It’s the opening of the Summerhill liquor store in midtown Toronto — the country’s biggest booze emporium with 31,000 sq. ft. of retail space. The former Beaux-Art train station has been restored to its former marble-and-limestone glory by 12 months of painstaking renovations. Inside the great

hall, however, TV cameras are not eating up the building’s cathedral ceiling or antique, brass ticket wickets. Instead they are trained on a diminutive woman from the Toronto Parent Network. She and her cohorts are upset over the fact the Ontario government is increasing the Liquor Control Board of Ontario’s capital budget, while at the same time reducing the amount of money it gives to the Toronto public school board for repairs.

Chris Layton, the LCBO spokesman, steps into the media scrum. “”The investments we make in our retail network help increase our transfer dividend to the province,”” he says. “”Plus, we do not own this building. We are a tenant.””

Ok, the LCBO has shelled out some money to make its new flagship store a winner, including a demonstration kitchen, a premium tasting room and five, fancy tasting stations. But compared to the annual dividend the LCBO hands over to the provincial treasury — estimated to be $975 million for the year ended March 31, 2003 — the money it has sunk into its Summerhill location is peanuts.

“”The LCBO’s transformation has been remarkable,”” says Pamela Addo, director of communications with the Retail Council of Canada, referring to the company’s metamorphosis from a bureaucratic curmudgeon to an innovative retailer. “”Its concept is inviting and informative.””

The LCBO’s Summerhill store may be the biggest and most impressive milestone since the crown corporation began its march down the road to modernization in the late 1980s. But over the course of the last 15 years the LCBO has upgraded 150 of its 600 stores, and dedicated a considerable amount of energy to delivering better, more focused customer service to ensure it does not lose customers and market share.

Behind the scenes the LCBO has gone from virtually no automation and IT supporting its business strategy, to a progressive company able to swim along with the rising tide of technological change. “”IT is the backbone of our operations,”” says Bob Peter, president and COO at the LCBO. “”Without it, nothing works.””

However, the LCBO — a company with annual revenue of $3 billion — is different from other major retailers because it has found success by steering clear of the biggest must-have technologies. Consider the company does not have an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system — an expensive technology that automates a wide variety of business processes including accounting, purchasing and HR — and it does not plan to install one. It does not have a customer relationship management (CRM) system and does not think it needs one. Finally, the LCBO outsources virtually no part o

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