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Commentary: Five Ways to Get Me to Take My Cigar Business Elsewhere

8 Jun 2011

Here at StogieGuys.com we’re staunch supporters of local cigar shops. It’s through local tobacconists that most cigar smokers take the first step into the “Brotherhood of the Leaf.” Brick and mortar cigar shops (B&Ms) are the lifeblood of the cigar industry.

The good ones have their own personalities and a wonderful group of friendly regulars. But not every shop is great, and most have room to improve.

I’ve walked into enough cigar shops over the years to know that certain things frustrate me enough that they make me want to take my business elsewhere, sometimes never to return. If you’re lucky, here are five things you’ll never experience at your local shop (and if these sound far too familiar to you, it may be time to find a new place to buy your cigars):

Up Sell, Up Sell, Up Sell. I realize tobacconists exist to make money, but automatically steering every customer who comes off the street towards that $18 Davidoff or $30 Opus X isn’t just obnoxious, it’s short-sited. Occasionally, people really are looking for that once-in-a-decade, money-is-no-object smoke, but more likely they already have a price in mind, so why not just them what they want to spend and then start from there? If I say I’m looking to spend $5 and you give me a few suggestions including one that costs $7, that’s fine, understandable, and probably even helpful. But if you’re pushing $15-20 smokes and I feel embarrassed for only wanting to spend $3-4 on a cigar, then I won’t be back.

Stop BS’ing Me. Following cigars as closely as I do, I’ve developed a keen ear for cigar BS. Despite what you tell me, that house blend cigar you’re hawking certainly doesn’t taste just like a Cuban Cohiba, and just because it’s box-pressed and maduro doesn’t make it a dead-ringer for a Padrón Family Reserve 45. Further, just because you don’t carry a certain cigar doesn’t mean it isn’t made or has been discontinued. Maybe most people don’t catch on immediately to the fact that you’re full of it, but later on in the day when they google that cigar you told them isn’t made, they’ll realize you were fibbing just to make a sale. So here’s a simple rule: Know what you know, and admit if you’re not certain about something. Ultimately, that’s far better than a customer finding out later that he has been lied into spending his hard-earned dollars.

Keep it Clean. Dirty hygrometers, lots of cracked wrappers in the humidor, full ashtrays, overflowing garbage cans, and dusty cigar boxes are far too common in some shops. A messy B&M makes me think the employees don’t care about their shop or their product, which makes me wonder if I should either. As a cigar consumer, I’m investing, in part, in the fact that you’ve cared properly for the cigars I’m buying, so make sure it’s clear you value your merchandise. And while you’re sprucing up the place, is it too much to ask for wooden matches (as opposed to paper ones doused in lighter fluid) when I just dropped a 20-spot on three cigars?

Lazy or Hostile Service. While regular visitors to a cigar shop almost always get a warm welcome and full service, a better test of a good cigar shop is how its employees treat the new customer who walks in for the first time. Are strangers welcomed and offered assistance, or do they just get a quick “hey” before being ignored so the shop employee can go back to talking with the regulars? On the other side of the coin, there’s nothing worse than overbearing shop workers who treat you like a criminal. (I realize theft is a concern in many shops, but there are ways to deal with this that don’t involve shadowing a customer’s every move after they’ve just told you they’re just browsing.) You never know who might be your next regular customer, so treat every customer like they’re likely to return a few times every week.

Badmouthing Cigars. People have strong feelings about cigars. Despite this, why do some cigar shopkeepers feel the need to badmouth products they don’t carry? I don’t need you to tell me that “brand A” is overrated or “brand B” is overpriced. If I asked about a cigar it’s probably because I like it or heard good things. Bluntly telling me I’m wrong is insulting. Suggestions for alternatives are welcome, but talking down a cigar you don’t carry is unnecessary and rude.

While supporting good local cigar shops, particularly those who support our rights as cigar smokers, is the duty of cigar enthusiasts, we have no obligation to support shops with poor service. Not coincidentally, the shops that are most active fighting for cigar rights are rarely offenders when it comes to the above list.

