So many of our customers at PipesandCigars.com have been with us for such a long time that it may seem like we’ve been around forever, and after some days, like just before Christmas or Father’s Day, it feels like it, too. But the truth of the matter is that 2014 marks our 15th year of operation. It actually began before that, though.
I had actually started a cigar of the month-type club with a partner, when I lived and worked in New York City, and when I returned to the Albany (NY) area, I decided to try regular retailing. So, with 15 boxes of cigars and a kiosk outside Macy’s in a mall, I began my new business. The days were long, but it went better than I could have hoped. Well enough, in fact, that I was able to secure a small storefront in the mall to get started.
I pretty much had to do everything, and there was a lot about running a business that I didn’t know, but when you’re working from open to close, seven days a week, you learn fast. As business increased, I had to bring on help, and I was very fortunate to find some really good people who went above and beyond to help the business grow.
In 1999, in a larger space than the original store, I decided that mail-order would be a good idea, so PipesandCigars.com was born. The room we used for the operation was 8 by 10, and hot to work in, because the cooling for the humidor in the store vented into the room. With the help of some of our vendors, we got underway, and found that we needed room to grow.
We purchased a two-story house about a quarter-mile from the mall so we could expand. The top floor was our lounge and offices, and the bottom floor was the retail store and humidor. PipesandCigars.com was relagated to the basement. The ceiling was low, and the space was still a little cramped, but it was much easier to work in than that tiny room. Three people pretty much ran the entire operation, and before too long, we were sending out about 80 packages a day.
The store itself did really well, and it was busy enough that we almost didn’t notice how fast the mail-order side was growing. When I bought the house, I thought we had all the room we needed, but boy was I wrong. So within a few years, we had to rent warehouse space to house P&C, and also to act as our storage unit for our rapidly growing selection of products. Aound this same time, we introduced Hearth & Home pipe tobaccos, which became a much bigger part of things than we had imagined. When Russ came on board, H&H was an experiment that we tried with our pipe club. When the members voiced their approval, we started selling the blends in the store. They really took off, so we decided to try them on the site.
What happened next took us all by surprise, mostly because of a phenomenon that we hadn’t paid a lot of attention to – online forums. A few people had ordered some of the blends, and started talking about them in the forums. This led to more people coming to P&C who had never ordered from us before. As the word spread, we realized that these chatrooms and forums were important to our growth. Russ began frequenting some of them, and it helped us grow even further.
When the store outgrew the house, we purchased a large retail store a little further down the road, and we turned it into a real showcase. After a while, we converted the second floor into a warehouse and processing area for P&C. It was equipped with a conveyor to make it easier for shipping, and we figured that we were set for quite some time. Once again, we had underestimated the potential.
About a year and a half ago, we were at a crossroads. We had grown too large for the building, again, and we would have had to jump through some pretty big hoops to get where we needed to be. Fortunately, we were able to team up with a company that had the excess capacity to handle our mail-order operation, so P&C moved to Bethlehem, PA, where a state-of-the-art facility existed that could easily handle the workload. The transition went smoothly enough, although there were some hiccups along the way, as there always will be, but we’re now able to easily fulfill orders, even more quickly than before, and we always prided ourselves on our speed.
To say that I’m proud of what P&C has become would be an understatement, and I’m incredibly grateful to all of you who have done business with us all these years. We’re working hard every day to find new products and great deals that will make you happy, Thanks for everything, and we hope the next fifteen years will be as much fun as the first.