Travis Hill to step down as Va. ABC's CEO; Hill joined agency in 2014, led 2018 transition to authority
Virginia Business - PUBLISHED SEPTEMBER 28, 2023BY KATE ANDREWS
Travis Hill, CEO of the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority, announced Thursday he plans to step down from his post at the ABC, where he's worked since 2014.
Hired nine years ago as the Virginia ABC's chief operating officer, Hill became CEO in 2018 after managing the former state department's transition to a semi-independent authority with more autonomy, Over the past nine years, the ABC has brought in more than $4 billion in profits and tax revenue to the state, according to Thursday's announcement, and it moved its headquarters from Richmond to Mechanicsville in Hanover County.
Starting in 2018, the Virginia ABC surpassed $1 billion in liquor sales each year and broke sales records each year of Hill's tenure as CEO. In fiscal year 2023, the authority exceeded its gross revenue from the previous year by $54 million, with $1.4 billion in sales.
However, Hill also presided over the authority during a period of recent controversy. In June, reports emerged that employees embezzled money from seven ABC stores last year, taking advantage of a cash register system vulnerability. A September 2022 audit uncovered the thefts, but ABC leaders said they didn't learn about it until February 2023. Four higher-up employees were later placed on leave, but it's unclear if that was connected to the thefts. Still, ABC's board chair, former state Del. Tim Hugo, expressed perplexity over how agency leaders could be unaware of the problem for six months.
During a town hall meeting Thursday, Hill said, "Joining Virginia ABC in its prior form as a department and then leading its transformation to an authority was an honor as I learned about our unique place in Virginia's government as a source of revenue and regulation. We held commitments to generating profits through the responsible sale of spirits while ensuring public safety by enforcing regulatory standards that afforded a fair marketplace.
"Our unique organization had many partners, thousands of employees and responsibility for an industry that has not one, but two, constitutional amendments dedicated to its operations. Together, we transformed into a modern governmental authority, building a distribution center that supports creative retail offerings through the promotion of products that come from every corner of the world and this commonwealth."
Hill did not disclose what his plans are going forward, saying only, "I look forward to new challenges ahead where I can apply the lessons I've learned while working with you."
Under Hill, Virginia ABC managed changes in the sale of alcohol during the COVID-19 pandemic, when state policies allowed the sale of mixed drinks off-site by restaurants, a move that kept some Virginia eateries afloat during the shutdown, when they were limited to carryout and delivery options. Also, Gov. Glenn Youngkin's administration was displeased with a decline in revenue the authority was bringing to the state, according to a Virginia Mercury report in July. In an ABC board meeting, the state's chief transformation officer reportedly noted that the ABC's operating costs grew since 2017 as did sales, but not to the same degree, and the authority's contributions to the state declined from 2021 to 2023.
According to an ABC spokesperson, Hill's last day will be Nov. 10, and Chief Law Enforcement Officer Thomas Kirby will serve as interim CEO. Kirby, according to his bio, joined the ABC as a special agent in the bureau's Hampton and Richmond regional offices in 2001, and previously served as a police officer in Newport News and Hampton.
Hill previously served as state deputy secretary of agriculture and forestry before joining the Virginia ABC. He is currently president of the National Conference of State Liquor Administrators and is a graduate of the University of North Carolina, from which he received his bachelor's and law degrees.
Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority (ABC) has earned the Overall Best Practices Award from StateWays magazine, the only national magazine devoted to the issues and subjects that affect the 17 states and multiple local jurisdictions where government manages the sale and distribution of distilled spirits at the wholesale level.
This is the third such recognition for Virginia ABC in the last decade.
StateWays recognized Virginia ABC’s innovations in five categories:
• Best Distribution/Warehouse Innovation
Team W.O.W. (Warehouse Optimization Workgroup) implemented 54 ways of enhancing operations and logistics; people, performance, and culture; safety and enforcement; and communications and training. The effort led to an increase in cases packed per hour; an increase in cases shipped per day; a reduction in staff turnover; and a record 146 days without injury.
• Best Enforcement Program
Virginia ABC Licensing (VAL) allows licensees to apply for, renew, modify and surrender any license online. Additionally, VAL processes all fees and fines online, eliminating the need for people to drive to an ABC regional office. The system was developed to replace a largely paper-based system.
