In a little over a week I’ll mark 10 years with Pipes and Cigars, and around 38 since I first worked as a tobacconist. In the span of nearly 40 years, I’ve seen great pipe brands wither and become shadows of their former selves, or disappear entirely. I would venture a guess and say that 98% of the shops that were targeted at pipe smokers at that time are now gone. About 16 years after I started in the business, the cigar boom occurred and the specialty tobacconist became very different, with many shops springing up all over the place, but pretty much ignoring the pipe smoker. Most of those shops have closed their doors by now. The ones that cared enough to at least have a small section dedicated to pipes have done well, which says more about the loyalty of pipe smokers than anything else.
I can’t even begin to count the number of once-popular pipe tobaccos that have disappeared. Maybe even more intriguing, a number that vanished are coming back, and being met with open arms. We, ourselves, are trying to work with some folks to bring back blends that have gone MIA, as we did with Mel Feldman’s The Smoker series.
When I began my journey in this business, our premium cigar section was two humidified cases, five feet long with four rows of shelves, so our number of open boxes on display amounted to less than 50, and we had the largest variety in our area. There were probably less than 20 brands of premium hand-rolled cigars being sold in the US at that time, and most were very mild, many of them with candela (green) wrappers. Today, the mind is boggled by the number of companies, lines and shapes. You would have to own a humidor the size of a small supermarket, packed with shelving,. just to display one box of every brand, series and vitola available, and that’s without counting Cubans.
Most shops that carry pipes along with cigars allot about 10 percent of their space to pipes and tobacco, because they constitute about 10 percent of their sales. Here at P&C, we’re the exception. Pipes and pipe tobacco constitute a large part of our total business. I feel that part of the reason that’s true is the wide variety of tobaccos and pipes we sell. Maybe that’s a lesson for shop owners- expand your selection and increase your sales. We stock brands of pipes and tobaccos that most shops have never even heard of. We currently have over 1200 different blends available, and there are hundreds more out there that we either have carried and discontinued, or have never carried at all.
I suspect that pipe smoking is bigger than the number-crunchers suggest, because pipe enthusiasts often fly under the radar. As an example, if we service 10,000 individual customers in a given year. it would stand to reason that we supplied 10.000 people, right? But the truth is, many of our customers will get together with a few others and combine their orders to save on shipping costs, so the actual number we serve is probably a bit higher.
Part of the reason that we grow a bit every year is because of the number of local places to buy pipes and tobaccos is shrinking. One major drugstore chain will be discontinuing sales of tobacco products in October of this year, and they have a very popular private label line of pipe tobaccos. What are their customers going to do now? We approached the manufacturer of the tobaccos to inquire, and we were able to secure the exclusive online/catalog rights to sell those blends, so check P&C in the upcoming months to be able to buy these very popular pipe tobaccos from the comfort of your home.
Since very few things are constant, we’ve learned to be flexible and to act quickly to help you the best way possible, and we try to come up with one new way to improve, each and every day. Some ideas work great while others fail, but if we keep changing, we’ll find what you like and try to emphasize your preferences.