• A New Skin For The Old Ceremony

    One of my favorite aspects of cigars is the ritual associated with it. Opening the humidor to choose and being wafted with that wonderful smell of aging tobacco. Carefully cutting to ensure the perfect draw. The toast, rotate, light. And most importantly, the communing with friends and letting the world disappear for an hour or so while we focus on little else but our breathing. The entire process has always felt like one big ceremony, and one thing I especially enjoy about the ceremony of smoking is that it can take place any time, any where, and for any reason. Each smoker gets to make up his own rules and answers to no one – but still gets to participate in the same age-old rite that people have been performing since the discovery of the tobacco plant.

    Over on the business side of the cigar industry, while less like a ceremony than the actual smoking in my opinion, in terms of selling we have a set of rituals that we follow closely and don’t change much. Cigars have been immune to many of the technological changes that have shaped industry in the United States over the past 100 or so years. In a world of automated manufacturing, rush-to-market products, and general innovations in most products that render the old ways laughably obsolete, cigars haven’t changed much. They are still rolled by hand, carefully aged, boxed, sorted, and banded by hand, and for the most part are even distributed the old fashioned way – by a traveling salesman going from town to town selling cigars to retail stores.

    This sense of history and tradition is one of the many aspects of our industry that makes it so unique. I have a feeling the cigar business will always be a bit behind the curve in terms of technology in general. Cigar smokers are still reading paper catalogs today while the rest of the world struggles to remember a time when getting a catalog in the mail was a thing. Cigar companies were among the last to embrace e-commerce technology – and the few early adopters whose vision allowed them to get on board with the rest of the USA still dominate online cigar sales today. Cigar smokers seemingly have just found out about Facebook and Instagram – about half a decade late. There are probably about half or fewer mobile apps dedicated to cigars than there are to any other industry of comparable size.

    So what is the conclusion here? On one hand we’ve got a timeless product steeped in tradition and ritual. Both the consumers and distributors of this product philosophically shun any advancement or implementation of new technology in the industry. On the other we have a world where new innovations allow for drastic improvements in efficiency and convenience in all types of sales. We have a culture where folks wait in line for days to pay $600 for a slightly upgraded cell phone.

    We also have a consumer base that talks out of both sides of it’s mouth. Go find a popular Facebook cigar group and ask “should I buy my cigars online or from a B&M?”. I’d bet that over 85% of the answers will tell you that shopping for cigars online is sacrilege and will bring about the death of our hobby while mostly condemning you to an eternity of burning in hellfire. However, the stats don’t lie, and those stats say a whole lot of cigars get sold online, and that online market share is growing daily. I’ve been into a whole lot of places that sell cigars. From tiny humidified closets to massive warehouses large enough to play regulation professional sports inside, I feel like I’ve seen it all. But take a guess – do you think those huge warehouses belong to B&Ms or to online retailers? Have you ever been to a B&M that needs a forklift?

    In spite of the outspoken philosophical desires to reject technology and stick to tradition, the convenience, price, and other factors shift our industry constantly. In my opinion, the simple fact that the elements of technology decried by cigar smokers have taken over every other aspect of our lives makes their embrace by the cigar industry inevitable – even if we resist and are a bit slow to adopt.

    So what does this mean for you? How can you make sure that your cigar business stays viable in the volatile technological landscape we’re currently in? My advice is to embrace change, don’t fear it. No matter what your niche in the cigar business is, adopting new technology is always a recipe for success. You don’t have to give up on the things that make cigar smoking great in order to embrace new technology. We’re not abandoning the ritual – just taking a page from the incomparable Leonard Cohen’s book and putting a new skin on the old ceremony. Look at the massive success of the first few companies to embrace e-commerce technology. Those visionaries also tended to be the first to embrace other things like social media marketing, mobile technology, SEO, and more. While you may have missed the boat on being among the first to get in on those goldmines, there is no shortage of other boats on the way. Next time one stops in your neck of the woods, don’t cling outdated techniques based on a sense of pride and tradition. Hop on board and find out where the ride takes you! Lord Knows Marketing has your ticket waiting and is ready to help you implement the latest innovations to help you sell more cigars.

