smoke shop start

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mcgoven9

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#1
For a while now I have been kicking around the idea of starting my own fine tobacco shop. That also carrys roll your own and regular cigs. But I want to focus on the good stuff.

I have my eye on a building that was once a gentelmans clothing store. It has great woodworking all over the place and a big wooden staircase that will go to the future smokers lounge.

I have some great ideas, but I need help on what pipe baccy I should start on. I know i'll start with Carter Hall, Prince Albert, Captain Black, Borkum Riff, and if I'm aloud some C&D blends.

I need help on what kind of pipes to start with too. I know I'll carry Dr. Grabow, Missorri Meershaum, and a couple Peterson.

I need some ideas on what to start with. I can't go crazy because I'm just starting and I have to buy cigars, roll your own stuff, and ready-made cigs. As well as furnishings for display cases, and stuff for the smokeing lounge.

Any feedback would be great and I would like some feedback from everybody. I really want this shop to be a success. Every little bit helps.

Thank you in advance.

---Smoke well, Puff happily---
 

Mike

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#2
I don't think you can go wrong with what you mentioned already. Starting off I would get things that are known and pretty popular among smokers, to get a customer base, and then branch out from there. Good luck with the B&M, hope it works out for you.
 

Traderbob

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#3
Good luck with the store. I am certainly not a guru - but I would offer the following three comments: 1. One of the most important things to concentrate on will be inventory control. As pipe smokers we like to go into a shop and find any tobacco that we want...that just does not happen due to the amount availible. I think the idea of going with C&D would be great due to the large number of blends they have availible. You might want to offer to special order a blend for them - you might be surprised how many smokers are out there that are not internet savvy. Given the ease of ordering from even a retail site like smokingpipes.com this would not be a big problem. But...require that they pay for it prior to ordering! Cash flow is king!
2. I would move up the priority of the smoking lounge - even if its something simple (a couple of old easy boy chairs with a table between qualifies. With the changing laws pipe and cigar smokers are craving a place they can go and relax for a smoke. When I travel I check the internet for local stores to visit while on the road.

3. Marketing - You have to get people in the store. Develop a written marketing plan - even if it's just a short numbered list. After two months pull it back out to assure that you are doing the things on the list and decide if it's working for you. If not, change your method of marketing. Just putting up a sign out front will not cut it in today's market. I would use something like MS Publisher to print up some flyers, plan and advertise and "Open House" to kick off your business. Develop a concise, easy to read home page with your address and phone number clearly displayed. I am continually amazed at the sites I visit for directions and have to hunt for the address and find it in very small font at the bottom of a page. You might try posting a coupon for each month that gives the winner a free tin of the tobacco of the month -- only for the first responder. (again a way to drive customers to your store).

These suggestions may be worth just what you paid for them ... nothing. But I hope it will help. Good Luck!
 

Rugbysh9

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#4
First question - do you have a written out business plan? Second - will any of the local regulations restrict having a lounge on premisis? Third - have you prepared any operating pro forma projections (i.e. Financials)? Not trying to be a downer but I come from a banking background and you'd be amazed at how many retail ventures fail due to lack of planning
 

Tinderfoot

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#5
Other thoughts:

Marketing:

1) Nowadays, if you ain't on the web, you might as well close your doors. Spend a substantial part of your marketing budget on your website. Keep it current. Your website will require nearly as much of your time as the rest of your business, if you want it to be a moneymaker for you.
2) All your ads should have one primary purpose...to drive people to look at your website.
3) Don't neglect e-tailing.....people buy more and more online these days. And ship using flat rate USPS boxes so you can charge a fixed rate for shipping. Eat the difference if a customer's order is too large to fit in a flat rate box.

Location:

1) Know your local and state laws.........
2) Local tobacco taxes will make or break your business. Consider relocation if it means more favorable tax treatment.
3) I agree with your idea to make it as casual a place as you can...a place where smokers can come to smoke and relax will guarantee repeat trade, which is the lifeblood of any business.
4) Know your local and state laws.........
5) Ensure lots of free and easy parking.
6) Expenses spent on rent will hurt you more than anything else.....make sure you spend as little on rent as you can.
7) Know your local and state laws.........

