Duplicates of fine artwork can be purchased at flea markets, but there is still a need for art galleries. I can buy shoes and bags from the guy on the corner near my office, but there is still a need for specialty stores that exclusively sell and know those products. Why? Because there is no substitute for the real thing, for knowledge, principle, passion and authenticity…for Tobacconists.
While many establishments are capitalizing on the new cigar boom by making a buck selling cigars, now more than ever is the time to patronize true brick and mortar cigar shops where the employees possess a certain amount of knowledge and passion for premium tobacco. As stores pop-up daily with cheaper than cheap prices and products, the people in the trenches that make a living educating consumers about premium cigars and tobacco are finding it increasingly difficult to meet their bottom lines.
For every gas station, corner market or liquor store that now boast of having a walk-in humidor, there’s a B&M that is losing that profit, missing out on a meeting with a cigar representative and not being able to get that particular product in their store.
While the cigar business is a business, I can’t necessarily blame their decision makers for wanting to get more exposure and product into the marketplace. But how premium does a product seem when it’s housed next to a donut and a Skittles display? Is there such thing as too much exposure and access? Does more access cheapen a cigar brand? These are questions that I cannot definitively answer, but there is something to be said about the aficionado that supports not just the brand but the tobacconists, the dedicated individuals that help to further said brand. There is a difference between the employee or tobacconist that can sit with you and articulately discuss the latest in the industry versus the employee that sells a stick and turns your gas pump on.
As more and more people begin to enjoy cigars, especially socially or in areas where B&Ms may not be nearby, there is a need to be able to quickly and conveniently purchase a cigar on the go or on the fly. But purists believe that enjoying a cigar is not a quick, convenient, on-the-go type of lifestyle. It requires deliberate research, not happenstance and a need to add-on to my lottery ticket purchases. It requires discussion and experience, not just being able to read the name and description on a glass door.
There is still something to be said for individuals that can assist in selecting a cigar or pipe tobacco based on your personal tastes and past experiences. It’s important to have people available to identify needs and help with issues; to be able to blend your pipe tobacco or repair your pipe; to teach and assist with proper maintenance of humidors and lighters. To maintain the nostalgia and sacred order that is the cigar lifestyle.
When someone tries his or her first cigar from an inexperienced retailer, an under/over humidified corner of a store or with another uneducated consumer, the likelihood of having a positive experience diminishes. That is one more brother or sister that will most likely not try another…and another. That’s one less consumer that will help to build the cigar industry. That’s one more advocate for cigar rights that we don’t have on our side. That’s one more consumer that we’ve potentially lost forever.
Like we’ve been told all of our lives, we must be careful what it is that we ask for…and we can’t always have things both ways. We can’t expect people to be brand ambassadors for our companies when we afford other non-committed retailers the same (and sometimes better) privileges as those that study, eat, sleep and breathe (literally) all things premium tobacco. We can’t want convenient and cheap but then holler about premium cigar rights being taken away. We can’t say that our beloved cigars are better/different than cigarettes yet allow them to be sold alongside Vantage Lights and Jolly Ranchers. Can we? Premium products deserve to be housed and sold in premium establishments by tobacconists that live them, to maintain the reputation and standards of our industry. Otherwise, we might as well be purchasing our cigars from some dude’s trunk or from vending machines. Because when brick and mortars have to compete with “convenience” and a quick, easy buck, they risk becoming extinct. And once they’re on that endangered species list, it will be harder for aficionados to get them off of it.