N.C. ABC commission chair resigns amid statewide liquor supply problems

New online inventory, ordering system added to liquor supply chain woes
Bottles of liquor sit on the bar at Fin & Fino in uptown Charlotte
Bottles of liquor sit on the bar at Fin & Fino in uptown Charlotte(Corey Schmidt)
Published: Sep. 20, 2021 at 2:36 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 20, 2021 at 4:41 PM EDT
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RALEIGH, N.C. (WBTV) – The chairman of N.C. ABC Commission, Zander Guy, resigned on Friday.

A spokesman confirmed Guy’s resignation in an email on Monday but did not immediately provide additional details.

A source familiar with the matter said Guy’s resignation was effective immediately.

Guy’s resignation comes as the state ABC commission and county ABC boards continue to grapple with supply issues that have left shelves bare at liquor stores across North Carolina.

In addition to supply chain problems sparked by the pandemic, the state implemented a new contract with its vendor, LB&B Associates, in July. As part of that contract, the company had to implement a new electronic inventory and ordering platform.

N.C. ABC Commission distributes liquor to local ABC boards across the state from its two warehouses in Wake County.

WBTV has been investigating issues related to the new contract and distribution system for weeks.

Some local ABC boards said the number of weekly shipments they received had been greatly reduced.

Other boards, including the Mecklenburg County ABC, said their stores were not getting expected shipments.

“Orders were just kind of really quirky and odd,” Keva Walton, CEO of the Mecklenburg County ABC, said.

“Those direct shipments that were going directly to stores, you know, some stores weren’t getting their full order, so that caused a challenge.”

Walton said his board was able to supplement the supply issues at the state level with direct shipment from some manufacturers and a stockpile of supply in the county’s warehouse, a resource few other ABC boards have.

But, between the fulfillment issues and the supply chain problems caused by the pandemic, Walton acknowledged the empty shelves at area stores.

Supply issues impact more than just people’s ability to drink.

The Mecklenburg County ABC distributed $5 million in alcohol education community grants and more than $14 million in profit sharing to the city, county and Charlotte Mecklenburg Library in FY 2020.

Both problems are made even worse, he said, because at-home consumption has remained high, even as consumption at bars and restaurants has picked up again, too.

“I choose to believe that if this hadn’t happened during COVID, it probably wouldn’t appear as dire, or it probably wouldn’t be as dire,” Walton said. “Simply because, you know, we’ve got people like hyper consuming on both ends and so you know that exacerbated the challenge.”

The liquor shortage has been felt at bars and restaurants, who are having a hard time getting certain brands and, in some cases, are having to replace cheaper well liquor with more expensive bottles.

Brittany Kellum is the bar manager at Fin and Fino. She said it’s taking her about three days between the time she places an order and when it’s ready for pick up and, even then, she’s not guaranteed the product she ordered.

“It makes it kind of tough to plan for a busy weekend,” she said.

Kellum said she’s had a tough time getting a range of products. The problem started at the beginning of the summer and has gotten steadily worse.

“Casamigos is really tough to get, which is what everybody wants to drink as far as tequila,” she said.

“I mean, vodka, for sure, like Kettle One was one that I couldn’t get for weeks. Tito’s every now and then. My well vodka, like I said, has been really tough to get.”

As a result, Kellum and her fellow bartenders are having to improvise or tell customers they can’t make certain drinks.

“We’re not really in the business of saying no, you know. But if we don’t have the means to do that, it kind of sets you back,” Kellum said.

A spokesman for the N.C. ABC Commission, Jeff Strickland, declined to answer questions on camera about the distribution problems and insisted on receiving questions in writing, which WBTV does not provide when requesting an on-camera interview. Strickland emailed a statement that said, in part:

“The third-party vendor that manages the warehouse and delivery services (LB&B Associates) began a new contract starting July 1, 2021 following a multi-year RFP process. The new contract required a transition to new processes and software. The ABC Commission has acknowledged that LB&B Associates’ implementation of the new contract has not met expectations or the level of service that the ABC customers deserve. While the new processes and Encompass software will offer the NC ABC system a comprehensive computerized warehouse management and operations platform, difficulties with its implementation and adjustment to the new processes led to some missed or delayed deliveries. At a time when product availability and staffing are already strained, this created additional issues for ABC boards and stores.”

Similarly, LB&B Associates President and CEO David Van Scoyoc deflected blame in an emailed statement in which he refused to answer questions for this story about the current distribution issues associated with the new contract.

“It is important that you understand the real impacts and how we have all addressed the supply chain issues and the process of implementing a new software system with a contract of this scale,” Van Scoyoc said in an email.

“We’ve worked together with the ABC Commission and the local ABC boards to help alleviate supply issues. We also encourage you to reach out to the heads of several boards who have complimented how we have overcome these hurdles beyond our control.”

Van Scoyoc also said his company had been impacted by a staffing shortage due to employees having to call out because of COVID-19.

Walton, the Mecklenburg County ABC CEO said he is hopeful the new electronic inventory system will leader to better, more efficient distribution in the long run.

“It does nobody any good with products sitting in the warehouse,” he said. “That’s the product we can’t give to our customers. Our bars can’t drive their business and we can’t invest back in the community so no one wins.”

This story has been updated to clarify that the ABC Commission spokesman has refused to answer questions on camera and, instead, requested written questions. WBTV does not provide written questions when requesting an on-camera interview.

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