Local cigar shops have plenty of competition from internet and mail-order shops. Still, I’m convinced that, even with lower volume and higher taxes, they can compete and even thrive when they focus on taking care of every customer and avoiding the pitfalls listed above.

Patrick S

photo credit: Flickr

Drew Estate

8 Responses to “Commentary: Five Ways to Get Me to Take My Cigar Business Elsewhere”

  1. Jinby Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 3:48 am #

    As a former store manager and a former sales rep, I can say you're spot on here. Unfortunately, this describes MANY stores. Especially, hostile service. The cigar industry tends to attract some "different" personalities. Many times those eccentric personalities are fantastic and generally friendly, however there are many store owners and employees who really shouldn't be interacting with people at all.

  2. EdMac Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 6:11 am #

    An excellent post about what to expect from a cigar store.

    I am fortunate to have one that avoids all the things that you mentioned. The evidence that they are doing all the correct things is in the opening of new stores. The one thing that this store has that you didn't mention is the owners are a constant presence and they greet customers as soon as you walk in the door (the employees do this also).

  3. Patrick Ashby Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 8:43 am #

    Let's also remember that cigar shop patrons have a duty to be good-mannered customers. George E wrote about this in an article in February. Among his good suggestions: Don’t bring cigars you bought elsewhere into a B&M to smoke.

    http://www.stogieguys.com/2011/02/02222011-stogie-commentary-manners-dont-require-a-raised-pinkie.html

  4. Kyle Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 8:47 am #

    Agree with Jinby. I am in sales and have ran multiple stores in my time, and these are practices that people frown upon in most markets – not just the cigar market.
    I walked into the local cigar shop in my town a couple of months ago, and there was an older gentleman shopping for a cigar. He gravitated to the Cohiba section, and started asking the shop owner about the Siglo VIs. The owner quickly started in with how these cigars are so good because they were Fidel Castro's smoke of choice. My friend and I started laughing, mentioned that this was impossible seeing as they were only brought into production in 2002 and Castro stopped smoking in the 80's, and left. I will never set foot in there again for that reason.

  5. TheLEAFCigarLounge Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 4:42 pm #

    Patrick,

    AWESOME article and spot on! There's no room nor should there be any tolerance for such behavior. Thank you for taking the time to bring attention to a very important topic/issue.

  6. Johnny V Friday, June 10, 2011 at 1:09 am #

    These are some great points. There’s a shop in my area that I try to avoid because every time I go in there, they try to sell me the same house brand I didn’t want last time. They also have some Rocky Patel Cuban Blends from Famous that they try to pawn off as limited editions for $10 a piece! I really want to call BS on them when I go in there because to me there’s a difference between trying to make a living and ripping people off and this place is ripping people off. I actually go in there for fun every now and then just to see what they’re latest scam is. I think people like that give this hobby a bad name.

  7. Gary Friday, June 10, 2011 at 11:43 am #

    What a great article, really enjoyed reading it and can certainly relate to a lot of it. Let me tell you quickly about two totally different experiences I've had in cigar stores.

    When on honeymoon in Hawaii (Honolulu) I visited a number of cigar stores. I went into one with my wife, which as pretty poor to be honest, however there was a number of guy's in there just relaxing, eating and smoking cigars, just shooting the breeze. I stated that I was looking for some Tats, but unfortunately the store owner didn't have any (or much of anything else for that matter), however one of the guy's there was the manager of another store (JR Field Wine company) who very kindly offer to run me and my wife in his car to his store in order so that I could get some cigars that I had been looking for. He had an excellent seletion of all of Pete Johnson's brands along with all the other major brands and didn't mind standing assisting us, answering questions until I had finished. Not only that but after I had paid and was ready to go, he unbelievably insisted on taking us back to our hotel – what fantastic customer service that I have never experienced anywhere else!

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