A Taste for Business: Liquor board 'wine geek' trades security of gov't job for shot at entrepreneurship

After 18 years working in B.C.'s government-owned liquor monopoly, Kevin Enns decided to step away from the comfort of a pension and regular wage in favour of entrepreneurship.

The former product consultant at the Columbia Street Signature Store now runs his own wine and spirits consulting firm.

Enns and another B.C. Liquor Control Board product consultant set up one of the province's first Signature Stores here - revamped high-volume government outlets where the focus was on high-end offerings as well as expert advice in addition to pushing millions of litres of cheap stuff out the door every year.

"It was quite exciting," Enns said of the move to the Signature Store concept five years ago.

"We were doing something new and sales were incredible."

Enns said while there was certain branding and marketing dictated by the liquor control board, there was also a sense of freedom so product consultants could tailor their offerings to their communities by getting to know the clientele.

But over time that freedom dwindled and product consultants began being dictated to from head office, Enns said.

"I got fed up with the imposed uniformity."

With considerable thought and support from his wife, Kim, Enns decided to set out on his own, marketing on a freelance basis to the clientele he'd worked with for years at Columbia Place.

That business, Viniferya, specializes in assisting restaurants and events with wine selections as well as representing liquor agencies that sell to the control board, which typically involves working at a tasting display booth right back at the Kamloops Signature Store.

He's doing what he liked best at the Signature Store - tasting, recommending and writing notes - without the bureaucracy.

Enns's education comes as a result of his time spent at the liquor control board, where he was schooled through courses accredited by the Wine and Spirits Education Trust.

While the majority of his focus, and customer interest, is with wine, Enns is also deeply knowledgeable about spirits.

He avoids the term "wine expert" and the snobbery that goes along with it, preferring instead "wine geek."

As a veteran of the government-owned liquor monopoly, Enns said he watched for years as debate has gone back and forth about privatization. He still doesn't believe it's a good idea because there will be little or no consumer benefit as government sets the price and rules through licensing.

That debate has arisen again, with news in the recent budget that the province will privatize wholesale warehouses in Kamloops and Vancouver as well as charge government and private stores the same wholesale price.

Enns said it appears the moves are bringing back the spectre of privatization. He thinks frustration rests not with the retail side, but with the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch.

He experienced it firsthand when he wanted to obtain a licence to open a 500-square-foot boutique store in Kamloops but was consistently told that wasn't going to happen.

Government has put a lid on new retailers and the cost of purchasing a licence from an existing operator is too high for a small-volume retailer who is not pushing Bud out the doors by the pallet load.

Enns remains in the early stages of his business and he's continuing to develop new ideas. A major plus is the fact Kim runs her own successful dance studio, providing stable income during startup as well as her own entrepreneurial background.

"We've got experience running a successful business."

cfortems@kamloopsnews.ca

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