Confessions of a spirits retailer: PLCB

21st August, 2015 by admin

Pam Bernd, merchandising and pricing coordinator of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, gives us her insight into the world of regulated spirits sales.


Pam Bernd, merchandising and pricing coordinator of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board

A listing period is open to suppliers twice a year. Categories could be Bourbon, flavoured whiskies, gin or vodka. In each category we have price segments: value, standard, premium, super premium and ultra premium. Based on our categories and price segments, we attach a category role, which is divided into four types: mature, maintain, growing and emerging. When we open the listing period, our focus is on the growing and emerging categories, and we ask our vendors to keep that in mind when submitting a listing.

Once the listing period closes, we will go through the submissions to determine what spirits we are interested in. We make our decisions based on category roles and marketing support, which refers to the dollars the supplier is going to spend in our market to promote the product. For example, suppliers can advertise in an in-store magazine, do in-store tastings, provide instantly redeemable coupons or place the item on sale.

Those spirits we want to consider further, we will request a meeting with the supplier and try samples. We’ll taste the product and look at all our categories to determine if there’s a need based on the product’s price segment, or if we simply believe it’s going to perform well. We try to stay as competitive as possible, then make our recommendations to the board members who will vote on the product list.

There is a different process for luxury products and those sold online. In these cases, the vendor must contact one of our luxury buyers or our online store buyer, provide a sample, a quote and any marketing support materials they have. They can also make a product available through the Special Liquor Order (SLO) process. But the vendors, not the PLCB, control the products in SLO. A consumer can place an order for a product in SLO, then the supplier will send the product to a PLCB store to complete the transaction.

According to the 2013-14 Retail Year in Review, Captain Morgan Spiced Rum was the top-selling product by volume, followed by Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey. By value, Jack Daniel’s was first and then Captain Morgan. In order, vodka, Bourbon and flavoured vodka were the top three categories.

The most challenging aspect of the job is choosing the products. We have to be up on trends and prices and have a thorough knowledge of what other states are doing to determine what products will work in Pennsylvania. It’s a big state with a variety of tastes and price points. Some products that are popular in other parts of the country may not do so well in Pennsylvania, and vice versa.

We’re selecting products for all 600-plus stores with very different demographics. The PLCB has to appeal to customers from downtown Philadelphia and Pittsburgh to boroughs with a few hundred people in them to even more rural farm communities, so this can be really challenging.

The most exciting part is seeing new products, innovation and how categories perform. Years ago, Bourbons were not that popular, and now they’re on fire. It is exciting to see a new product come into the system and do well. It’s a great feeling. It will be interesting to see what new flavoured whiskeys are on the horizon.

Flavoured vodka was incredible for a while because of all the different flavours being presented – bacon, Swedish Fish, cotton candy etc. Now, people are back to the basic flavours like lemon, orange and raspberry.

I believe special discount pricing and tastings of the product are the biggest drivers of consumer sales. If it’s a quality product, the more a supplier can get the product in front of a consumer, and the stronger the sales will be.

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