  • The Internet Is Killing My Business

    Hi. I’m a cigar shop owner, and the Internet is killing my business. I opened my doors in 2003, and have been trying to make a living selling cigars for over a decade. It is a tough business to be in, and I’m here to tell all of you why cigar manufacturers need to stop doing business with those evil online cigar sites who have swooped in lately to the cigar scene and are trying to take over. The Internet is bad, wrong, and it is killing my business. Let me give you just a few examples of how the Internet hurts my business on a daily basis so you can see why it needs to be stopped.
    Just the other day, a young man who appeared to be about 23 years old came into my shop. He was dressed like a hooligan, in blue jeans, a baseball cap, and hooded sweatshirt. When he entered, naturally the first thing I did was to roll my eyes and tell him “The Dutch Masters are over there on the wall”. The 4 regular customers in my lounge laughed hysterically. He chuckled a bit, and said, “Seriously though, I really want to try a Liga Privada Dirty Rat and I was checking to see if you had any in stock”. I had in fact gotten a few boxes in, but I told him we didn’t have any because they are hard to get and I was saving them for my good customers. Plus, I know that no one under the age of 40 can appreciate a good cigar, so I suggested that he might like some Acid Blondies instead, even pointing out that they are also a Drew Estate product. He left without buying anything, and has not been back to my shop since. Turns out one of my regulars has a son that is friends with this guy, and he found out the kid is still smoking cigars but now buys them all online. Perfect example of the Internet killing my business and unfairly stealing a customer who is rightfully mine.
    The next day a customer was strolling around my walk in humidor. He seemed to be having a problem finding what he was looking for, so I went in and asked if he needed any help finding anything. He said “Well, I was looking for some Padrons, but the boxes you have look a little moldy.” I went over to the Padron section, and together we looked at a line of boxes all covered with a fine, whitish-green substance. Since the guy was clearly an idiot and had obviously never heard of the concept of aging a cigar or heard of plume before, I carefully explained the basics to him using small words. I told him how plume occurs naturally and that it meant those Padrons were extra-good. In response, he said “Well, I’ve seen a lot of plume before, but this stuff doesn’t rub off and is really tough. Plus, these boxes are sitting right under your humidification unit, and the hygrometer here on the wall says 78%. And, while I’ve seen cigars with plume before, I’ve never heard of a box getting plume, and even the wood in these boxes has this stuff growing on it.” I told him those Padrons were perfect and that if he didn’t like it he was welcome to leave. I figured that would get the sale done, but instead he just left. He hasn’t been back, and I heard through the grapevine that he is buying online now. Thanks a pantload Internet, way to kill my business.
    Like a lot of shop owners who worry about the unfairness of the Internet, I subscribe to a lot of online retailers mailing lists so I can see what stuff they are putting on sale. Yesterday was pretty busy at my shop, we were having a Tatuaje event. Tatuajes are popular and we were expecting a decent crowd. Plus, we were offering some killer specials – 25% off MSRP on any box plus a free Tatuaje logo cutter, and buy 3 get 1 free on singles. By a stroke of coincidence, I got an e-mail from Famous Smoke Shop that they were running a Tatuaje sale too – an extra 10% off their sale price! Now I know that Tatuaje has a MAP policy of 10% off MSRP, so this sale Famous was running brought the total discount to 20% – breaking the rules and giving them an unfair advantage. Pete Johnson had given me his phone number earlier in the year, so obviously I called him up to tell him about it and get him to shut the sale down. Then I had to check every other cigar site on the Internet to make sure they weren’t running the same deal. Plus, I had to constantly refresh Famous’s website to make sure the deal was removed. By the time everything was done, I had spent almost 5 hours between my multiple phone calls to Pete and checking out what my evil online competitors were doing with Tatuaje sales. And my event was over. During the event there were a bunch of customers in my shop trying to buy Tatuajes, but because of the Internet I was forced to try to get Famous’s sale shut down instead of answering their questions, talking them into more sales, and promoting the big discounts I was offering on Tatuaje cigars. The event didn’t do nearly as well as I thought it would – just another example of the Internet killing my business.
    One of the more annoying parts of my job is all the independent reps who come into the shop. They keep trying to push all these small, boutique brands on me. In the last month alone I’ve had reps try to sell me La Palina, Roma Craft, Ezra Zion, Black Label Trading Company, and a whole bunch more crap no one has ever heard of. I tell them all the same thing – come back when you guys are as big as Rocky Patel. I don’t have the time to learn about all these new cigar brands. I don’t have the shelf space to stock all these new-fangled brands when great brands like Macanudo and H. Upmann have been doing just fine for many years. These independent reps can show me all the Halfwheel reviews and Reddit threads they want to prove how good their cigars are and how popular they are among serious smokers, but unless these things are selling like Romeo y Julietas, I just don’t care. Lately, I’ve seen these “boutique” cigars start appearing in my member’s lockers. I know they didn’t get them here because I don’t carry them. I asked one of the guys about it, and he said that they had to pick them up online because I didn’t stock them. My own (formerly) loyal, locker-holding members are taking food off my family’s table by buying cigars elsewhere because the Internet is killing my business.
