YOU’RE NOT ALONE
Paul Santelle, Past-President & Executive Director of NJLSA
In life, we all experience a time when a parent, older brother or sister, close friend, neighbor, teacher, employer or significant other tell us that “you’re on your own”. Those words deeply resonate with anyone who has bought a liquor license, signed a lease and then opened a new start-up liquor store or bought or took over the operation of an existing liquor store. I remember investing every-last penny I had saved and was able to borrow to take my shot at the American Dream. For me that search started almost forty years ago after the deregulation of our industry way back in 1980.
After ten years following lost opportunities, I finally found myself buying the liquor store I still own and have operated for over thirty years. Over those thirty years, I have endured everything from new competition (I never saw coming) to changes in State regulations, sales tax and even more recently the substantial increase in gas tax, not to mention the double edge sword of the internet, which gives and takes without any remorse. I have learned that to be a successful retailer you have to be willing to adapt to the ever-changing challenges of our marketplace.
When I look back to my early years, there was a realization that if I was ever going to get a handle on the long-term success of my business, I would have to make the effort to get connected to the inner and outer workings of our industry. I jumped head-first into the deep end and joined all three retail associations in our State, which at the time were the Alliance of North Jersey Retailers, New Jersey Licensed Beverage Association and the original New Jersey Liquor Store Association (which included the South Jersey Package Store Association). I also took a seat on the newly created ABC Advisory Council.
Another big step for me was to join as many retail franchise groups as possible to corner my competitive marketplace. I started out as one of the original founding stores of the New Jersey BUY-RITE franchise and then became a member of the SUPER SAVOR franchise, followed by the WORLD OF LIQUORS franchise, while always advertising simultaneously under my own GARDEN STATE DISCOUNT LIQUORS banner. I had a sign for all four and advertised in every local and regional paper at a considerable cost. My sales soared, my profits tanked, and my inventory carry costs went thru the roof.
However, there was another upside to all the downsides of the above which related to the opportunity to become close to a lot of independent retailers like me – who shared the “you’re on your own” gospel of the American Dream. There is a common bond that all independent retailers share when our livelihoods are threatened and we all rise together in a show of solidarity that is one of the closest feelings to being part of a large extended family you can experience in a lifetime. That feeling is the essence of what makes the NJLSA a living breathing organic component of our State’s alcohol industry.
The creation of the NJLSA took place after the millennium, when WEGMANS came to New Jersey and immediately challenged our State’s long-standing two-license limit. Shortly thereafter the FREE THE GRAPES crusade came to Jersey seeking internet-based winery-to-consumer DIRECT-SHIPPING from the west coast. Those two battles led to the birth of the NJLSA, which was a consolidation of the Alliance of North Jersey Retailers and the original New Jersey Liquor Store Association (which included the South Jersey Package Store Association). At that same time, our national affiliate the American Beverage Licenses (ABL) was created from the consolidation of two large associations representing on-premise and off-premise licenses of our industry.
A few short years later the Asian-American Retailer Association (AARA) was born and connected at the hip to the NJLSA, where it still holds a seat on our Executive Board and supports all our key events and legislative efforts. Although the AARA’s focus is divided between liquor stores, convenience stores and gas stations they have become a very strong partner of the NJLSA especially in key legislative matters. We also work closely with the New Jersey Licensed Beverage Association that is dedicated to protecting on-premise consumption licenses for our State’s bars, nightclubs, restaurants and taverns.
FLASH FORWARD to the present day and I can tell you I have never seen the level of legislative threats confronting us as we are currently facing. There are more pieces of legislation with our retail sector in the cross hairs than there are exits on the Garden State Parkway. Everyone wants a piece of your business and the bottom line is the pie is not getting any bigger, and the slices are only getting smaller. I often wake up in the middle of the night thinking about the unrelenting efforts to undermine our industry, which in many cases would jeopardize the welfare and public safety of our citizens.
RIGHT NOW there are special interests (with very deep pockets) trying to convince our Legislature to totally reform our time-tested licensing system. They want unlimited inexpensive licenses to sell alcoholic beverages in convenience stores, drugstore chains, grocery stores and warehouse clubs. On another front, West Coast wineries are working hard to remove the direct shipping cap on gallonage to allow any size winery (including those whose products we are currently selling) to open our door to Amazon, who already holds the reins of the four horsemen of the retail Apocalypse!
The good news for every retailer reading this message is — you do not have to feel like “you’re on your own” when it comes to protecting your business. The NJLSA is dedicated to protecting and defending your livelihoods and your licenses. We are an association of retailers (like you) working tirelessly to insure our voice is heard in Trenton!
Although you may often feel like YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN — YOU’RE NOT ALONE!
GET CONNECTED TO YOUR INDUSTRY BY JOINING THE NJLSA TODAY