April 1 brought major change to the liquor business as retail stores received permission to sell beer up to 6 percent alcohol in addition to cereal malt beverage products.
Local liquor stores were left wondering how it would impact their business, while corporations looked to make a bigger run at alcohol sales.
Stores like Derby Dillon’s Marketplace overhauled a full aisle of its store to add to its beer portfolio. Dillon’s, along with other chains, also rolled out significant advertising campaigns to detail the changes that would be made.
It’s been nothing but positives for QuikTrip, according to corporation spokesperson Mike Thornbrugh. He said the chain has seen a significant hike in sales since the April 1 law went into effect.
K & S Liquor co-owner Seth Reed said their regular clients have changed and that impact on stores like his were inevitable.
“I have noticed there [are] certainly people that I used to see on a very regular basis that I don’t anymore,” Reed said. “So I’m assuming that they probably pick their stuff up while they’re at the grocery store versus making an extra trip down to talk to us.”
Brian Davis, who owns Davis Liquor Outlet in Wichita, said they’ve lost the “QuikTrip Guy,” but they offer a convenience that grocery stores can’t model.
“I hope that over time customers will understand that the grocery store is more of a hassle and that going for a six pack will take more of their time [than a trip to a liquor store],” he added.
The law does offer liquor stores the opportunity to sell non-alcoholic products, but it cannot exceed 20 percent of gross sales. Tobacco and lottery tickets are excluded from that total, however.
Beer, as a category overall, was about half of Dave Bitner’s sales at Derby Wine and Spirits. He said they are probably off 10 to 15 percent of what they were selling before the new law.
“I built my store large enough so I can thrive on selling the non-alcoholic items,” he added.
Derby Wine and Spirits will soon have a complete line of barbecue accessories that they couldn’t sell before. He is also building an ice company in Wichita and will deliver ice to his Derby store and to his Wichita store, as well as other competitors.
“We can make a lot of money on ice, and a lot of money on pop,” he said.
With deliveries made to a larger batch of stores in the Wichita metro area, Davis said it’s also made it harder to schedule delivery times and coordinate schedules.
The question now becomes whether or not corporate chains will ever be able to sell “hard” liquor and craft beers over 6 percent alcohol.
Thornbrugh said QuikTrip customers are bringing those thoughts and concerns to their stores.
“We’re hopeful that at some point the state will recognize that a beer is a beer and that we’re all responsible retailers,” the QuikTrip spokesperson said. “There shouldn’t be any restrictions on that whatsoever.”
It’s an area, however, that local retail liquor stores hope to capitalize on.
“We want to make sure we’re carrying products that they can’t carry,” Reed said. “They can’t carry anything over 6 percent and there are several 24-ounce beers that are over 6 percent alcohol, and some flavored … like the Four Lokos and things like that.”
Davis said they’ve made a more “aggressive” approach on national brands like Smirnoff, Bacardi, Jack Daniels. They’ve also added snacks and various speciality drink accessories.
“We did this to increase our foot traffic,” he said. “Once you have the customer coming in and you can offer them a clean, safe and fun experience then they will continue to come back.”
Davis also stated that they sent out surveys to customers prior to the law change, wanting to have a better sense of what they wanted to see instead of what the store thought they’d sell.
Reed and Davis both said they believe their stores offer a relationship that big-box retailers can’t touch.
“I’m very approachable,” Reed said. “People can come talk to me any time any day. If there’s something that we’re not carrying that they want us to carry, we can. I don’t think you can get that same level of personal, upfront service at any of these big-box stores.”
Bitner said that the critical thing for the future of the industry is to not let the big retailers sell wine and spirits.
“I think Kroger and QuikTrip and all of these people have plenty of items to sell,” Bitner added. “We don’t need to be legislated out of business because you let the richest guy in the world start selling wine and spirits.”
Derby Mayor Randy White can recall the time eight years ago when the city would advertise for a police officer and get about 100 applicants. That pool would be cut to 40 and then reduced to 10 candidates to interview.
Those days are gone.
Now the first round may get 35 to 50 applicants, a drop of half, and sometimes there are no suitable candidates among them, said Police Chief Robert Lee.
“It’s hit or miss,” Lee said. “We do see more times when we run empty and don’t hire.”
But Lee said the department isn’t interested in just anyone being an officer.
“We just simply refuse to lower the standards to fill spots; we’re not going to do it,” he said in recent remarks to city leaders during a workshop on the 2020 budget.
Lee said the department, which currently has several vacancies, needs a larger pool of candidates and to get more competitive.
In that regard, it is asking for $15,000 in the 2020 budget for recruitment efforts.
It wants to use what Lee termed “innovative strategies,” which includes social media marketing, more advertising, targeted recruitment and a hiring bonus for certified officers of $2,500 and $1,500 for former military personnel.
Competition for qualified applicants among law enforcement agencies is high, he said, and Derby must focus on recruitment.
“This is trying to get us more competitive,” Lee said of the bonuses.
While paying an extra $2,500 may sound like a lot, if the candidate is already certified, he or she will save the city money because otherwise it has to send the individual to the police academy for a 14-week training session.
City Manager Kathy Sexton said the bonuses are “almost becoming kind of a norm” among cities. She assured council members, who would approve the budget item, that city human resources staff researched the bonuses to make sure they were in line with others.
Sexton and Lee also said there would be measures in place to ensure that an officer getting the bonus would be on staff for a set period of at least a year and not take a bonus and promptly leave.
Taxpayers make a major investment in the police as the yearly cost is $77,008 for an officer. That includes wages, benefits and equipment.
Getting officers in place will help the city deal with its growth, Lee said.
The professional standard is to have two commissioned personnel per 1,000 residents. As Derby approaches a population of 25,000, having 50 people on staff would “put us exactly where we need to be be,” he said. “It allows us to keep pace.”
Having a full staff is needed to address both crime and traffic concerns, he said.
Lee said he has had success in obtaining ex-military candidates, especially from McConnell Air Force Base, and is looking at potential officers from a training academy in Missouri.
The department added an officer in 2018 and 2019. The new position is targeted for a hire in October 2020, but that is contingent on the request being approved in the budget. It needs to be finalized and submitted to the county clerk by Aug. 25.