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Some ‘hiccups’ in liquor warehouse transition, Exel says

Two weeks after the beginning of a new 20-year contract between the state liquor commission and Exel Inc., some deliveries from the Ohio-based company’s new warehouse in Bow are running behind schedule.

Steve Smith, co-owner of Dover Wine, said he waited a week from the new warehouse’s opening Nov. 1 to place an order in the new system, but he was hearing complaints of late or incomplete orders from owners of other small stores like his. He’s noticed holes in the shelves at state liquor stores such as the one in Nashua on Coliseum Avenue.

Then when the delivery company went to pick up his order Thursday as expected, Smith said they waited that morning for hours to be told it wasn’t ready. They delivered the order Friday, one day late.

“This transition got botched,” Smith said.

In an email to the commission’s clients last week that was forwarded to the Monitor, Richard Gerrish, director of sales, marketing, merchandising and distribution, said Exel is still “a wonderful business partner.”

“The warehouse transition is well under way, and with a changeover of this magnitude, there have been some challenges,” the email states. “Please be aware that the Commission has met several times with Exel and we are working together tirelessly to resolve any ordering or delivery issues that may have occurred.”

In that email, Gerrish said Exel would find its “rhythm and cadence” with time.

“The order and delivery process will greatly improve,” Gerrish wrote. “We have also addressed improved communications from Exel to you regarding purchase and deliveries.”

In a statement Friday, Chairman Joseph Mollica said the transition to Exel from Law Warehouses “has been handled remarkably well.”

Nearly 1 million cases of liquor and wine are being transferred to the new warehouse, Mollica said. That number includes 750,000 cases that needed to be transferred from Law’s Nashua warehouse to the new facility.

About 130,000 to 140,000 cases still need to be transferred from Law’s building, commission spokesperson EJ Powers said. Law Warehouses did not respond to a request for comment Friday afternoon.

“Overall, we are very pleased with the process so far,” Mollica said in his statement. “The reduction in costs to our business partners and the state is undisputable and will help us continue to offer consumers some of the lowest prices in the country.”

Maureen Adams, owner of the Wine Studio in Manchester, said she didn’t receive any communication on how the ordering system would change before the switch, and she still has not received all the product she has requested for the Wine Studio.

“I placed an order for 10 cases,” she said. “I got six.”

The transition is a “painful education” on all sides, Adams said.

“Part of customer service for me, I used to be able to tell a customer if you want a case of wine, I can have it for you in the morning,” she said. “I can’t do that anymore.”

Scott Poulin, grocery manager at Market Basket’s Fort Eddy Road location in Concord, said his store hasn’t seen any delays, though he has not heard back from the warehouse about a number of extra cases he received with one order last week.

“Deliveries have gone fairly well,” Poulin said. “They’ve arrived on time.”

Exel initially hired about 85 employees in the warehouse and 10 drivers, Anderson said. It has begun another round of hiring, advertising for a small number of full-time positions as well as some seasonal jobs.

In a statement Friday, Exel spokesperson Lynn Anderson said the company has been working with the liquor commission to ensure a smooth transition.

“While in any transfer of such a major operation, there are some opening week hiccups, but working with the State Liquor Commission, brokers and licensees, this has been a very successful first couple of weeks,” Anderson said. “We couldn’t be more pleased with the total team effort.”

(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or mdoyle@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)

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