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An Industry Gathers: The 68th Annual WSWA Convention Convenes in Orlando

Posted on  | June 16, 2011   Bookmark and Share
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WSWA Orlando EventFrom April 9th-12th, approximately 1,900 industry members–including 120 exhibitors–gathered in Orlando to attend the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) Convention. Highlights throughout the three-day event included speakers: Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico; General Stanley McChrystal, a former commander of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan; and Daniel Okrent, author of Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition (2010).

In his speech at the morning business session, Craig Wolf, WSWA president and CEO–who has since deployed to Afghanistan as a reservist–recounted some of the Association’s biggest accomplishments over the past four years, including: doubling PAC; playing a key role in defeating a ballot initiative in Washington State that would have deregulated its alcohol distribution system; and leading efforts to exempt the industry from new and burdensome regulations imposed by the Food & Safety Regulatory Act. Wolf also took the opportunity to express his view regarding the controversial CARE Act: “It is actually a pretty simple bill. It puts Congress on the record as recognizing that alcohol is different than other consumer products and should be regulated by the states; it also preserves state authority to enact legislation pursuant to their inherent 21st Amendment powers without undue dormant Commerce Clause restrictions and interference by the courts.”

Incoming WSWA chairman, Robert “Bobby” Harmelin, devoted much of his speech to the CARE Act as well: “The Act is about maintaining a system of local control that has produced the finest wine and spirit distribution system in the world. This version of the CARE Act has been renamed and revised, to assuage the concerns of many of our partners in the three-tier system. Even if we differ in our opinions on the CARE Act, it’s important that we present a unified front to Congress. A fractious split over this one-issue, will weaken us all.”

Harmelin stated one of his most important goals for his term will be raising more PAC money and increasing the level of wholesaler involvement: “The government and lawmakers are not our enemies. Our enemies are complacency and inaction.”

Bill Samuels, president of Maker’s Mark Distillery, was awarded the Sidney Frank Award, and on the final day of the convention, Wolf presented WSWA’s Lifetime Achievement Award to Bill Goldring, chairman of the Sazerac Company and Crescent Crown Distributing Company. “Bill Goldring has dedicated his entire career–more than 45 years–to the beverage alcohol business,” Wolf said. “This award is a wonderful and much-deserved recognition of his many contributions to the industry that he has helped to transform.”

Bill Goldring:  A Lifetime of Leadership
Bill Goldring was honored at this year’s WSWA Convention as the Lifetime Leadership Award Winner.  He had a few things to say, both in his acceptance speech and in a recent sit-down with The Beverage Network publishers, about the three-tier system and the future of our dynamic industry.

On The Wholesale Tier:

“I have been coming to this convention for 45 years and have seen a lot of water pass under the bridge. The most consistent thing about this business has been the wholesalers. The suppliers have had an enormous rate of turnover over the years and often lack a real perspective on the industry’s history and the unique complexity of state laws. The wholesale tier may have seen a lot of consolidation, but it is still dominated by the same companies that have been there since the beginning.”

On Wholesaler Consolidation:

“Consolidation at the wholesale tier occurred  because of rising costs, and evolved naturally. Does it make a difference for the retailer? Probably not. There has been a tremendous increase in the number of SKUs in the marketplace; no other country in the world is able to offer this much variety or selection.”

On the Three-Tier System:

“I have been involved in all facets of this business and have seen it from all sides. The three-tier system has been a true godsend. Would wine or vodka or flavors of once unknown brands have become what they are today without the wholesaler? I think not. The wholesalers’ work has benefitted the suppliers, the retailers and the consumers. Everyone has gotten a piece of the pie.”

On the Balance of Power:

“The three-tier system is reminiscent of government with the executive office, the judicial system and Congress; it’s crucial to have a healthy balance between all three parts. If one segment gets too greedy, or thinks they can live without the other, the system is jeopardized. I caution our supplier friends about slicing the pie too unevenly. The wholesale tier has a huge investment in people, trucks, warehouses, selling systems, information technology and inventory and there needs to be a fair return on that investment. Without such a return, the middle tier will not be able to reinvest and improve to meet the ever-changing and increasing demands of suppliers and retailers.”

On the CARE Act:

“Many suppliers are afraid of the CARE Act, but I believe very few really understand it. We need to help everyone in the industry understand why this is so important; it will eliminate all these individual lawsuits which seriously distract us from doing our business.”

On What Excites Him Today:

“The craft beer business. It represents 5% of the beer market nationally, but 30% in the northwest, and I believe that trend will radiate outward. Consumers are willing to pay triple the price to get this different taste profile; craft beers will continue to fundamentally change the beer business.”

On the Importance of Philanthropy:

“My father said to me, ‘making money is only a game, but giving back to your community is your responsibility.’ We are all very fortunate in this business, and our companies are profitable. We need to give back to the community because we are such a huge part of it.”


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