Another Leveling of the Playing Field
Private liquor stores are now allowed to supply liquor to holders of a Special Event Permit (SEP). Until July 2021, Government Liquor Stores (GLS) were the only locations where SEP holders could legally buy product. With the new policy, the following licensees can now sell liquor products to SEP holders: BC Liquor Stores, Licensee Retail Stores, BC wineries with an onsite store, BC breweries with an onsite store, BC distilleries with an onsite store, Wine Stores (excluding Sacramental Wine Stores), Special Wine Stores and Rural Licensee Retail Stores. Liquor and food primaries may not sell SEPs unless they have a Catering License and are providing food services to the event. Allowing the private sector to fulfill SEPs not only levels the playing field between government and private retailers, but also opens an opportunity to develop new business.
SEPs are issued via the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch website at https://justice.gov.bc.ca/lcrb/sep. Generally, SEPs are required if the event involves service and/or sale of liquor (e.g., a cash bar) at a place that is not a private residence. For example, a wedding at a community hall or a fundraiser at a school. The event organizer must apply, and it is a relatively simple and quick process.
The old SEP application noted explicitly that product had to be purchased from a GLS. Consequently, more regular organizers of events (like wedding planners) may be conditioned to automatically getting their clients to take their business to that channel.
How can you take advantage of this new ability?
- Be Locally Proactive
You need to make a point in your marketing that you are now authorized to fulfill an SEP. Emphasize your ability to provide access to a wider product selection, volume discounts, and, of course, personalized service. Delivery to site can also be a big benefit to the holder, especially if it is a larger event. If you have a newsletter going to your customers, this is a great ‘new service’ to tell them about. You can also try some in-store signage to inform customers of the new capability. This may have some additional value in attracting private event business that does not require an SEP.
- Find the Influencers
If your store’s (or chain’s) reach is larger than very local, it is time to market to the professional event organizer community. There are at least two associations in this field: The Canadian Society of Professional Event Planners (CanSPEP) and Wedding Planners Institute of Canada (WPIC). To promote your capability to assist their members, you could consider marketing to them at their local association level, creating web links from your website to theirs, or buying access to their email lists.
- Staffing of Events
SEPs require liquor servers to have either a Special Event Server license (SES) or Serving it Right (SIR) certifications. The SES is a lightweight SIR and anyone who already has an SIR does not need an SES. Depending on the event’s needs and your staffing capacity, providing additional liquor serving staff could be an extra value service.
- Making Events Profitable
Some SEPs will be reselling the liquor, for example at an open bar. Approved selling price per drink should be set by the SEP, so you can help an SEP holder—who may be relying on raising money from the sale of liquor at their event—to find appropriately priced products to achieve their fundraising goals. SEPs may be audited by the LCRB, so it is important that they keep your receipts for any purchases. Also note that you may not donate liquor products to any event.
While there does not appear to be any requirement for you to keep specific records of sales to SEPs, it is worth tracking internally to measure your success in driving new business, because what you don’t measure becomes something that is overlooked.
Paul Rickett is principal of VARKeting!, a company specializing in turning liquor industry data analytics into effective business strategies. He can be reached at email@example.com.