When I first decided to bring pipes and pipe tobacco into my retail store, I had no idea just how many products were on the market. Fortunately, I had manufacturers’ reps who were very helpful and patient, and they helped me to understand the importance of variety to pipe smokers. Up to that point, I was strictly a cigar guy, but once I got started, I began to appreciate the differences between enjoying a pipe and a cigar.
Although there’s a lot of choices when it comes to cigars, the diversity in pipe tobacco is even greater. There are all kinds of different leaf that go into pipe blends, and then there’s a whole catalog of processes and flavors that encompass a massive range of tastes and aromas. They come in bulk, tins, pouches, bags and cans, and, like cigars, they can be really affordable or fairly expensive. Also, like cigars, price isn’t necessarily an indicator of how much you might enjoy the product. There are plenty of people who smoke inexpensive pipe tobaccos all day long and have no desire to try anything else. Others will smoke nothing but more exotic blends, and may have dozens of tins of various types open at any given time.
But where the biggest difference lies is in the pipes themselves. There’s really nothing equivalent in the cigar side. You might collect humidors or lighters, but that doesn’t compare to collecting pipes. There are so many shapes to choose from, and a variety of materials, finishes, stain colors, stem colors and trim, that you’d literally have to own thousands of pipes to even approach owning all the styles you might like. Of course, as a retailer, this presents some real problems. We sell tens of thousands of pipes every year, but it’s still impossible for us to carry everything. Fortunately, we can easily look at what you buy most frequently to make sure that we have enough of the most popular pipes. We have about 124 different brands of pipes, and there are a number of series for each brand, plus all the shapes and finishes within those lines. Each pipe has its own “personality”, which is why we have so much variety.
As much as the pipes and tobaccos differ from cigars, the pipe smoker is not the same as the cigar guy. Not to paint with a broad brush, but pipe smokers tend to be more patient and laid-back, and among the hobbyist pipe collectors, they tend to be more interested in the details of how the products are made. A couple of pipe enthusiasts can talk for hours about how Dunhill pipes have changed over the years. Our cigar customers may hang out in the lounge for hours having a smoke and talking with friends, but they’re usually in and out of the humidor pretty quickly. Pipe guys may take hours to choose a pipe, and I understand why. With a cigar, you light it, smoke it and it’s gone. But a pipe is a companion that can last the rest of your life, so you have to be sure that you’re happy with it.
I’m happy that I made the decision to welcome pipe smokers into my store, and PipesandCigars.com, but I’m still amazed at just how different both worlds are.