Inventory

1) While you should stock those old codger blends, if you do not stock a much broader range of tobaccos, then you are no different than the local supermarket. You are a niche store serving a niche market....your niche must be to offer things that the big box retailers don't...and that means stocking multiple lines of tobacco.
2) You must stock cigars....modern day tobacconists make more money on cigars than pipes. That means you have to KNOW fine cigars and the cigar market. Do your homework.
3) You must computerize your inventory! Inventory management without a computer is an all day chore.....with a computer, it means clicking a few buttons and printing a report. This will allow you to order on time and also to analyze sale trends. It will also allow you keep an eye on pilferage, both from shoplifters and employees.
4) Market to your existing customers.....offer them better deals than the general public gets. They are the ones supporting your business....time to treat them like gold, because they ARE gold in your pocket.

Management

1) There is no substitute for you being present in your store for the entire day, every day, especially when you are starting out. None. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Nichts. Niente. Non. Get the idea? If you ain't willing to put in all those long days every day, don't even start. Your staff will either mismanage your business, run off your customers or rob you blind. (Most likely: they will do all three.)

2) If you are used to working a 36 hour a week union job with lots of vacation and sick time, then you got a lot of thinking to do. Working your own business will demand closer to 80 hours a week both on and off the job to make it successful, and vacations in the first few years will be non-existent. Think about it before you make the leap.

Hope these ideas prove useful to you. Good Luck!

Tinderfoot
 

Santo

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#6
As said above:

Website is a must. Look at the local smoking laws and regs. A lot of states now have a law that states you must do at least 70% of your business in tobacco in order for you to be able to smoke inside the shop.

Make sure you have capital!

santo
 

Hitch

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#7
1) There is no substitute for you being present in your store for the entire day, every day, especially when you are starting out. None. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Nichts. Niente. Non. Get the idea? If you ain't willing to put in all those long days every day, don't even start. Your staff will either mismanage your business, run off your customers or rob you blind. (Most likely: they will do all three.)

2) If you are used to working a 36 hour a week union job with lots of vacation and sick time, then you got a lot of thinking to do. Working your own business will demand closer to 80 hours a week both on and off the job to make it successful, and vacations in the first few years will be non-existent. Think about it before you make the leap.

Hope these ideas prove useful to you. Good Luck!

Tinderfoot
YUP:bing:
 

Ivycap

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#8
What part of Ohio? I live only 30 minutes from Dayton. I would be so excited if there were a decent pipe shop close by. I would spend more than I should for sure. In order to be a decent pipe shop in my eyes, you've got to carry things that no one else carries. I can get PA, CH, CB, and BR anywhere. That's not a problem. What I need is to be able to walk into a pipe shop and buy C&D Sunday Picnic without paying shipping costs or having to wait for it to come in the mail. How about Cornell and Diehl's other highly talked about blends? Epiphany, Haunted bookshop, Burley flake 1 2 & 3, Opening Night, etc...
 

Glenn

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#9
I don't know if it was mentioned or not but location will be critical. What size town are you in? If you are not in a pretty large urban area I think you are kidding yourself. Anymore a tobacco shop is a specialty shop and needs a large customer base to turn any volume. We have a little tobacco shop here in a town of 20k. It is little more than a ciggy shop anymore. They can't turn the volume on cigars and pipe tobacco to keep much of anything. They started off great guns but the market dictated they could not do much more than ciggys in a town this size.

As far as pipes go I'd look at it as price points to hit. What are the best smoking pipes for say $30-50? What are the best from $50-100? Which lines have the widest selection of styles to suite alot of needs? Are there any that are more popular in your area? I'd start with a good line for each price range. Of course, some you will want to have may have purchasing requirements that you can't meet. Just gotta hunt and find the right fit.

It'll be real easy to get overloaded on varieties of tobacco. At the same time, you have to go beyond the average run of the mill stuff IMO. If I walk into a tobacco shop and they have the same old stuff everyone else has I am probably not going to be back unless either the staff is exceptional or the prices are exceptional. I am new to pipes but have smoked cigars for years. Never fails, a new shop opens, you go in, same cigars, same prices, smaller selection and they have a real hard time getting off the ground. Of course I know you have to start somewhere and that is the hard part. You gotta have enough but not so much that it kills you.

