Selling cigars – all smoke and mirrors?

As regular readers might know, I like the occasional cigar. The last batch I had were Montecristo No 4 – a box of them provided by a friend who should know better than to bet against me!

I was in a shopping centre in a capital city today and happened to wander past a cigar shop. They had the full range of cigars – a great selection. They also sold a large number of cigar smoking accessories. It was a well stocked shop.

In I went for a look. After having a look around I bought a lovely cigar.

That 1 cigar cost me $39 ($28 US).

And here’s the reason why I love having this web site and writing articles like this one. It goes something like this:

Mel (that’s my lovely wife) is going through the accounts:

“What’s this? One cigar for $39??!!!”

Me, sitting back in my chair, feet up on the desk, cigar smoke slowly rising from my mouth, lit cigar in my left hand:

“Research…. darling. Research,” say I.

Mel: “And this…..$245 for a restaurant meal???”

Me: “More research. Gee I work hard.”

Mel: “$345 for hookers, booze and use of the hotel jacuzzi….”

Me: “Um, errrr, ahhhh….oh yes, that was research. Lots of research….”

You see, easy!

Anyway, where was I? Okay, back on track….

I bought the cigar for $39 and the latest copy of Cigar Aficionado (another $12.95). Paid my money and left the shop.

The owner of that business could be doing it better. Here’s some tips:

Following is a step-to-step guide to running a Cigar Store. I hope the guide is useful to anyone marketing any sort of business – the principles of the marketing below are what I’m trying to get across here, not really just the specifics.

Step 1: Finding your target market

Okay, let’s start here.

Cigars are expensive. Cigars are not essential. Cigars are generally smoked by people with a higher than average income. More men than women smoke cigars.

Cigar smoking means different things to different people. And it’s usually not about the cigar. It’s more likely to be about the quiet contemplation that enjoying a fine cigar provides.

Find Premium Cigar Deals

So buyers of your products are probably going to be older (older people are more likely to a) have more money and b) enjoy the quite contemplation I was just talking about. And male.

Self employed people usually have the higher incomes.

A little more digging tells us that Cigar Aficionado has the highest percentage of golfing readership of any non-golf magazine on the market.

Now we have:

  • guy
  • mature
  • own business
  • plays golf

That will do for now. So our target market is a mature guy who owns his own business. He plays golf on the weekend.

How do we make him aware of our Cigar shop?

Magazine ads? Nope. Too expensive. Not targeted.

TV ads? Nope. Too expensive. Not targeted.

Here’s what I would be doing:

  • Sponsoring a golf hole at a local businessman’s Golf Day
  • Starting a PR strategy aimed at the business media
  • Sponsoring a businessman’s lunch

Here’s another smarter thing I’d do…

I’d go around every seller of Cigar Aficionado magazine in my city and promote a FREE contest to magazine buyers. Everyone who comes into the store and buys the magazine, goes into the draw to win a great cigar-related prize.

The magazine seller receives a great prize directly related to how many entry forms they collect.

Hey presto! I now have a good percentage of the names and addresses of cigar smokers in my city.

They’ll all be mailed the contest results, along with a leaflet on my cigar business, a FREE gift for entering the competition and a special offer, open only to contest entrants.

That special offer would be this:

  • Reply Paid card (with entrants details)
  • Brochure – “Cigars of the month club”
  • Sales letter

The sales letter would say something like this:

Thanks for entering the competition. Although you weren’t lucky enough to win the major prize, we appreciate your interest in our competition and, as a fellow cigar-lover, don’t want you to go away empty handed.

As a Special Offer, we’ve put together what we think is a fantastic surprise. All you need to do is send back the Reply Paid card and you’ll receive the following ABSOLUTELY FREE (and with no obligation whatsoever):

1 month’s free membership in “The Cigar Club” – providing you with:

  • access to all of our products at our special member’s prices (save 10% on every product)
  • 3 sample cigars per month – top quality cigars, provided with full notes and reviews
  • a copy of our monthly newsletter “Cigar Monthly” – contains tons of cigar smoking tips, tricks and reviews (perfect for the beginner cigar smoker)
  • 1 exclusive invitation to The Cigar Club’s Member’s next dinner (normally priced at $85 for non-members, you gain access at member’s rate of just $55!)
  • a copy of our exclusive book titled “Everything you need to know about cigars but were too afraid to ask!”. Yours to keep.

All that’s absolutely free and with no obligation whatsoever.

If after the month, you’d like to join “The Cigar Club” permanently we’d be delighted to process your membership immediately so you can enjoy the long term benefits of membership.

And just to really make this free, no-obligation offer sensational, we’ll discount your membership application fee by $25 should you choose to join!

