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Editorial: Does Utah want its liquor business to improve?

Utah drinkers get what they get.

First Published Aug 29 2014 05:11 pm • Last Updated Aug 29 2014 05:11 pm

Customer information, in one form or another, is the backbone of modern marketing. In the old days, executives had only their hunches and experience to figure out where customers are and where they’re headed. Now we live in the age of big data. Customers are researched and tracked in ways never thought imaginable.

So it is a good sign that Utah’s state-run liquor monopoly has reached out to its customers with a survey, and the results of that outreach show the state’s 46 liquor outlets could make several moves that would both improve service and, as a result, produce more tax money for school lunches and other state needs.

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The question, of course, is whether the state really wants to better satisfy its customers, who might just consume more alcohol as a result.

The law that regulates liquor sales in Utah is clear: "Alcoholic product control shall be operated as a public business using sound management principles and practices."

But the same law also says: "The commission and department may not promote or encourage the sale or consumption of alcoholic products."

Those two statements simply are not compatible, so which is it? Does the state use "sound management principles and practices" to better meet its customers’ needs and increase its sales? Or does it ignore the survey’s findings because any accommodations may "promote or encourage the sale or consumption of alcoholic products"?

Anyone who has arrived at a liquor store at 7:02 p.m. knows which argument carries the day.

Want further proof that Utah doesn’t really want to operate liquor stores as a legitimate business? The DABC has to go to the Utah Legislature for a budget increase if it wants to keep stores open later because it would have to pay employees to stay later. DABC could certainly make the case that the increased labor costs are more than offset by increased sales during the added hours, but that argument has never meant much to legislators.

How can any business possibly use "sound management principles and practices" when simply increasing hours requires a political fight?

DABC should be careful about dangling any ideas for improving its service. If the changes recommended by the survey are not made, then such outreach is just punishing customers with false hopes. And that may encourage more drinking.

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Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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