How My Job Is Becoming Your Job

Ten o'clock hits. They're open for business. You call the 1-800 number to place your order. The automated system begins, "push 1 to make a purchase," and the battle begins.

"Hello, thank you for calling _______, how can I help you?"

"Hi there! Do you have any ________ in stock?"

"Yes, we have thirty bottles of that available."

"Sweet! I'll take all of them!!"

"Certainly, sir. I'll place the order for you right now."

Does that conversation sound familiar? It certainly does to anyone who works at K&L. When the newest vintage of Haut Brion gets released, the above scenario will happen. When Pliny the Elder beer comes back into stock, the above scenario happens. When Ardbeg releases a new limited edition single malt, the above scenario happens.

However, the conversation I just depicted is not that of a customer calling K&L to place an order. It was me calling one of my many distributors to secure booze for our stores.

Just like consumers have to be on the ball these days to get the highly-sought products they desire, so does a retailer. At least, it used to be that way. Remember when Pappy used to be on the shelf? It's not anymore because one day a customer came in, bought all of it, and we heard nothing but complaints from our other patrons as a result. The same thing has happened with the distribution game. I've been that guy on many, many, many, many occasions. It drives people crazy.

"Yes, do you have any of the new Lagavulin in stock? How many? 50 cases? I'll take all of it."

When K&L gets all of something it gives us a huge advantage in the marketplace. It also pisses the holy hell out of every other retailer. I don't have many friends in the spirits retail world, therefore. David OG, too. We're usually faster than other buyers and we enjoy the sport of it. After a few years of this, however, the distributors began to change their system in response to us, just like K&L changed its system in response to the consumer. We now have quantity limits, as do the distributors.

When Pappy is released these days it's entirely allocated. Almost everything is allocated right now because of the shortage. Yamazaki, Balvenie, Macallan, anything that even remotely stands a chance of being bulk purchased by K&L or another retailer is carefully managed. Every now and again they mess up, though. I managed to grab the Doublewood 17 and clean out the state before they slapped on the restriction. David OG snagged all the Talisker 18, but we ended up sending that all back due to the increase in price (can you imagine if we had managed to keep it all for the old price? Other stores would have blown a gasket!).

The point here is that all the hoops the consumer has to jump through are the same ones we are faced with – and for the same reason: fairness. Business isn't about being fair though, is it? I don't know. I definitely don't want any one customer to hoard all the Pappy for himself. That's not good for our business. At the same time, having K&L hoard all the Pappy isn't good for the Van Winkle's either. Letting one store get every bottle available of anything isn't good business for any state distributor. They have plenty of other customers to consider, too. I can't think of a scenario where monopolization is a good idea.

Nevertheless, I'll still try and find ways to sneak around this system whenever possible. If I could have 300 bottles of Ardbeg Supernova while other stores got none, I would take it any day of the week. That means more for my customers for whom I am trying to provide. It's not about others having nothing, but rather me having more.

This is the example that I am setting for others. It's a business model that works well. Know your booze, know when it's coming, know how much is coming, and get as much as you can before another store does. Yet, I'm against the idea of other people doing it.

And we wonder why people are hoarding and scalping whisk(e)y? Auctions are booming. Prices are up. Whomever has more, wins. Hypocrites included.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll