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.