Leading independent retailers in Missouri are “moving aggressively toward” forming an association to collectively fight back against proposed legislation that they say will negatively impact their businesses, according to Randall’s Wine & Spirits owner George Randall. The retailer operates three stores in Missouri and one in Illinois.
The proposal that concerns independent store owners centers on advertising and promotional rules for alcoholic beverages. The bill, sponsored by State Representative Robert Cornejo, a Republican from the St. Louis suburb of St. Peters, would allow alcohol retailers to offer consumers “any coupon, premium, prize, rebate, sales price below cost, loyalty program or discount.” Several small retailers say this would allow Total Wine to undercut the competition by advertising and selling products below cost, something they themselves don’t have the financial wherewithal to do.
While the bills in question hadn’t passed at press time, independent store operators say they expect a long fight on a number of fronts. “I suspect that if the proposed legislation fails this time it will be back in a year or two,” says Roger Gildehaus, owner of the seven-unit Macadoodles chain. “It makes sense that we move forward together in forming an association, so we can get a lobbyist under contract to keep their eyes and ears open in the capitol.”
Independent retailers say the legislation is backed by Total Wine & More, which currently operates three stores in the St. Louis area. While Total Wine didn’t respond to requests for comment, Randall says the flurry of industry-related proposals, which at press time had been consolidated into a single bill, came after Total entered the market. “All of a sudden Total Wine comes in, and their strategy is to change the laws so it suits them,” he says.
Randall’s stores compete directly with Total Wine locations in the St. Louis area, and the retailer says he “lost a lot of money” because of the national chain’s aggressive tactics. His business is still healthy, he says, but profitability is down.
Gildehaus, who has stores in southern Missouri, doesn’t compete directly with Total Wine, but he expects to in the future. “For the mom-and-pop package liquor stores, an advertising law like that one would absolutely put them out of business,” Gildehaus says. “And for a small chain like ours, the law certainly doesn’t help us, though it probably wouldn’t put us out of business. Once those package stores are gone, my experience tells me the consumer loses. If the only game in town is the big box guys, the assortments dwindle and the prices go higher.”
Other pending legislation in Missouri includes efforts to repeal rules on quantity discounts to retailers, change shipping and storage laws, labeling changes, and other issues. “I’ve been doing business in this state for 28 years, and we’ve never had a preponderance of bills like this,” Randall says. “We’re taking the approach that if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” Total Wine has “stirred up a hornet’s nest, and all the retailers are contacting their representatives,” Randall adds. He thinks those retailers are seeing success in getting their message across. “I hope we beat them,” Randall says. “If not, it’s a sad day for Missouri retailers.”