• Best Technology Innovation
A dedicated call center has improved the Authority’s phone call answer rate from 60% to 97%. Improved, quality service has led to more incoming calls, an estimated 33,000 this year. The call center also features data tracking and metrics that were not previously available.
• Best Licensee Outreach Program
In response to a change in state law, the ABC Community Health and Engagement Division developed the Responsible Alcohol Delivery Driver (RADD) training. This 45-minute online training educates licensees and alcoholic beverage delivery drivers on delivery best practices. More than 15,000 people have taken the training, with 89% of survey participants agreeing the training was relevant to their job duties.
• Best Retail Innovation
To create an equitable way of selling allocated products (primarily bourbons), Virginia ABC created the drop system. Store locations and times are randomized, and once a drop occurs, store employees receive a five-minute heads-up notifying them that a range of products are now available for sale. Shortly after that, Virginia ABC announces the drops to the public via email and social media. Products are then made available to customers on a ¬first-come, ¬first-serve basis, with a limit of one product per person. Earlier this month, Virginia ABC added text notifications for drops.
StateWays’ editorial staff judged all award entries and deemed the totality of Virginia ABC’s entries deserved the highest recognition.
“This award from StateWays recognizes our commitment to accountability, service, integrity and performance excellence,” said CEO Travis Hill. “Earning this honor speaks to the incredible teamwork that is part of our culture and values. I am thrilled to be a part of such an incredible team that has accomplished so much in service to the commonwealth.”
"We’re proud to recognize the Virginia ABC as our Best Practices Awards Overall Winner for 2023," said Jeremy Nedelka, StateWays magazine vice president. "The agency is our first three-time winner, repeating an achievement from 2015 and 2021. Our judges chose Virginia as the ‘Best of the Best’ due to innovation and operational excellence across a number of areas, including distribution, technology and licensee education."
The fall 2023 digital edition of StateWays is available at this link.
News Release Contact:Virginia ABC Communications - (804) 213-4413
August Free Press - Crystal Graham, Published date:September 16, 2023
Miss Virginia Katie Rose will promote healthy choices and substance use prevention to students in Virginia elementary schools as part of Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority’s Miss Virginia school tour program.
The Miss Virginia Organization and Virginia ABC share the combined goal of educating students about making positive decisions to better prepare for success.
Supported by the Virginia ABC community health and engagement mission to prevent high risk and underage alcohol use, Miss Virginia educates elementary school students about the risks of alcohol and other drug use. The tour is funded by a $17,500 ABC grant and features several program options for elementary schools across the state, which can participate in person or virtually live.
A George Mason University graduate, Rose earned a law degree from the University of Richmond this year. As Miss Virginia, she plans to also champion her social impact initiative focusing on raising awareness for domestic violence and keeping individuals safe.
Rose feels that ABC’s campaign to prevent substance abuse underscores her commitment to improving the lives of children in dangerous circumstances.
“I know that I want to encourage and have a platform for every child to make healthy choices for themselves and feel that they have a safe place to come forward if they choose to do so,” said Rose. “Substance abuse prevention efforts must begin in Virginia’s elementary schools.”
Since 1953, the Miss Virginia Pageant has provided a platform for young women to advocate for causes and issues important to them. Virginia ABC has a long-standing partnership with the Miss Virginia Organization.
Last year’s Miss Virginia, Victoria Chuah, visited 67 elementary schools reaching 18,369 students promoting healthy decision making and leadership through the Miss Virginia school tour program.
“Virginia ABC and the Miss Virginia Organization have collaborated to meet students where they are with age-appropriate information about drugs and alcohol to protect them from dangerous behaviors as they grow older,” said Virginia ABC community health and engagement director Katie Crumble. “This early communication sets the stage for a lifetime of promoting health and safety by being informed, approachable and good leaders.”
School programsMiss Virginia provides the foundation and encouragement for young students to understand healthy choices and be aware of the harms of substance use.
The Miss Virginia school tour messaging aligns with the Virginia Standards of Learning of Advocacy and Health Promotion, Essential Health Concepts and Healthy Decisions focusing on substance use prevention as outlined in the SOLs. In accordance with these standards, two versions of the presentation based on grade level (Kindergarten-first grade and second-fifth grades) are available.
Each student who participates in the program receives a copy of Virginia ABC’s educational health and safety activity workbook. The workbook encourages powerful connections when a teacher or caregiver shares the experience of completing the book with a child. Workbooks will be shipped to each school prior to the scheduled visit.
