WSWA President Craig Wolf Addresses Crowd at Annual Convention

Las Vegas - Craig Wolf is the President and CEO of the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA).  As such, Craig serves as the voice of the wholesale industry, advocating for wholesalers’ interests with state and federal elected officials, the media, regulators and the law enforcement community.  WSWA supports legislation, regulation and public policies at both the state and federal levels that promote the responsible distribution of beverage alcohol and the prevention of underage access. 

Wolf addresses the 67th Annual Convention & Exposition at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.  His speech entitled “Change” is as follows:

During the 2008 presidential election campaign, we heard a lot about the need for change. We need to change the way Washington works.  We need to change the way Wall Street works.  We need to change the way we are fighting the war.  We need to change the way we interact with our allies. We need to change the way our health care system works.  The idea that we needed change dominated the election.

A year and a half later, at the first convention of the “Tea Party,” former Governor and Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin rhetorically asked the assembled attendees, ‘How’s that hopey-changey thing working out for ya?’

I bring this to your attention not to offer an endorsement or critique of this Administration - or the past one.  My goal in bringing this up is to talk about change as a concept in and of itself.

I have two kids, a daughter who is 14 and a half and a son who is 12 and a half.  For those of you who currently have - or who in the past had to endure a teenager - or teenagers - your life is filled with a constant, insatiable, unwavering, non-stop, overwhelming, unrelenting, “please g-d help me” desire for change. 

In the 2008 election, there is no question that people voted for change. Yet despite all the changes that have taken place over the past year and half, I’d bet that if you were to poll the American electorate today, a dominant majority would tell you that they are still seeking change - although perhaps of a different quality.

When times are difficult, people want to change the dynamic - they want to create a new reality that brings with it the hope that things will get better. Unfortunately, the change we get is not always the change we are looking for, and often the changes that occur can end up making things worse, not better. 

Everyone here has experienced the law of unintended consequences at some point in your lives.

With change, the devil is in the details.  In some instances change can be positive and should be embraced.  But change can also be destabilizing and destructive.  Whatever the characterization of change, there is no question that it is evolutionary - once change has occurred, you can’t go back to the way things were.  For that reason, we need to carefully assess the changes that are being espoused to make sure we embrace those changes that lead to success - and oppose those that would take us in the wrong direction.

Wholesalers have survived and thrived for generations because we have embraced change when it was wise to do so (and on that note - I’d like to welcome Mr. Buffett to our industry).  But we have opposed change, often vehemently, when we felt it would be counterproductive or destructive.

WSWA reflects its membership.  It too has evolved. This is not your father’s WSWA.  WSWA today is stronger, more professional and more effective than it has ever been in its 67 year existence.  And like our membership, we encourage change when it is appropriate and oppose it when it is inappropriate.

Take for example the WSWA Convention.  We envision a future where the WSWA Convention is viewed in the eyes of the world like the Consumer Electronics Show is to the electronics industry - a place where suppliers will roll out and the media will come to see our newest and most innovative products and our groundbreaking marketing campaigns.  Our industry defines innovation and excitement. Imagine a Convention where we showcase that to the world. 

Well, over the past two years, we have begun to reshape the Convention to help achieve that vision.  Last year we debuted the first annual Wine and Spirits Tasting Competition to rave reviews.  We added an exciting Mixology Competition this year.  These new events, along with our ever popular “Taste of the Industry” create opportunities for our supplier exhibitors - large and small - to show what they’ve got!  In addition to the traditional trade media, we have brought in lifestyle, mainstream, and web media to the Convention. This year’s Convention is being blogged and has its own Twitter page.

We will attract even broader media coverage next year - and we hope the suppliers in this room will continue to take greater advantage of the marketing opportunities our changing Convention offers - like Bacardi did this year by using the Convention as the backdrop to roll out Oxley Gin, to introduce new line extension Bacardi Torched Cherry, and to add Piña Colada and Strawberry Daiquiri to its lineup of Classic Cocktails.

That effort has been helped by our move to some great new properties.  Last year we moved to the beautiful Orlando Grande Lakes - where we will be returning next year. And this year we switched to the fabulous Caesars Palace, where we will return in 2012 and 2014.

We’ve also changed the format of the Convention and scheduled more value-added programming. This year’s new Opening General Session, with Governor Palin as keynote speaker, was a welcome addition to our line-up.

And we added to today’s “Industry Day” theme by creating informative breakout panels.  The first, on social media, will be led by today’s next speaker Erik Qualman.  That will be followed by concurrent panels, one on wine and spirits trends - led by Wine Market Council President John Gillespie and DISCUS President Peter Cressy, the second a political affairs panel highlighted by WSWA’s Jim Rowland and John Mercurio, Executive Editor of The Hotline.

Beyond the Convention, WSWA is rebranding itself, growing and creating greater benefits for its membership.  You may have noticed our new brand which prominently displays the W for wholesalers.  The highlighted portion of the brand is actually the chemical symbol for “Eau de Vie” - a spirit made from wine - but the beauty of that symbol is that it also highlights the central role that wholesalers play as the critical link between suppliers and retailers.

At WSWA’s board meeting on Monday, we welcomed nine new wholesaler members to the association and we brought in 18 other non-member companies to the Convention that we hope will join us over the next year.

And in May, we will roll out the new WSWA website which includes a legal module providing information on key wine and spirits laws and regulations broken down by state.

We also understand the importance of creating and fostering supplier - wholesaler relationships and WSWA is working to change the way we interact. The Convention helps build those connections, but we are also exploring a partnership - initially with other wine industry associations - designed to create an online community - a “Meeting Place” - that will connect suppliers looking for distribution with wholesalers seeking new partners. There’s more to come on that project over the next year.

As you can see, wholesalers are always ready and willing to embrace positive change.  But as I noted earlier, we will passionately oppose change that is inimical to the interests of our industry.

America’s regulated three-tier system stimulates innovation and competition and provides consumers with unprecedented choice and variety, while at the same time requiring reasonable and appropriate regulations promoting temperance, ensuring effective state and federal tax collection and creating a safe and orderly market for the distribution of beverage alcohol. It is - hands down - the best and most profitable system in the world today.  For all those reasons, we are adamantly opposed to the deregulation of the distribution of alcohol.

A few weeks ago, there was a hearing on Capitol Hill which examined the issue of deregulation.  Some in the industry have expressed concern over where that hearing will lead.  Let me be clear: WSWA supports the efforts of Congress to ensure that states retain their constitutional power to regulate the distribution of beverage alcohol and are able to fend off litigation which serves to destabilize or destroy that authority. 

But let me also add: although we may oppose direct shipping and self-distribution, our goal in any federal legislation that may come out of that hearing is not to overturn existing state laws.  Rather, we want to stop the litigation that has paralyzed the industry and those who regulate it for over a dozen years now - and return power to the state legislatures - which provide the proper forum for resolving legitimate differences over these issues - not the courts.

But WSWA is also busy on Capitol Hill addressing other areas of concern to our membership and the industry as a whole.  While we appreciate and support the need for control over the distribution of alcohol, we will fight against changes that do nothing more than create cumbersome and duplicative federal oversight.

And while we understand that we must pay our fair share of taxes (everyone here knows we actually pay more than our fair share) we will vigorously oppose changes to the tax laws or efforts to increase state or federal taxes that unfairly target wholesalers and the wine and spirits industry.

WSWA and its membership understand that change is a constant.  As the world around us continues to change, we will embrace those changes that help ensure the growth and sustainability of our great industry.  But we will also work tirelessly to oppose any changes that detract from those goals. 

Thank you."


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