All you have to do to take advantage of this great offer is post back the Reply Paid envelope enclosed as part of your ‘showbag.’ FREE. No obligation. Did I mention those already??!! ;-)

Simply post in the Reply Paid card with this letter and we’ll post back our bunch of goodies via priority mail. – so you can enjoy them sooner.

Different Places, Different Legal Issues

Now, apparently in some places there is legislation that makes marketing cigars a bit tricky. For instance, in many cities across the world smoking in public places has been banned.

And I guess having a cigar club would be a bit dull without being allowed to light up!

And, of course, there are many, many places where advertising and even sponsorship of tobacco products is also banned so some of these tips (and following tips) won’t be relevant. It makes it hard for the cigar seller.

But because this article is meant as a prompt for ways to better market your business, no matter what you’re selling, we’ll press on.

So far we have this:

  1. We have identified the target market
  2. We have identified the best ways to grab their attention
  3. We have commenced a marketing strategy (and made an offer)

What are you selling? (And it’s not cigars!)

Okay, so the first thing we’ve done is identify our target audience. It was pretty easy and would be pretty accurate (identifying your target market doesn’t have to be a 6 month project of research firms, surveys, etc).

We even wrote a quick letter to make them an offer.

In this chapter of this article, I’ll step back a bit and talk about what a cigar store is selling. It’s not cigars. Or lighters. Or cigar cutters.

(By the way, if you’re thinking this should have come earlier – i.e. in that first section, then you’re probably correct. Because I’m making this example up as I go along, rather than a well-structured article, it will come out of my head and onto the web site. At the end of it I might go back and edit it so it fits better. But then again, I might just be smoking my cigar is some great restaurant and charging it to my business account and telling my wife “It’s research baby. Research I tell ya!”)

So what is the cigar store selling?

Only when we know what we are selling can we sell it properly.

To answer the question of what the cigar store is selling, I’ll tell you what I bought when I got that $39 cigar.

Peace and quiet and relaxation for an hour.

I lead a pretty hectic life and to sit down with a cigar for an hour by myself and quietly reflect on what I’m doing or done is very enjoyable.

For others it can be about camaraderie with friends – the slow quietness of it all creates an environment of relaxation conducive to conversation.

Others smoke mainly because they enjoy the taste, some the smell and others for no particular reason at all.

Okay, now we know know why I bought the cigar. And that’s critical information. And this is how it impacts on our Cigar Store.

A tall, handsome and charming man walks into the “Bren’s Cigar Store. Let’s call him, gee I don’t know…..how about we call him “Brendon”??!

Because we understand that we’re not selling cigars (in the same way that people don’t buy exercise equipment, they buy a better body), we know what we have to do.

# 1 is a pleasant and slightly formal greeting (remember, the market is generally older, affluent people).

# 2 is our needs analysis.

  • “How long have you been smoking cigars?”
  • “How many cigars do you smoke?”
  • “What sort of cigars do you usually buy? Why?”
  • “How often do you smoke a cigar?”
  • “Where do you smoke them? (At home, in a Cigar Lounge, etc)”
  • “Do you smoke on special occasions?”
  • “What’s the best cigar you’ve ever smoked? Why did you buy it?”

Now of course, we’re not going to jump right in and ram those questions down his throat. We’d initiate a conversation around cigars and gently probe with these questions.

Example:

“I enjoyed a magnificent Montecristo # 3 a few weeks back. I was with some golfing buddies after dinner and we sat around and shot the breeze, puffed away and told each other what great golfers we were.

Do you smoke with friends much, or generally alone?”

Cigar Deals Aplenty – Know what influences buying decisions

After a while, we’d have a pretty good idea why that person buys cigars. We’d know what influences him in his buying. We’d know how best to make our offer.

So knowing why I buy cigars and when I smoke them (quiet reflective time) you could adjust your pitch to ensure the sale.

“I find a terrific cigar for those quiet reflective times to be a Ashton Heritage Puro Sol. The Ashton Heritage has a superb draw and burn and will last you your hour.

Here are some reviews written in Cigar Aficionado. Sitting quietly with this wonderful cigar, sipping a scotch would be just about heaven. Would you like to give them a try?”

With cigars, it’s about feeling good. It’s about taking time out. It’s about quietness.

Perhaps our cigar store could have comfortable leather couches. Maybe not have a retail store as such, why not create a haven of stillness and style. Could we have a smoking lounge (complete with humidor that people could buy)?

We could sit the customer down for a chat. Give them a wine or coffee. Just pamper them and help them feel good. Because that’s what they’re buying.

They’re not buying cigars.

Developing the marketing plan

Now we’re getting down to the nitty gritty. The marketing plan.

When you tell someone they need to do a Marketing Plan they generally freak out. The term seems to bring up thought of tedious research, charts, demographical analysis and lots of boring numbers.

