Schlauch Brings Montana’s Best Practices as NABCA Chair

Becky Schlauch nabca chair montana
Becky Schlauch, new NABCA Chair and Administrator of the Montana Department of Revenue’s Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Division.

For Becky Schlauch, relationship building is always a top priority. As the Administrator of the Montana Department of Revenue’s Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Division, Schlauch says that working and connecting with people is the best part of the job.

Her strength in and commitment to doing so has served her well over the course of her career and will likely be a critical component of her success in her upcoming role as Chair of the National Alcoholic Beverage Control Association (NABCA), which she will assume at the organization’s annual conference in mid-May. Her theme for the coming year is “Forward Together, Stronger Tomorrow,” illustrating how she will apply her relationship-focused mindset to a national scale.

Efficiency and Safety

Per its mission, the Montana Department of Revenue aims “to be the nation’s most citizen-oriented, efficiently administered, state tax agency.” Since 1972, the department has served as the state’s sole hub for alcoholic beverage control, property valuation and state tax assessment and collection.

The ABC Division focuses on efficiently administering Montana’s alcoholic beverage code, prioritizing customer service and public safety. This is achieved through the fair application of regulations, ensuring a well-organized system for the distribution and consumption of alcoholic beverages.

Schlauch has been in her current role with the ABC Division since 2017. A Montana native, she has lived in the state for most of her life and completed her education at the University of Montana in Missoula, earning both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in business administration.

Early in her career, she worked in accounting for several newspapers in Montana and Wyoming. In 2010, Schlauch became the chief financial officer for Montana’s Department of Public Health and Human Services, a position she held until joining the ABC Division. She has received many accolades and honors throughout the course of her career, including two Governor’s Awards for Excellence and the annual Leadership in Alcohol Regulation Award from the Center for Alcohol Policy.

“I really enjoy the work that I do,” Schlauch says. “This is a very fun industry and I enjoy the relationships. The people are great.”


Based in the city of Helena, Montana’s ABC Division has 32 employees across its two bureaus and one unit: distribution bureau, licensing bureau and the outreach and education unit. Among a number of priority initiatives the agency is focused on is the expansion of a 100,000-square-foot warehouse. The current facility has been owned and operated by the state since the 1970s.

A $22 million investment by the state legislature will fund a significant, 30,000-square-foot expansion of the existing warehouse. This will allow for a significant increase in the number of cases the warehouse can stock, and will enable the ABC Division to expand the ready-to-drink category, which is in high demand in the state and across the nation.

The expanded warehouse will also feature a new automated storage and retrieval system, which will be the first of its kind in the state and is expected to greatly improve operational efficiencies. It will also double the storage capacity of the existing warehouse. Groundbreaking on the project began several months ago and is expected to be completed in May 2025.

Education and outreach to licensees is another priority for Schlauch. The ABC Division’s outreach and education unit is a newer unit that was combined to be more proactive regarding licensee education. The outreach position was added to the ABC Division in 2019 and, education and outreach were combined in 2020. The state currently has 2,300 on-premise licensees and just under 1,000 off-premise license holders. Responsible Alcohol Sales and Service (RASS) training is required for everyone across the state who serves or sells alcohol (per law, this was established in law in 2011). Training must happen within 60 days of hire and then annually every three years. All training curriculums need approval from the ABC Division. The education and outreach unit has also expanded its outreach to assist with education and compliance efforts, consisting of law enforcement trainings and specific licensee-requested presentations across the state.

“We have made a conscious effort to be more proactive rather than just reactive with our licensees and are committed to doing as much as we can to educate them in order to hopefully prevent mistakes from happening,” Schlauch says. “The feedback we’ve received is that people really appreciate it. It’s resulted in more trust among licensees and our team.”

As soon as an individual is licensed in Montana, the ABC Division outreach and education unit visits their business and meets with them to go over any questions they may have to make sure they know how to legally operate their business. The unit drops off signs, alcohol incident log reports, and makes sure licensees have all the resources needed to run their new alcoholic beverage business lawfully.

Not only does this outreach benefit new licensees and enhance their knowledge and compliance, but it also serves as a relationship-building tool and has resulted in licensees more regularly reaching out to the agency with questions or to ask for assistance. The ABC Division also collaborates closely with local law enforcement agencies and participates in various licensee associations across the state to continue building strong partnerships. Additionally, a variety of educational publications and fact sheets have been developed for licensees and are available on the agency’s website.

Working in partnership with the Montana governor’s office, the ABC Division recently advocated for a number of new bills related to reducing “red-tape” for alcohol licensees, 31 of which were passed during the last legislative session. These historic changes were meant to eliminate a lot of unduly burdensome requirements licensees have been forced to navigate.

