November 22, 2013

Ocracoke ABC store still struggling with cash flow


The Ocracoke ABC store is once again struggling with seasonal cash flow and will certainly welcome shoppers purchasing spirits for the holiday season.

Information revealed at a public meeting on Nov. 18 shows that sales began to slow down in September, and the Hyde County ABC Board is still trying to resolve some of the finances of prior years.

“Part of our struggle is years of mismanagement,” said Meredith Nicholson, board chairperson, during the meeting.  “There’s been some kind of problem with the Hyde County ABC Board for 10 years and we’re trying to catch up.”

The budget for 2013-14, devised by former board chair Keith Parker-Lowe estimated liquor sales in the county’s only two ABC stores -- on Ocracoke and in Swan Quarter -- to be at $979,000. The reality is going to be a lot lower—by about $300,000, said Gary Davis, an Ocracoke CPA hired by Hyde County.  This is where the casting about for more cash is coming from as the board also revises its budget to send to the state auditors by next spring.

“If we get $14,000 in sales from today until the end of the month, we’ll be good,” Gibbs said at the meeting about the cash need. 

“We need additional cash-saving measures,” Nicholson said. “One of the big ones is closing stores.”
The board agreed that the Ocracoke store will be closed for three Tuesdays in December – on Dec. 3, 10 and 17, in addition to being closed Sundays, said Vicki Gibbs, general manager of both stores. 

In January and February, two of the weakest cash months, the store will be closed for two days a week. Those days will be determined at the December meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 9. 
The store also will be closed Thanksgiving Day, Dec. 25 and 26, and Jan. 1, as mandated by law, Gibbs said.  It will be open Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.

Nicholson noted that closing the Ocracoke store a couple of days in the winter months is typical.

In addition, if needed, the board members voted to reduce their own monthly stipends of $150 by $50 for a few months.  The board also will ask the Hyde County commissioners to forego a few monthly rental payments of $280 on the Swan Quarter store, which Hyde owns, until cash flow improves.  It also has asked about requiring Parker-Lowe to return by Dec. 1 about $2,000 he received in travel payments for which he did not submit receipts.

Davis is looking at more areas where the budget can be cut as well as a few problem areas.   One is that the employees’ pension fund had not been paid for two years. That amounts to about $12,000, Davis said. There also are payroll issues from 2006, 2011, and 2012, Davis said, for which he hopes to get a $3,500 penalty waived. 

He said part of the problem is the lack of professional accounting practices in the past, but he added that having Gibbs as a manager has worked well this year.

 “Vicki has worked hard to get this right,” Davis said.

 “We’re trying to get caught up, and we are current on the pension plan,” Gibbs explained in a subsequent interview.  “We’re current on everything. If there’s a penalty from prior years, we’re trying to figure that out.”

She said that overall sales have been good at both stores, but sales all depend on tourists.

Islanders will notice that the shelves are still well stocked with a variety of products.  Because the entire board—Nicholson, Glenda Williams, from the mainland, and Jim Piland from Ocracoke--and Gibbs are new this year, they are still learning the whole process. Moreover, Hyde is a small county.

“We don’t want more inventory than we can sell,” Nicholson said. “When this board gets all these issues resolved, we will be profitable, or at least not a drain.”

“If we had more of a profit, the cash flow wouldn’t be so tight, but it’s hard to project (demand),” Gibbs added about the tricky management.

“But I love that challenge,” said Gibbs, of Engelhard, who drives the liquor-laden truck to Ocracoke and unloads it herself. “I love working with all that stuff. We have a year’s worth of figures and we’ll have that knowledge going forward.”

One issue is that ABC stores cannot discount liquor below the prices the state sets. However, Gibbs recently learned that she is indeed able to discount liquor that hasn’t moved in a while, but only with approval from the state commission.

“I’m really excited about that,” she said.

“The ABC system has a lot of restrictions you wouldn’t find in a free market situation,” Davis added.

Islanders can attend the meetings held via video conference in the Commons Room of the Ocracoke School. 

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