how other countries manage the controlled sale of alcohol. Noble also references a NABCA meeting in Canada to learn about that country’s testing protocol, which is something the state of Wyoming is examining closely in order to ensure that the products it sells are safe for human consumption.
Noble thinks Guy is an ideal candidate to take over NABCA’s reigns for the coming year.
“One unique thing about North Carolina is that they have a lot of local jurisdictions, and Zander is charged with maintaining and organizing that process,” Noble says. “He brings a unique perspective to the role. He also knows all the suppliers very well and will be a great leader moving NABCA forward.”
“Zander Guy brings a strong belief that first, we can all learn from one another, and second that we can all help one another,” Sgueo says. “Zander’s leadership style is to build coalitions, expand partnerships and seek expertise. This leads to his theme, Sharing Solutions. While the control jurisdictions are all a bit different, many share the basic operational principles. It’s important to Zander to improve NABCA’s communication strategies within the NABCA community so that members can share best practices and learn what not to do. Working through the COVID-19 crisis, it’s been critical to keep communication lines open and to share solutions.”
Despite the many unknowns that Guy and his colleagues with the NC ABC and NABCA will encounter over the coming year, it’s clear that both organizations are in extremely capable hands, and strong leadership will result in successfully navigating these challenges.
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.