I am a big fan of music. Being a musician myself it is a core component of my life. Since I was raised by musicians, and both of my brothers are musicians, it stands to reason that it would be an important part of who I am. Now I want you to think about the concerts that you have been to. Picture each of them in your head if you can. See the stage, the speakers, the crowd. What is the venue like? Is it a big arena or a small club? What are the smells in the air? Who is the opening act for the headliner? These are all parts of a great concert. One component that can drastically change the feel and memory of a concert is the venue. The setting can play a major role in what that concert is like. A massive stadium concert will usually be raucous, hot, intense, tiring, and overt the top. On the flip-side, a small club with just a few seats can have a more intimate feel. These gigs can sometimes even have a family feel and bring on a much different memory years down the road.
In the case of shop events, it can be challenging for a small cigar shop. The difficulty comes in a few different forms. On one hand, a smaller cigar shop simply doesn’t have as much space for customers. Also, a brand owner would typically be less inclined to spend the time money and effort to hold an event at a small cigar shop. But brands who have a broad following and dedicated group of talented sales reps can take chances on small shop events, and sometimes turn them into a success. In late July of 2018, I spent the evening at my local shop and had a wonderful time at a small-scale cigar event.
Eric Josten opened Big Apple in the Summer of 2015. Big Apple Cigar & Pipe is located in Forest Lake, Minnesota. Forest Lake is a short drive North from the twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul, and has a population of around 20,000 people. Eric made his way in the premium cigar and pipe business over 20 years ago in New York. After moving to Minnesota in 2013, Eric noticed that the premium cigar and pipe market in the northern area of the Twin Cities area was lacking. He found a small space available in the front of a car wash and opened for business. Eric is an extremely knowledgeable shop owner who prides himself on helping his customers find the right cigar. Even beyond the nice cigar selection at Big Apple, Eric also has a massive selection of pipes and pipe tobacco. I personally have learned a lot from Eric about pipe tobacco, and he has helped me quite a bit to get my feet wet with pipe smoking. Eric knows his market, and isn’t afraid to make adjustments based on the buying patterns of his customers. He has a humidor with a nice mix of big brands from General and Altadis, but also a nice selection of cigars from the My Father factory, Arturo Fuente, and some boutique brands like Caldwell, Room 101, and Illusione.
Todd McNett is a Territory Manager with Impact Force, and among other brands, Todd handles My Father and Tatuaje sales for much of the Midwest market. Todd comes from background in the retail side of the cigar business. He was general manager at a large retailer in Arizona for a long time, and took up his role as a Territory rep after moving to Minnesota. Todd was given the distinct honor of handling the sales and marketing duties for this event at Big Apple on July 26th.
As with most in-store events, deals were offered for multiple cigar purchases along with some swag and special 3-packs for box purchases. I was excited to get a box of the My Father Vegas Cubanas. This was a brand brought to market in 2003 by My Father Cigars, and at the time were rolled at the El Rey de Los Habanos factory in Miami. For a few years they had all but disappeared from the marketplace. In 2017 the Vegas Cubanas made a comeback, but now made at My Father Cigars S.A. in Esteli, Nicaragua. It is a very tasty medium bodied cigar, with nice flavors from the Corojo wrapper. Also, I was excited to get a couple of the event-only 3-packs that are tasty special blends just for My Father, and L’Atelier Imports shop events. And of course, as a cigar fan I was happy to get some swag like a t-shirt and ashtray.
I asked Todd and Eric if events like this are really worth the trouble for smaller shops. The answer from both was a resounding YES! They each said that in-store events spark interest in a brand, while simultaneously driving sales. When an average consumer can get a deal and maybe a nice freebie, that is a compelling incentive for them. But especially when a fan of the brand can get some swag and event-only cigars to go along with that deal, it will push a single sale beyond where it would have gone before. All this, while building love and loyalty for the brand and the shop. It is a win for everyone.
So, if you are near a smaller cigar shop, ask the proprietor about in-store events. Chances are they can get you on an email list to keep you posted on upcoming specials and cigar tasting events. As a consumer, it will give you access to better prices, more special products, and a better relationship with your shop owner and favorite brand reps. Like I always say, this business is all about relationships.