You will have customers you earn on price and you will probably loose them on price eventually. You'll have customers you earn on service and those you can generally keep. In my experience anyway. I will pay more to walk in and buy something that is in stock and sold by folks I like vs ordering in many situations. Being a new, small shop will make it really tough to beat the competition on price, you have to beat them on service.

One thing you will find, no mater how much you have, it won't be what they are looking for. Hahaha! If it is easy to find they would have bought it at Wal Mart, or wherever- take your pick. Folks will come to you wanting stuff that is harder to get.

I have a little basis for my rambling. I owned a retail sporting goods store about 10 years ago. Had that shop for about 8 years. It was a specialty shop doing lots of fishing tackle and hunting goods as well as team sports. I could go on and on at length about getting a small business off the ground and all the pitfalls. And all the pitfalls of a specialty shop.

You are gonna be in for a ride.

Best of luck! I hope it works out great for you and I hope it is everything you dream it will be.
 

mcgoven9

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#10
Thanks for the info. Keep it comming.

I will be offering C&D blends definatly epifany (can't spell),and many others.

The financial Is going well I have a good friend who is going to help me with that he is a banker, and a pipe enthusiest.

The lounge is a focal point I want it to look like a victorian study. Red leather high wingback chairs, wood tabels, handmade glass ash trays, the works. You can borrow a smokeing jacket if you want. Every one is entiteled to a small touch of high class and pampering.

Want feedback on an idea of keeping a special humidor for prefered lounge customers to keep their purchased smoke in if they can't or don't want to take them home. They just come up to the counter and tell me what they want then they go up and smoke.

Hay Ivycap Its in Loudonville. The building I'm looking into used to be Arnholt's gentelmans clothing. If you know whare I am then you know what the building looks like.

Buy the way anyone who can prove they are a psf member will have a 10 persent discount.

I will be updating this post to let everyone know when I get the building and when the shop is going to open.

---Smoke well, Puff happily---
 

Ivycap

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#13
On second thought, who knows, might make it a road trip one of these days...

btw, love the idea of the fancy lounge with the humidors for prefered customers.
 

lastopus

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#16
As a former business owner the only thing I can add is 5 yr plan, develop a plan. Project your growth based on local population. I agree with the web advice and your going to need a savy web developer. Web business can be your bread and butter with local sales making up the rest.

I loved having a business and would have to say it is indeed an adventure and one I don't regret. Finding reliable employees that don't rob you blind is one of the biggest hurdles assuming you don't want to spend every waking moment in the smoke shop. I cant say I miss working 12-16 hour days but I was in a retail Bakery which is one step away from insanity.

Credit card machines are a must and have costs associated with them as well.

I have thought about doing the same thing but the new laws in NY make it somewhat unattractive as a startup.

Ed
 

Traderbob

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#17
When I visited Sidetrack Tobacco in Bristol, VA. I noticed that they had a private humidor just outside the smoking lounge. If I remember correctly it was three drawers wide about 7' tall with 12" x 12" doors. That was pretty cool for such a small store.
 

Wydeboi

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#18
I know nothing of the laws in other states. But, here in California you can open a smoking lounge as long as it's members only. Yearly dues etc. Then most of the onerous smoking laws do not apply.
 
#19
I just wanna say: what a bunch of thoughtful and helpful comments! Pipers ain't a kiddin' around, eh?

Good luck with the biz: we NEED more collegial venues!
 

Brian

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#20
Having done accounting work for small to mid-sized businesses for 10+ years, I would add one very important piece of advise to all the great business plan recommendations above:

Have a clearly defined exit plan and stick to it.

Owning a small business is extremely risky. 80% fail in the first year and 50% of the remaining ones fail in the first 5 years. People become so emotionally attached to making it work they loose sight of the reality of their situation. A business plan means a plan that you stick to and execute, including a set of conditions where you meaningfully plan to exit if things really aren't going to work out.

It's the last advice a new entrepreneur wants to hear because it's a runs against the dream (and the dream is very important). It's the thing I tell all friends though who talk about going into business for themselves.
 
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