The BC Government and the LCLB (Liquor Control and Licensing Board) have proposed some changes to the “Tied House” and “Trade Practices” policies that currently govern booze sales in BC. http://www.pssg.gov.bc.ca/legislation/docs/2011-lclb-tied-house-and-trade-practices.pdf
I’m not sure what most people will think of these proposed amendments. However, the status-quo seems not to be an option, and I’m very happy about this. I started RainCity Brands because I wanted to enter an industry I love, and ultimately earn the money to start a brewery (For those who might wonder about that: It’s WAY cheaper to start and agency than to start a brewery)
Essentially Tied House policies limit a bar/brewery/restaurant/agency owner from promoting their goods in another bar/brewery/restaurant/agency that they also have a financial interest in. This post prohibition holdover is intended to prevent giants such as Molson from buying bars and stocking only their beer. But it also prevents me from opening a restaurant that sells my own beer, and from opening my own brewery.
The “Trade Practices” policies essentially limit or prohibit breweries or agents from providing financial or other inducements to licensed establishments to promote their goods. For example, these prevent Labatt from buying taps and draft lines for a bar in order to get their products on tap. However, these prohibited actions occur all the time anyway.
The LCLB has issued a document (here) that outlines some options. They want our feedback. I am certain I don’t understand the issue as well as I could, but there are likely to be strong opinions on each side, and while most of my colleagues are likely for the changes, I’m not sure if we all agree on what options or what structure is best. In fact, I’m prone to believe that our respective self-interests will guide such decisions. But that’s the point, I suppose.
The tied house options are all feasible. I prefer Option 1 (hit the link above) which relaxes all restrictions on tied houses, basically fully allowing them in all cases. I feel this is in the best interests of consumers and business owners. While choices may be impacted as a result of corporate ‘muscle’ being flexed, the free market should indicate what if any ventures are successful. I would much rather not have the government telling me what businesses I can and cannot operate, and from my perspective as a consumer also, what I can and cannot drink. If Molson wants to open 100 restaurants or bars with cheap shitty beer on tap at a discount, please let them. My customers will not be affected, as they’ll never walk in the door. Conversely, such changes would allow me to open my dream bar, which would not offer shitty beer at a discount, but rather incredible beer at a premium, because that’s my prerogative and I believe there is a market for it. Neither is currently allowed, and I feel that’s a shame.
I certainly respect the opposing view, which is that such legislative change might cause large companies to dominate the market. However, this is already happening, and unless the laws are changed it is difficult for passionate small business owners like myself cannot step in and offer our alternatives. I suppose the point is this; if a large brewery or distributor can open a restaurant and sell their own beer so too can a small operator. It’s freer and it’s much fairer. If you can’t throw dollars around to compete, do something different and do something better.
I am an importer, so I’m lucky if I make a few dollars on each case of beer or wine I sell. I cannot go toe-to-toe with the marketing budgets of “the big guys” – their economies of scale are too great and they earned that advantage (I wish I sold billions a year). I cannot buy a bar new draft lines and I cannot offer a bar $10 for each case of my beer they sell. I don’t even make that much myself.
While I’m concerned that a limit on trade practices will initially cause licensees to ask me for more incentives, it won’t matter in the long run. I simply don’t have to compete in their game. Freeing the market and relaxing the rules opens up the field. I can blaze my own trail. I offer better products. I offer great wine and beer, and they offer mediocre wine and beer, sometimes down-right crappy wine and beer.
Such changes WILL make it harder to win in this business. But ‘harder’ encourages innovation. ‘Harder’ makes us better. If the big guys want to slug it out with marketing, the small guys can pick up the slack by making better product and exporting it to other areas too. There is always a way. I just hope that we pave a path that is mostly free of government-imposed obstacles. I can deal with the rest of it.