Directors’ Choice

In 1989 the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) embarked on a mission to move from distributor to leading-edge retailer - one that would personify 'friendly, knowledgeable and inspiring,' among other things.

In 1989 the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) embarked on a mission to move from distributor to leading-edge retailer – one that would personify ‘friendly, knowledgeable and inspiring,’ among other things.

Call it a face lift. But it’s more than that – in addition to the new vision, logo, store design, and the snazzy new customer-centric marketing approach – perceptions and behaviours, both of employees and consumers, have been forever changed. It’s a complete reinvention, and it has garnered the LCBO this year’s Directors’ Choice award.

Its current 600 retail ’boutiques’ are a far cry from the days of harsh, austere liquor outlets, located in out-of-the-way places, where many customers might have felt quite criminal scribbling their orders on pieces of paper, only to be handed their purchase in a brown paper bag.

‘It’s remarkable the business transformation that organization has undergone in the last 15 years – moving their retail operations into the forefront of retailing concepts in this country,’ says John Gustavson, president of the Canadian Marketing Association. ‘The other half of that is that they’ve used an integrated marketing approach – they have an excellent catalogue and a great Web site, for example, and all of the elements feed into one another.

‘Both on the business transformation side and the integrated marketing side, the Board felt they were worthy of this award.’

The transformation has included the ongoing modernization of the LCBO retail network: innovative merchandising initiatives, promos and ads; investment in internal training and support; increased market research; broad product selections. And from a marketing standpoint, the organization has succeeded in establishing the LCBO as a lifestyle brand – at every possible customer touchpoint. It’s vision: to be ‘The Source for Entertaining Ideas.’

That statement sits proudly at the top of everything the organization does. Beautiful advertising and lifestyle-oriented marketing campaigns entertain and entice while staying true to a social responsibility mandate. Vivid store visuals and displays, as well as FSIs (free-standing inserts), tie back to the LCBO’s glossy, bi-monthly Food & Drink magazine (launched in 1993), offered free to customers. Demonstration kitchens located in the flagship stores, of which there are roughly 15, offer cooking classes demonstrating recipes profiled in the magazine. All are part of the LCBO’s mission to give customers everything they need to entertain.

It has won many prestigious awards for store design, communications, staff training and development, and innovative retail practices, including the Retail Council of Canada’s Innovative Retailer of the Year award in the large store category for 1997 as well as 1998, and the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s Outstanding Business Achievement award in 2000.

The proof is in the pudding. The LCBO delivered an all-time high $905 million dividend to the Ontario government as net sales for fiscal 2001-2002 (ending February) close in on the $3 billion mark for the first time in LCBO history. It was LCBO’s seventh record dividend transfer in as many years.

‘Our marketing strategy has been to take beverage alcohol from a commodity bought on price, to an ingredient that, when consumed in moderation, can enhance life experiences. The way we present and promote our products recognizes the growing sophistication of beverage alcohol consumers who are more knowledgeable and inquisitive about the products we sell than they were 10 years ago.’

- LCBO Chair and CEO Andrew S. Brandt, who has overseen the modernization of the LCBO during the last 11 years.