Posted on | April 23, 2013
Written by | BevNetwork
The Beverage Network recently sat down with Craig Wolf, in advance of the 2013 Convention in Orlando, Florida—marking WSWA’s 70th anniversary—to discuss the state of the association, their most pressing issues and the value of the convention.
On The Convention
The Beverage Network: This year marks WSWA’s 70th anniversary. Tell us what’s new with the convention?
Craig Wolf: We want to change, make it fresh, make it exciting. If you look at the convention where it is today, com-pared to where it was when I started 13 years ago, it’s unrecognizable. From the competitions we have now—suppliers line up to be in these competitions—to the events, to the types of educational sessions we’re offering. We’ve sold out all the lower level space, and we have sold out all the traditional suites. Basically we had to offer additional opportunities for people to exhibit just at the Taste of the Industry, because we had no other opportunities. And we actually have a new competition this year, Hoptails [Hoptails Mixology Competition], and that’s excit-ing because this year we’re introducing beer.
We have two separate unique launches at the convention, plus Dan Aykroyd is coming this year to support his vodka, Crystal Head. He knows that it’s about business, and business requires you to be present. He’s got the right idea. He comes to our convention, he works the wholesalers, works the crowd. If celebri-ties want to be successful, they better approach it as more than just getting a name out and assuming it will sell. We’ve seen plenty of flash-in-the-pans come and go. If you want to make it work, you better be prepared to make it work. And how do you do that in this country? You partner with wholesalers.
TBN: How important is making a great presentation on the exhibit floor?
CW: The fact is that when most suppliers—small suppliers—get into market, they don’t have the resources to go out to retailers and explain their products. They are start-ups and they are just trying to figure things out. That’s what wholesalers do, but you still have to sell the whole-saler in the first instance. When you get to our convention, the same thing applies. You have all this exhibit space. You have all these people on the floor, on the lower levels. If you’re not smart in how you mar-ket at the convention, you’re going to be left behind. We always run into people at/after the convention who say, “You know, my experience was great. Within one day, I made this connection and that one.”
TBN: How important is making a great presentation on the exhibit floor?
CW: The fact is that when most suppli-ers—small suppliers—get into market, they don’t have the resources to go out to retailers and explain their products. They are start-ups and they are just trying to figure things out. That’s what wholesalers do, but you still have to sell the whole-saler in the first instance. When you get to our convention, the same thing applies. You have all this exhibit space. You have all these people on the floor, on the lower levels. If you’re not smart in how you mar-ket at the convention, you’re going to be left behind. We always run into people at/after the convention who say, “You know, my experience was great. Within one day, I made this connection and that one.”
On The Association
TBN: You’ve been at WSWA since 2000—you started as general counsel—and you’ve been president since 2006. What do you see as your biggest achievements during your tenure?
CW: I like to think of it in two ways—internal and external. Internally, I wanted to modernize the organization from a business standpoint. I wanted to create a top-notch staff that was fully integrated with each department so we had a really effective organization. My goal was to make sure that every position had the right person with the right experience to do the job. And then to get the systems up to date, too—accounting software, membership software, renovating the office. We’re almost completed on this front. In fact, we’re going to have a bar as our reception desk so we can have events there as well.
Externally, I wanted to make sure that people understood we were not a one-trick pony, that we had many issues we were concerned about. Our agenda is very broad. So we cover state issues, we cover federal issues—not just three-tier issues, but we also deal with tax issues, food safety issues. And we’ve got issues coming up dealing with transportation, and some of the wage/hours service is-sues. We wanted to make sure that our capabilities were responding to the needs of our members, which we’ve done.
TBN: What is your take on consolidation at the wholesale level? How are you able to maintain your appeal to smaller distributors?
CW: Consolidation’s an issue. What I don’t want to see—in an association where the big guys provide a great percentage of funding—is to forget that we represent all distributors. We are far better served if we represent everybody. If we go around saying we represent only 10 wholesalers in this country, even if it’s 60% of the volume, that’s not good enough for me. I want to keep growing and broadening.
The guys that join us now, the smaller distributors, join us more for a business reason. They join for the convention, to pick up product. They’re trying to grow, they want to see what’s out there and what they can carry and sell. They’re more focused on their bottom lines. The more experienced, veteran members are all about government affairs, litiga-tion, how are we protecting their inter-ests. There’s a dichotomy between the old and the new. We have affinity pro-grams, that didn’t exist before 2006; these programs offer our members very significant savings every year on things like insurance.
On Legislation & Regulation
TBN: What are some of the political issues WSWA is expecting to deal with in the near future?
CW: We’re focused on the tax agenda most importantly at this point. We don’t see excise tax right now as being an issue, but it could come up. It’s been awhile, so we’re prepared to deal with that if it comes up.
On the regulatory side of things, I think it’s growing in importance and we just don’t know what’s going to come out from the administration when it comes to labor, for instance, and environmental issues that will affect us. It’s very perplexing, because you don’t know what they’ve got planned. They held a lot of stuff off pending the election. We know they are going to start coming out with regulations that could affect our members in areas that we didn’t necessarily foresee. So we’re going to make sure we’re trying to cover those areas.
TBN: In 2012, Washington State approved privatization. Now Pennsylvania is moving in that direction. Where does WSWA stand on privatization?CW: First of all, we look at Washington State as what not to do. We’ve never taken a position in favor of or opposed to privatization. States have to make that determination. But, whenever they go into these discussions they should be very careful how they tinker with the system, because the fact is that the systems that have existed in the licensed and control states creating the divisions between the tiers has been very successful. When you talk in Pennsylvania about privatization, make sure you understand that you can privatize it, if that’s what your people want and your legislature decides, but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Keep the regulations. Keep control. Keep accountability.