THE 10 COMMANDMENTS FOR CIGAR SHOPS AND TOBBACONISTS
We have never owned, or managed, a cigar shop. However, with our combined 50 years of personal experience visiting cigar shops, lounges and tobbaconists throughout the country and, in some instances, throughout the globe, we have a good idea of what makes a shop appealing to the average cigar smoking patron. Both of us have owned and managed small businesses and medical practices, with the common thread we agree upon is that the needs of your customers always come first! We are becoming very dismayed at how some cigar shops are treating their patrons, old fashion customer service and cordiality being replaced by indifferene or downright rudeness. Many shops really do have their act together and we applaud you. This is for those shops that are puzzled that business seems to be dwindling and do not go out of their way to make their customers feel welcome.
To follow are The Cigar Guys Radio Show 10 Commandments (guidelines) that we believe will improve the bottom line (and perhaps the attitude) of any cigar shop.
I - THOU SHALL RECEIVE THY CUSTOMERS WARMLY
Greet everyone that enters the shop as if they are your best customer - every time. Make eye contact with the patron and smile, a subtle sign that you acknowledge their presence and are happy they've selected your shop.
II - THOU SHALL BE HELPFUL BUT NOT OVERBEARING
Offer assistance in a friendly, cordial manner, but do not be offended if someone desires to simply browse in the humidor. Informing them that they can come to you for assistance is important, but do not follow them into the humidor unless they want your help. Saying something like: "Welcome to XYZ Cigars, can I help you select some cigars today or would you just like to browse the humidor?" If they respond with "I would just like to browse today," that is when you advise them to just let you know if you can help. You've opened the door to offer your assistance, but will not be perceived as overly aggressive.
III - THOU SHALL NOT CAST A SHADOW
Do not shadow a customer in the humidor as if you think he or she might hijack some of your cigars. This really annoys cigar shop customers. A savy shop owner or manager can pretty much size up a person who they believe might be a thief, but we think it's better to keep an eye on them by doing some "busy work" in the humidor rather than by standing two feet away and mimmicking their every move. Yes, this does occur and it is quite bothersome to your customers.
IV - THOU SHALL KEEP HUMIDORS PLENTIFUL
Try to maintain a good selection of cigars, ranging from traditional manufacturers to the "hot" boutique brands. Many cigar enthusiasts would very much like to support their local "brick and mortar"shop, but often complain about poor selection. We understand you cannot stock evey cigar that comes to market, but it might be good for business if you find out what specific cigar they are looking for and stock that product. We know you cannot compete with the pricing of many .com cigar retailers, as you have many more expenses, however try to keep your cigars as reasonably priced as possible so you do not drive potential customers away once they see you are much higher than the "guy down the street." If someone asks why your prices are higher than the mail order catalogs, explain it to them. Most will understand. Discuss the benefits of your shop, ie. personalized attention, discounts for great customers, cigar events, private humidors and special events for members. Give them a reason to patronize your shop.
V - THOU SHALL KEEP THE SHOP TIDY
Keep the shop clean. This really is a pet peeve of ours. The last thing someone wants to do is come into the shop from work dressed in a suit and sit down on a chair that has not been wiped down in a week. It should be part of the daily duties of cigar shop employees (even owners or managers) to wipe down the furniture, empty and clean the ashtrays and empty the trash cans so they are not overflowing. Floors need to be vacuumed. If your furniture is old and outdated, consider purchasing some new pieces to spruce up the shop. And, by God, if you don't have an air filtration system - invest in one. Most avid cigar smokers do not like to be sitting in a crowded shop with the air so dense with smoke, they cannot see the person they are talking to or have to leave and go outside every 10 minutes to breath. And, if you have an air purification system - use it!
VI - THOU SHALL ENTERTAIN
Schedule events at your shop. Patrons like to attend cigar events, but make it worth their while coming to the events or you will lose them for future events. Perhaps offer some inexpensive finger foods, or cut up sub sandwiches. Keep soft drinks and bottled water in iced down tubs. Perhaps even offer beer or wine, if legal in your area. Provide raffle tickets to those that purchase cigars and other items and give away some of the swag that you have been accumulating for years in the "back room." Offer cigar specials, such as purchase 3, get one free. Purchase 5, get two free. Purchase a box and you get a t-shirt, ashtray or other neat item. There is nothing worse than for a patron to receive an email announcement promoting an event at a shop and, upon arrival, discovering you are not doing anything different than your normal routine - no food, no drinks, no specials!
VII - THOU SHALL KEEP CUSTOMERS INFORMED
If you do have an event, by all means promote it! We have visited a shop, one that we were (supposedly) on their email list and discovered they were doing an event with a big named cigar manufacturer. They never bothered to promote the event, other than a flyer on the counter at the shop. Maybe 8 people came into the shop over a three hour span. Not very appealing to the manufacturer whose time is just as important as yours. Send e-mail announcements, at least three weeks in advance (people need to plan out their schedules) to allow people to block their calendars. Post the event on your website. Post it to Twitter and Facebook. Send an update every week until the day of the event and event updates every day starting four days prior to the event.
VIII - THOU SHALL TREAT VENDORS WITH RESPECT
Treat the manufacturers and reps like you would your best cigar purchasing patron. Again, another pet peeve of ours. We have observed manufacturers fly across the country for an event and, upon arrival, were not even acknowledged or introduced during the three hours they were at the shop event. We have wittnessed shop owners never get up from the card or dominos table to welcome or "hang out" with the manufacturer or rep. These reps talk to hundreds of clients, via word-of-mouth or on Twitter or Facebook. Do you think they will recommend your shop if you treat them like a red headed step-child while the shop down the road treats them well?
IX - THOU SHALL UPDATE YOUR WEBSITE
Update your website! It has become the norm that shop owners/managers simply let their website stagnate, not updating it for several years in some instances. One major cigar shop that we know, does not even have a website and they wonder why business is not as good as it use to be.
X - THOU SHALL KNOW YOUR CUSTOMERS!
Get to know your patrons. While some people have a nack for remembering names or conversations, if your business software will allow notes, jot things down to refresh your memory. There is nothing a patron loves more than to be recognized (to them it translates to being appreciated) when walking into a shop. By jotting down little entries at the point of purchase, it will jar your memory the next time they come in. For example: "Hey Joe, how did your daughter's wedding go and the cigars we picked out?" Or, "Bobby how did you like that box of Rocky Patel's that you purchased last week?" Remember, your patrons are the "rock stars" in your shop and you need to treat them in that manner and not the other way around. Also, do not hesitate to recommend other cigars that would be similar to the strength and flavor profile of your customer based on their prior purchasing history. This will expand their cigar repertoire and increase your sales. A win-win situation.