Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board officials are considering changing the name of the agency's Wine and Spirits stores, even though Gov. Ed Rendell has told them he thinks it's a bad idea.
The prospect of renaming the state's 621 stores came up at a recent meeting in Philadelphia between Mr. Rendell and PLCB officials.
"The governor expressed his opinion that the PLCB stores as currently named were recognizable and had a brand value of their own and he strongly discouraged PLCB from attempting to change the names of the stores," said the governor's spokesman, Chuck Ardo, who was not present but learned about the exchange from other staff members.
"The governor was vocal in making his opinion known."
This week, PLCB CEO Joe Conti described a possible store name change as "a small part of the whole initiative" to rebrand the stores under a two-year contract worth up to $3.7 million that the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board signed with San Francisco-based Landor Associates early last year.
"I think it is likely that our stores will have a name," Mr. Conti said, but he declined to list any candidates. "The board is still deliberating over several names and several directions."
Two current PLCB employees, who asked not to be identified, said the name "Table Leaf" was under serious consideration until word leaked and the suggestion came under criticism.
If the stores are renamed, PLCB spokesman Nick Hays said it is still to be determined whether the liquor control board, or the landlords who lease the stores to the state, would be responsible for replacing all the signs, which can cost thousands of dollars each.
Although the governor nominates its board members, PLCB is an independent state agency and does not fall directly under the governor's jurisdiction.
The agency operates under some of the nation's most restrictive regulations for the control and sale of wine and spirits. It also delivers about a half billion dollars to the treasury each year from consistently record-breaking sales.
Name change or no, Mr. Conti said officials plan to launch "a really dynamic" Web site this summer, and are also looking into store layouts, shelving and category management.
He described the meeting with Mr. Rendell as "more a directional discussion" covering a wide range of topics. "The governor was delighted with everything he saw," said Mr. Conti.
PLCB recently came under scrutiny for signing a one-year, $173,820 contract to train state store workers to improve their interaction with customers. That contract was awarded to a West End firm, Solutions 21, whose president, Buddy Hobart, is married to the PLCB's Western Pennsylvania regional manager, Susanne Hobart, who is also a former training manager for the liquor control board.
The PLCB maintains the contract was awarded appropriately but requested Auditor General Jack Wagner review the bidding process for any conflict of interest.
Meanwhile, the training is already under way. Solutions 21 has distributed a 32-page booklet, called "Train the Trainer," as a guide for store managers in conducting multiple 5- to 20-minute training sessions. The booklet lists three objectives:
"To gain knowledge of self, others and develop techniques to utilize during facilitation;
"To enable trainers to use various skills and techniques designed to enhance effective communication and transfer of knowledge;
"To practice and apply adult facilitation skills."
The manual includes suggestions for "Encouraging Participation through Questions" and recognizing "Types of Listening," while the actual sessions give advice for greeting and assisting customers.
Although PLCB has its own trainers, they "became reactive over the years," said Mr. Conti. "They were the ones who administered discipline."
Also, because their training staff is small, it would take too long to get to every store. With the Solutions 21 contract, store managers can train their staffs in a matter of weeks, he said.
This is all part of an added emphasis on customer service for which the liquor control board has sought outside help. Last December, PLCB paid Bill Drury Seminars $9,990 -- $10 below the amount that would require a bidding process -- to provide customer service training in Harrisburg for 38 employees in a seminar titled, "A Passion for Service."
The agency also has a one-year $30,990 contract with Draude Marketing Services for "mystery shopper" services, which Mr. Conti described as very helpful in gauging how customers are treated.
Earlier this year, PLCB contracted with WIS International for $127,242 to validate store inventory. "We had a very good inventory count at the three distribution centers. It got a little less accurate when you got in the stores," Mr. Conti explained. "We wanted it down to the bottle."
Other contracts include one for $598,500 over two years to Tompkins Associates to assess the supply chain and make recommendations for improving its operations. Mr. Conti expects the board may take action on the recommendations in May.
Another contract pays $200,000 to Hay Group to help PLCB come up with an organizational strategy for the agency.
Steve Twedt can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1963.