Today, I’m pleased to present a guest post by Adam Pagnucco:
On February 4, representatives of Montgomery County’s Department of Liquor Control (DLC) headed to Annapolis to brief the county’s state legislators on their operations. The stakes were high. DLC’s Executive Director had abruptly left his position six days before and legislation was pending on whether to allow voters to decide on opening up the monopoly to private sector competition. As of this writing, 2000 people have signed a petition in support of that legislation.
DLC’s message to the legislators is that improvements were underway, but they would take two months to take effect. As Delegate Charles Barkley (D-39) noted, that coincides with the end of the General Assembly’s session. Barkley said, “If we’re going to do anything, we have to do it before we get out of here—and of course, after a two-month period, it’s too late.”
DLC also claimed to have a 98.5% delivery accuracy rate. Delegate Kirill Reznik (D-39) replied, “If all of what the DLC does is comparable to or better than private industry . . . why does every restaurant manager I talk with beg me to get rid of this system?”
DLC has had problems and has been promising to make improvements for a long, LONG time. Consider the following.
- In 2005, then-DLC Executive Director George Griffin (who just recently left) outlined his improvement efforts to the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association:
In a department-wide project called Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), the DLC is upgrading its systems in all areas, with an emphasis on integration. “POS (point of sale), inventory control, accounting, the warehouse, licensee ordering, buyers: they’ll all be tied together,” said Griffin, “from the retail stores, which will have running inventories, to our drivers, who will be equipped with handhelds.”
Ten years later, the county’s Inspector General found that DLC’s warehouse was being run with sticky notes. The Inspector General found that the warehouse was missing as many as 154 cases a day without anyone investigating why.
- A 2007 article in the Washington City Paper noted extensive problems with DLC’s special order system. The article contains this quote:
When Griffin took over the DLC, he inherited a department with low morale and little motivation. “The department had not been operating well and was sort of seen as an outcast from the rest of the county government in a way,” the director says. “I used to joke around and say, ‘This department was like, in a family, the crazy aunt who lives upstairs. None of us talk about her. You’re kind of embarrassed to admit that she exists, but everyone wants her money.”
The same problems persist a decade later. Many licensees would not refer to the DLC as “a crazy aunt” because that characterization is far too kind.
- A year ago, DLC launched a new inventory system to catalog, order and deliver its products. Griffin said, “It was a little rough getting started, but it’s gradually getting better.” But NBC4 found that the new system made ordering and delivery worse. American Tap Room owner Mike Jones said, “It’s getting increasingly worse. . . . This has been one of the most frustrating processes I’ve ever been involved in, where you’re almost pleading and begging with officials to get something done.”
- In late November, the County Executive said that complaints about DLC were “overblown.” One month later, DLC suffered a historic delivery meltdown in the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
- Last June, DLC developed an “Improvement Action Plan” to improve its operations. The Restaurant Association of Maryland surveyed its members about how DLC was doing eight months after this plan was adopted. Here are a few survey responses from restaurant owners and managers on a number of issues.
On Special Orders
What frustrates me the most is the lack of care/regard for special order items. After waiting 15 days for certain cases of wine, I get a camera shot from my vendor who is at the warehouse staring at all the missing cases just sitting in my designated space. Infuriating!
Not been able to speak to someone who knows what is going on with my order 2) If you run out of product, good luck getting it back in stock at a reasonable time with a once a week delivery and order system is impossible to keep availability. 3) For weeks I was out of several wines and after waiting and talking to the sales rep. I was informed that the wines were delivered to the county. Called them and talked to several people without a clear answer so I decided to go to DLC and find out what they had there for me. They were surprised that the wines were there because they could not find them on the computer as being delivered and in my cubicle waiting for weeks to be delivered.
On Regular Stock
The DLC constantly runs out of inventory, delivers late and never apologizes. Also, anytime you go to the DLC to pick stuff up, all you see are guys standing around by the ‘no smoking’ sign, and smoking. They are lazy and many of them do nothing.
Products that should be widely available are out of stock – Blue Moon six pack bottles, Corona 24 oz. cans, Sierra Nevada six pack bottles.
I was charged for 6 cases of stock wine that NEVER CAME! I spent hours on the phone trying to resolve the issue. They sent the 6 cases . . . of the WRONG wine 2 weeks after the fact. Never refunded the money and wouldn’t take the order back.
It is impossible to know track on the DLC website how much will be pulled out of your bank account and when. The amounts directly debited from our bank account never match the invoices.
The DLC doesn’t care for or understand the products they are delivering. It’s why we receive wrong boxes, out of date items, improperly handled merchandise and a general sense lacking of any genuine appreciation for their jobs.
Over all there is no sense of urgency or organization with the DLC. Paying 20%+ for product over what we pay in DC is just insane. Recently we did not get product in for a wine dinner we were having and we placed the order 3 weeks prior and they even showed it as an in stock!
The above history makes it obvious that DLC’s promises to improve cannot be believed. Delegate Barkley is right; they are trying to run out the clock and prevent anything positive from getting done. And what should get done?
Thousands of people know the answer: End the Monopoly.