Montgomery County Alcohol Beverage Services Receives National Top Honor for Overall Best Practices from StateWays Magazine

by Patrick Herron

The Best Practices Awards program was launched in 2015 to recognize control state agencies that are leading the industry in innovation, education and enforcement. Any beverage control agency from the U.S. and Canada is eligible to enter the awards, which are presented in eight categories with one standout selected as the overall winner and serving as a model for other agencies to follow.

“ABS has acted nimbly and has remained steadfast in its commitment to customer service, even as it has faced rapidly changing conditions over the past couple of years,” said County Executive Marc Elrich. “I congratulate ABS and our hard-working employees on this well-deserved award.”

The StateWays magazine feature story announcing this year’s winners said: “ABS has successfully launched a number of new initiatives during the past year, along with revamping existing programs and processes to enhance administrative efficiencies and optimize customer service. While much of this work was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, ABS turned challenging circumstances into opportunities for improvement, illustrating why it is this year’s Overall Best Practices Award winner.”

StateWays recognized four innovations that contributed to its selection of ABS for the overall award:

  • ABS launched its major rebranding effort with the opening of the first Oak Barrel & Vine branded store in Cabin John. The new brand features a clear wayfinding system, digital screens, rebranded signage, an endcap merchandising system, wine library and tasting room to create an enhanced customer experience. ABS will renovate and rebrand all its retail stores over the next several years and has two additional Oak Barrel & Vine stores currently under construction.
  • ABS revised its highly allocated products (HAL) program to make it more equitable and accessible to retail customers and alcohol license holders. HAL items are now released throughout the County on the second Saturday of each month with information about the products posted on the website on the prior Thursday. Sales are limited to one bottle per item per customer for a total of two separate items per customer. ABS also holds annual lotteries in which randomly selected entrants get the opportunity to purchase the most rare and sought-after items.
  • In response to the COVID-19 health crisis, ABS accelerated its plans to enhance its custom-built online license renewal system. To prevent in-person contacts, ABS added features that allowed the entire process to be completed online, including payment, automatically updates to the County’s Oracle database, invoicing and self-printing of the customized licenses. Although driven by the need to protect public health, the portal has resulted in a faster and more efficient renewal process for license holders and ABS staff.
  • When the Board of License Commissioners, commonly referred to as the liquor board, moved its alcohol license hearings to a virtual platform, ABS created a virtual ID test to simulate the one normally conducted by the board at the in-person hearings. Applicants meet online with an ABS employee to test their ability to determine which forms of identification are valid to purchase alcohol. Results are reported to the board as a part of the hearing record.

Read the StateWays article at https://stateways.com/digital-archives/digital-edition-fall-2022/.

ABS Director Kathie Durbin said she is pleased with the award, but notes that it is only the beginning of an ongoing culture of innovation.

“We will continue working to enhance our programs while being a resource for local producers, industry partners and members of our community,” said Director Durbin.

The StateWays Best Practices Award will be presented to ABS at a ceremony on Oct. 25 at the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association’s Administrators Conference in Pittsburgh.

Seventeen states and all but one province in Canada operate under a similar alcohol model as Montgomery County. They oversee the sale of distilled spirits—and in some cases wine and beer—through government agencies at the wholesale level. The model allows revenue from alcohol sales to be returned to a general fund for public services.

ABS is the alcohol wholesaler of beer, wine and spirits for Montgomery County and operates 26 retail stores throughout the County. In addition, ABS manages alcohol licensing, enforcement and education for more than 1,000 businesses. Generating more than $35 million in net income annually, its profits are used to pay down CountySet featured image debt with a large portion deposited in the general fund to pay for resident services that would otherwise be funded by County tax dollars.

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