Last weekend, Durham Distillery posted a simple plea to its Facebook page
. All Durham County ABC stores, they wrote, had let both the distillery’s Conniption gins
go out of stock for weeks. Not only could hopeful customers not buy the local, award-winning gin
, but neither could bars like Alley Twenty Six and Counting House, which feature the gins in their cocktails. Durham Distillery asked its supporters to call or email the Durham County ABC to, in turn, ask for the products to be restocked.
“It seems to have been a perfect storm of variables for Durham ABC, but none of it was intentional or with any malicious undertones,” says Melissa Katrincic, president and CEO of Durham Distillery. “The worst part of this for us was hearing that consumers were being told or were assuming that the out-of-stocks were because we couldn’t keep it stocked, and that Durham Distillery was to blame.”
If Durham Distillery was to blame at all, it would have been for putting too much faith in the system and assuming everything was on track, if slow. but why was this happening?
Katrincic, who runs the distillery with her husband, Lee, said the Durham ABC’s last re-order of Conniption gins from the Raleigh warehouse (which was well-stocked with their gins) had been in February. They thought it was a little odd, but they’d heard that February through April were historically slow months for gin sales. Meanwhile, the Wake and Orange County ABCs were placing orders three to four times a month.
They decided to spend this slow period meeting with new bars and restaurants and holding distillery tours, assuming the orders would start coming in soon.
By mid-April: still no orders. It had been more than 60 days.
“Lee and I were beginning to think something was up and began wondering if our gins were not selling in our home county,” Katrincic says.
They suspected that it might have had something to do with a general manager transition at the ABC Board or a price promotion that would go into effect in May. Katrincic finally got on the phone toward the end of April, but no one would return her voicemail. When Katrincic emailed the board a week later, she had a “very positive” email exchange that indicated that a computer glitch was to blame for the snafu. She was told the ABC’s computer system needs a whole year’s worth of sales data on a product to flag it for re-ordering. Durham Distillery had only begun selling its products last October.
But the store manager of the ABC Store on Hillsborough Road told her he’d been trying to order five cases of each of the distillery’s two gins for the last month. (Wayland Burton, the chair of the Durham County ABC Board, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.)
“Even if the computer glitch is the reason, why weren’t the stores getting their orders?” Katrincic says. “I was quite discouraged.”
But on May 4, Durham Distillery received word that Durham ABC had ordered twenty cases of the Conniption American Dry gin from the warehouse. Still, by the weekend—a big local drinking weekend, with the Kentucky Derby, Mother’s Day, Art of Cool Fest, and UNC graduation—none of those bottles had made it into stores or onto local bars’ shelves. Counting House took its “I-95” cocktail off its menu because they’d run out of Conniption. This was the last straw for Katrincic, who drafted a plea
asking the distillery’s supporters for help.
“We felt that without the Durham community’s help, we were going to continue to get lost in the shuffle,” she says. “Our concern and frustration was that this should have been addressed in a matter of a few days and it wasn’t. We’re glad we asked for help; the response of our fans was amazing.”
You may wonder why Katrincic didn't just show up with the gin herself. Though a new law passed last fall now allows distilleries to sell one bottle per person per calendar year on-site, they can’t sell any to stores.
“We can’t deliver our cases directly to Durham [ABC Stores] or help them put them back up on the shelves. Trust us, if we could have, we would have,” she says.
The good news is that, after that weekend’s rallying cry, those twenty cases of American Dry gin and another order of the Navy Strength gin came through on Monday. So, crowdsourcing their frustration helped. Who knows how long the gins would have sat in the warehouse otherwise. It’s unfortunate, however, that the gin had to sit in the warehouse at all.