Virginians have a new option to learn when high-demand bourbons and other spirits are available for sale. On September 12, Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority (ABC) will introduce text notifications for limited availability product drops.
Customers can sign up for drop notifications by texting the keyword DROPS to 80424. Users will have to attest they are 21 years of age or older.
Spirited Virginia email notifications for limited availability product drops will continue. However, beginning October 15, limited availability product drops will no longer be posted to Spirited Virginia’s social media platforms (Facebook and Instagram).
Virginia ABC instituted the drop system in April 2022 to create an equitable system for distributing dozens of spirits (predominantly bourbon) for which demand exceeded supply. While stores receive limited availability products during normal shipments, these are not available for purchase until the drop notifications are distributed.
Timing and stores selected for drops are randomized to discourage people from lining up in or around stores. Store staff are given a brief window to prepare for the event before the public is notified about the drops. All limited availability products are one per customer per day, which helps more customers access them.
Virginia ABC also sells rare spirits through online lotteries and during in-store barrel pick events.
Customers who wish to receive text notifications agree to the following terms and conditions:
By subscribing to Virginia ABC SMS (Short Message Service) text messages, you agree to receive recurring autodialed marketing and promotional messages, including but not limited to messages regarding limited availability product drops, at the mobile phone number(s) used at the time of opt-in. Consent is not required as a condition of purchasing any goods or services.
• You must be 21 years of age or older.
• Message frequency may vary per month.
• Message and data rates may apply.
News Release Contact:Virginia ABC Communications - (804) 213-4413
Tito's Handmade Vodka is top brand for 6th year
Virginia Business - PUBLISHED AUGUST 31, 2023 BY COURTNEY MABEUS-BROWN
Tito’s Handmade Vodka notched its sixth year as the commonwealth’s most popular liquor at Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority stores in fiscal 2023.
According to VABC, the Austin, Texas-based craft vodka accounted for $72 million in sales in fiscal 2023, up $5.1 million over the prior year. Tito’s out-guzzled other spirits by a long shot; Hennessy VS cognac ranked No. 2 in sales at $44 million, Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 whiskey chased behind, ranking No. 3 at $30.1 million, followed by Patron Silver tequila, at $28.6 million, and Jim Beam straight bourbon whiskey, which accounted for $24 million in sales.
Among the top 10 best-sellers, Jameson Irish whiskey rose to No. 6 and Maker’s Mark straight bourbon remained at No. 7. Crown Royal Canadian whiskey dropped to No. 8, Grey Goose vodka rose to No. 9 and Lunazul Blanco tequila joined the top 10, rising 10 spots to No. 10. Fireball whiskey fizzled, dropping to No. 14. The spirit, which has been among the state’s top 50 products, saw the year’s largest decline at 18.4%, with total sales dropping by $3.2 million.
The best-sellers list, released Tuesday, follows a report of record revenues for ABC in fiscal 2023. The authority topped off at $1.47 billion in gross revenues last year, up $54.3 million over the previous fiscal year.
Among Virginia’s top-selling categories for fiscal 2023, vodka led at 1.64 million cases sold, followed by tequila at 885,876 cases, an 18.4% increase from the previous year. Tequila, which grew from an 11.8% to 13.7% market share, shot past straight bourbon whiskey, which accounted for 780,777 cases in fiscal 2023, followed by cordials/liqueurs at 514,517 cases and rum at 470,292 cases.
The fastest-growing categories were moonshine at 25.6%, tequila at 18.4%, specialty drinks (such as gift sets) at 14.8%, domestic ready-to-drink cocktails at 10.1% and straight rye whiskey at 9.8%. The biggest declines were seen in Cognacs/Armagnacs at 14.6%, and Canadian whiskey at 10%. Sloe gin grew 64% but is Virginia ABC’s smallest category, with only 141 cases sold.
Sales of Virginia-distilled spirits increased to $24.1 million in sales, with more than 1 million bottles sold. Top sellers in that category included Bowman Brothers Virginia straight bourbon, at $1.6 million, Cirrus Vodka at $1.2 million, John J. Bowman Virginia straight bourbon, with $841,852 in sales, Isaac Bowman port finish whiskey at $623,848 and Virginia Highlands War Horn Whiskey, which accounted for $446,898.
Virginia ABC added four stores in fiscal 2023, bringing its total to 399.
Here are the top five stores by gallons sold: