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An Interview with WSWA’s Bobby Harmelin, Executive Vice President, Allied Beverage Group, LLC and incoming WSWA President

Posted on  | June 1, 2011   Bookmark and Share
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Bobby Harmelin

The Beverage Network publishers sat down with Bobby Harmelin to discuss the CARE Act and the importance of making our industry’s voice heard in Washington.

TBN: As you prepare for your role as president of WSWA, what is the most important item on your agenda?

Bobby Harmelin: The most important thing I would like to accomplish is getting the CARE Act passed. I don’t know if it will be done in this calendar year, but hopefully within this Congress’ session. The act is about letting states have the right to control alcohol as it was mandated in the 21st Amendment.

TBN: Do you believe the controversy over the CARE Act was the reason DISCUS members elected not to attend this year’s WSWA Convention?

BH: It was disappointing that DISCUS members did not attend. I don’t think they understand what we are trying to accomplish with the CARE Act. We had a meeting with the DISCUS board last October, and tried to discuss our issues. They mentioned they feared unintended consequences but wouldn’t give us specifics on what that meant. Last spring, when some suppliers objected to certain language in the act, we changed it. There are plenty of non-DISCUS suppliers who have told us they see no issue with the act. My hope is that we can ease all suppliers fears and the DISCUS members will consider coming to the convention next year.

TBN: What do you think is required to get CARE passed in this session?

BH: The process would go a lot smoother in Washington if there weren’t any industry objections, so our hope is that our supplier partners who may not be in favor of the act will simply remain neutral. But the real obstacle will be complacency and inaction on the part of the wholesalers. In order to make this happen, we need more distributors to get involved.

TBN: Do you think wholesalers understand how critical their involvement is in Washington?

BH: I am urging as many wholesalers to come to Washington as possible-everyone needs to be there to see how the process works. Every year in May we have what we call a “Fly-In” where about 25 to 30 people typically CEOs and major executives at the large wholesale houses around the country go to D.C. and visit Capitol Hill. I am working hard to get more of my fellow wholesalers–more medium-sized independent distributors to join us for this. The week before the CARE Act was presented, the beer wholesalers brought about 4,000 people to Washington–a presence like that makes a huge impact.

TBN: Efforts in D.C. certainly paid off regarding the outcome of the Food & Safety Regulatory Act.

BH: Exactly. When that bill was introduced–which would have meant many cumbersome, demanding regulations for everyone in our industry–we went to Capitol Hill and made our case. We were allowed to get out of that reporting which was a great victory. Bottom line: In our warehouse, we can tell you where every product was bottled, when it was shipped and where it went. That’s much better than you’re going to get for a head of lettuce.

TBN: Any other threats our industry will face in the near future?

BH: The government has long been talking about getting rid of LIFO reserves and collecting an estimated half a trillion dollars to pay for health care. I suspect that the government will come after it, and it would be a hardship for some companies that have significant reserves, which many wholesalers do. That is a big issue for us, but not likely to come up until the second year of this congress–in 2012.

TBN: Any changes you see ahead on the retail landscape?

BH: Personally, I want to see the retail set-up stay exactly the way it is. Nowhere else in the world does the consumer have such a wide selection of wine and spirits than in American retail shops. In big box stores you might get better prices, but it will be a very limited selection.

TBN: What are some other goals for your term as WSWA president?

BH: More people, more involved, more frequently. Sitting on the sidelines is only going to get us slaughtered; there are too many forces out there that want change. And change may or may not be for the best, but change will occur. It’s just a matter of if we have any say in that change.


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