    In my town, there is a cigar club with about 20 local members. Great guys for the most part, and they’ve picked my shop for their weekly herf. They get together every Sunday afternoon to enjoy a few smokes and a few beers from my bar. A few Sundays ago, they all came in, sat down, and ordered up round of drinks. While they were waiting, one of the members came up to the register with nice haul of about a dozen premium sticks, he asked for a plastic bag because he wanted to take them home to rest in his humidor for a few weeks. I was happy to give him one. He paid for his purchases and sat back down at the bar to enjoy his beer. I then saw him pull out a travel humidor, crack it open, and fire up some weirdo boutique cigar that we definitely don’t carry here. As soon as I saw that, I went over and informed him that we have a $10 cutting fee for outside cigars not purchased at the shop. He had the audacity to argue about it, with his reasoning being that he was drinking beer he bought from my bar, and had just purchased over $100 worth of cigars from my shop not 5 minutes before. I asked him again if he bought that cigar he was smoking from my shop, and of course he hadn’t. I told him the rules were the rules and that I wasn’t going to stand idly by while he smokes some cigar he bought on the Internet in my shop. Sure enough, he paid up and I was happy and satisfied with the interaction. However, the next Sunday, that guy didn’t come with them and the group was a lot smaller. The guys that did come in said that he and about half the club decided to herf on his back porch instead with cigars they bought online. There goes the Internet again, killing my business.
    One of the best times of the year is the IPCPR trade show. It’s a great chance to get out of the shop for a week, get drunk in Vegas or some other warm weather location, and see all my cigar industry buddies. We all sit around and smoke cigars and bitch about how the Internet is killing our businesses. I always make sure to hit up the General and Altadis booths to score their show deals, but I always seem to run out of time before I get to the booths of those boutique guys. Wouldn’t want to cut into my relaxation time! Anyways, last year in New Orleans, a bunch of shop owners and I were talking about the different ways the Internet was killing us and how unfair it was that other companies were trying to sell the same product to customers that are rightfully ours by geography default. One of the guys said “You know what? I used to be sick of the Internet killing my business too. But then one day I read on Facebook about this company called Lord Knows Marketing. It’s run by a cigar smoker who worked in a B&M shop and for a few of the biggest online guys out there. Now he started his own marketing firm to build e-commerce websites, optimize them for search engines, execute social media and email marketing, and help small companies leverage low-cost tactics to compete with big sites that have million dollar marketing budgets. I hired the firm to build an e-commerce website for my shop, and now I’m selling on the Internet too! I’m making tons of extra money and selling piles of cigars all the time. Turns out that people spend hundreds of millions of dollars buying cigars online, and so by capturing just a tiny portion of that market I was able to double my sales volume. Plus it helped out my B&M business too because I’m turning inventory faster, getting better deals on everything I buy because I’m selling so much more volume, and have better access to rare and HTF cigars. Even my B&M customers who were buying online when they just wanted something shipped for convenience are now using my website instead of Cigars International! It was super easy, I didn’t have to learn anything new and my time commitment was minimal. He also offers a really reasonable pricing structure that costs me less than it would to hire a part-time college kid to work behind the cash register.” It was at that point that I and the rest of us got up and walked away to go hang out elsewhere. That guy is no longer allowed to hang out with us at IPCPR or anywhere else since now he is part of the Internet that is killing my business.
    I hope me writing this has convinced you of the evils of the Internet and why it needs to be stopped. It is simply wrong that I am forced to compete with a company who sells the same product as me and has a different business model than I have. Here in America, I shouldn’t be subjected to my business being killed by a company that offers the same product I do to the same customers I target, giving them the opportunity to choose which company they prefer buying from. They live in my town, and they are my customers, period. The philosophy of my business is inherently better than the philosophy behind Internet companies, and I should be treated accordingly. I hope all the manufacturers reading this will stop selling their cigars to Internet companies, and I hope that every cigar smoker reading this will realize how when they buy online, they too are killing my business. Even though what these online companies do is completely legal, ethical, and moral, I think my business should receive preferential treatment and be protected from the competition of the Internet by corporate and government policy to ensure no one else ever tries to sell cigars to the same customers that I am trying to sell cigars to. I have some more examples I could give you about how the Internet is killing my business, but if you’ll excuse me, I’ve gotta go. I’m late for a Donald Trump rally, I have to make sure capitalism continues to thrive here in the USA!