The new regulations generally allow for more flexibility, efficiency and privileges for agency liquor stores, as well as alcohol manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers across the state. Some examples: golf courses could previously only license their clubhouse but can now license additional buildings to serve golfers during play. Also, there is no longer the need to go through extra steps when adding a wine amendment to a beer license, as it is now combined beer/wine license.

To ensure people understood the implications of the new bills, the ABC Division hosted a series of town halls to share information, provide an overview of process changes and answer attendee questions.

Another way the agency has worked to improve efficiencies is to overhaul its license renewal system to include an automated license renewal process. This functionality, which launched in July 2023, resulted in many improvements, including increased processing times for licensees and reduced workload for ABC Division staff.

“We have a very small staff and a lot of work that needs to get done, so we need to do everything as efficiently as possible, and constantly look for new areas of opportunity and improvement,” Schlauch says.

One innovative way the agency recently looked to improve overall efficiency was by forming an Alcohol Licensing Advisory Committee. Composed of legislatures, licensees, attorneys and other partners, the committee is designed to offer feedback to the ABC Division and generate opportunities for continuous process improvement. The committee has convened several times since launching in 2023 and meets on a quarterly basis. Schlauch says that she and her team have already received great feedback that they are working to implement.

Improved efficiencies have also benefited the state’s manufacturers. As has been the case across the country, the increase in local alcohol manufacturing has grown rapidly over the last several years. Montana currently has 106 breweries, 33 distilleries and 34 wineries, and with no restrictions on the number of manufacturers permitted across the state, that number is expected to continue growing.

One of the ways the ABC Division has achieved so many successes is because of the strength of its team. Schlauch emphasizes the demonstrated commitment of her team and has worked to ensure a transparent and empowering workplace culture for everyone.

“The team has very high expectations to be helpful, but they are also asked and encouraged to routinely report back on things they hear about in the field or when talking to stakeholders, identifying things we can do to be more efficient or better serve our licensees,” she says. Some of that feedback has resulted in additional reports created by the ABC Division and posted to its website for the benefit of its partners.

Moving NABCA Forward

It’s easy to see why Schlauch is so well positioned to take on the role of NABCA chair.

Along with her extensive experience with the ABC Division, she has been a NABCA board member since 2017, and has served on or chaired nearly all the organization’s committees over the years. Her theme for the coming year, “Forward Together, Stronger Tomorrow,” amplifies Schlauch’s personal and professional philosophies that have served her so well over the course of her career.

“We are all in this together, working toward a better future,” she says. “I’m looking forward to building upon the great work of previous chairs to make sure we all work together, understand each other and ensure a strong future for NABCA, for our industry and for each of our member jurisdictions.”

Looking to what lies ahead for Schlauch this year as she assumes this critical leadership role at NABCA, she will be essential in ensuring that the board remains up-to-date on and be supportive of the organization’s internal technological overhaul, known as “tech stack modernization.”

This includes a complete upgrade to the organization’s technology for ingesting, storing and providing control state sales data to state members, industry and the financial community. NABCA will utilize SAS software and tools to implement the data collection framework, allowing the organization to capitalize on advancements in retail and licensee reporting, such as e-commerce and transactional sales.

This will ultimately provide the states and industry members with improved data driven analytics to enable better decision-making and strategic planning.

Additionally, Schlauch hopes to work with her fellow board members to improve knowledge sharing between NABCA and member jurisdictions to make the association an even more helpful resource to future board members and their respective control states. This is especially important due to the ongoing turnover of the board, which is often in transition as new state administrators are appointed.

Fred Wooton is Commissioner of the West Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control Administration and the outgoing Chair of NABCA. In the past year, he has successfully led a number of key initiatives, including the creation of a taskforce to develop a comprehensive strategic plan. He also supported NABCA’s recent technology overhaul and continued to strengthen relationships among the organization’s many stakeholders. Schlauch will continue to work with the organization to fully implement Wooton’s strategic plan.

Wooton and Schlauch joined the NABCA board around the same time and have collaborated on numerous committees. According to Wooton, he could not think of a better person to take on the role of chair.

“I’m confident that Becky will carry on what needs to happen to help move the whole NABCA team forward,” he says. “She has already demonstrated great leadership of the organization by successfully chairing many committees. She is extremely passionate about the work that we do, and she’s going to do a great job.”

J. Neal Insley, President and CEO of NABCA, shared Wooton’s excitement that Schlauch will soon be taking on the role of chair.

“Becky has a great resolve to get things done,” Insley says. “As NABCA moves forward with new technology and strategic goals, Becky’s strong leadership skills will help the organization move forward in new and better ways, for a stronger NABCA in the future.”

Insley also noted the significance of this pivotal time in NABCA’s history.

“With the uncertainty of the economy, global tensions and a presidential election year, there will undoubtedly be headwinds for us all,” he says. “However, if we move forward together on issues and find common ground where we can, we will all share in a stronger tomorrow.”

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.


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