CONCORD — To reach more out-of-state customers, the N.H. Liquor Commission is rolling out a discount program for shoppers from Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont equal to twice the sales tax rate in those states.
The NHLC began promoting the discounts on Wednesday and in 24 hours received more than 14,000 website inquiries for the discount coupons, according to NHLC Chair Joseph Mollica.
The commission’s “No Taxation on Our Libations” sale offers customers from Maine an 11-percent discount (twice the sales tax rate of 5.5 percent). Massachusetts residents, who pay a 6.25 percent sales tax, can get a 13-percent discount, while Vermonters, who pay a 6 percent sales tax, qualify for a 12-percent discount.
Customers from all other states, including New Hampshire, are eligible for a 13-percent discount. The discounts apply on a one-time purchase of up to $149.99.
Consumers can sign up for the program at liquorandwineoutlets.com/notax, and will receive one-time coupons in the mail, valid through Monday, Sept. 3.
“This promotion is the most successful of any online promotion we have done so far,” said Molllica. “In less than 24 hours, we’ve had more than 14,000 engagements from 36 different states.”
The appeal to out-of-staters comes at a time when the commission is under scrutiny for alleged collusion with bootleggers from states with high sales taxes on liquor.
Mollica says half the NHLC’s customers have historically been from out of state, and the commission’s marketing programs have always reached out to them, although this is the first time for the “No Taxation on Our Libations” program.
“We are fulfilling our statutory obligation to maximize revenue. That’s what we are here to do,” he said. “We’re an economic engine and we run like a business. We can’t back away from the opportunities to raise revenue.”
That engine has been sputtering a bit. The commission missed its revenue targets in two of the past three fiscal years, as it invested heavily in construction of new stores with an outlet theme while facing a new level of competition from merchants in neighboring Massachusetts.
The Bay State changed its laws to allow a single business to hold multiple liquor licenses, setting the stage for big players like Total Wine & More to open stores with competitive pricing – something New Hampshire liquor stores never had to worry about until recently.
The NHLC missed its legislatively assigned revenue goal for fiscal year 2018, which ended on June 30, by $6 million.
“We are working with the governor on the upcoming budget to make sure that our revenue projections moving forward are accurate,” said Mollica. “And that the numbers represent what the liquor commission is able to produce, rather than an elevated number we can’t substantiate. Accurate numbers are the most important thing to the governor and legislators I speak with, and those are the numbers we are trying to produce.”
The commission chair makes no apologies for the huge investment in opening big new liquor outlets throughout the state, which some in Concord have pointed to as a drain on profits.
“Over the last six or eight years we have invested in our infrastructure, something that was sorely lacking in the past,” he said. ”The mindset behind that is to have the liquor commission around to provide revenue to the state for another 85 years.
“Had we not created the outlet brand, the look, the feel, we would be lacking in sales even further. So I feel quite frankly we are ahead of the game, and started to innovate in a timely fashion.”