I’ve done a million (maybe even a zillion) Marketing Plans and here’s the low down. Firstly, you need 2 things.

  • Budget
  • Goal

They’re the essential 2.

I’ve written marketing plans that are thicker than the telephone book. And I’ve written 1 page marketing plans.

The 1 page marketing plans are best by far. It’s because what is written down actually gets done. No-one wants to read a hugely complicated 500+ page document of why you should send a thank you gift to a client. Use your head dopey.

Budget

Okay, what’s your budget? The vast, vast majority of my clients say “Don’t know Brendon” or “Don’t have one. Spent all the money on the shop fit out.”

(The other thing is, clients never trust their marketing team. They assume if they say the budget is $50,000, then the bill will come to $49,998. Find a marketing person you trust.)

We’ll give ourselves a marketing budget of $5,000 plus (and I have no ideas what the margins of cigars would be) 8% of sales.

Goal

We don’t want some techo-babble, Uni Professor said this, twisted language goal. We want something like this:

“The goal is to have sales of $30,000 in the first month. Sales are to grow by 5% each month subsequent to that.”

Because that’s simple, that’s measurable and that’s achievable.

How do we figure out what we are going to do to market our Cigar Store?

Simple. First we do this. We do our research.

  • Ring up all our cigar smoking friends and ask them lots of questions about why they buy the cigars they do from the cigar store they do. Here’s a choice influence survey you can edit and use.)
  • Buy as many cigar magazines as you can lay your hands on. Start reading. Get immersed in the culture. See what sort of ads are run.
  • Jump online and search cigar stores and cigar information to your heart’s content.
  • Sit down quietly and think about what you can do.

Next, we do this. We grab a simple marketing plan – click here for a free one of mine – and start filling in the gaps.

Okay, we haven’t got much money. We’ll assume we have bought the store I wandered into the other day. It’s all set up. No-one knows about it.

Let’s get noticed

Signage:

We buy the biggest sign we’re allowed to have above our store and on the grounds of the shopping centre. Huge is barely big enough. We want really, really, really big.

Media Release:

Here’s one I just did.. Shoot that off to the local newspaper, TV station and radio station. And just for fun fax through a copy to the local Anti-Smoking office, the local Medical Association and the local politician and watch the fun begin!

Outrageous, disgraceful and controversial!

I guarantee in an hour the Anti-Smoking office, the Medical Association and the local politician would have their media releases in hand, banging down the doors of the journos trying to get their faces on TV or wherever to express their outrage that smoking could possibly be good for you.

In 2 hours you’d still be going with your media interviews.

In 6 hours you’d have tons of media coverage – TV and radio.

The next day everyone in your city would know that there is a “Bren’s Cigar Store” and where it is!

(And although that media release was written with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek, I have no doubt that with a couple of hours research I could come up with plenty of evidence to support the theory that cigar smoking=relaxation=less stress=better health!)

Magazine competition:

As mention on page 1, zip around all of the newsagencies selling Cigar Aficionado and provide entry forms to go with the magazine. A beautiful $200 humidor could be the prize for the winning magazine buyer, whilst a $200 dinner for 2 could be the prize for the newsagency providing the most competition entries.

Direct Mail:

Buy a relationship database such as ACT! to input in all of your leads. Commence a regular direct mail campaign. Here you’ll be offering things such as:

  • Educational evenings – perhaps once a month invite guests along to sample cigars and learn a little of cigar history, cigar smoking, cigar etiquette, etc
  • Cigar Club Membership sales
  • Direct sales

Web site:

Use the web site for educational purposes, positioning of the brand of the store, direct sales, lead generation, etc.

Newsletters:

Have a top quality doubled sided 2 page A4 glossy newsletter printed each quarter – distribute it to your mailing list.

Cigar Club:

As per what I mentioned on page 1 of this article, a Cigar Club could be a fabulous way to build a loyal base.

What else goes well with cigars? As I’ve already mentioned, golf does. And so does drinking. Which leads us to…..

Educational evenings:

Another opportunity to demonstrate your product. Invite all people who visit your store, every person who buys, your direct mail list, etc – and ask them if they’d like to bring a friend. Keep making offers.

Joint Ventures:

I’d approach the local quality Wine and Spirit Merchant and suggest a reciprocal deal. You’ll include his flyer with his offer to your database if he does the same.

And you’ll give a Gift Certificate for a free cigar for him to distribute to every person who buys a bottle of quality Champagne or quality Scotch.

Networking:

In this sort of business, networking is crucial. I’d be going to every function I could where businesspeople attend. Greet them, meet them and develop the relationship.

Click here to see how our 1 page marketing plan is looking now.

That’s a good simple start (and cheap)

We’ve made an excellent start and all is looking good. We would have made a great number of contacts, started to develop our key relationships and made some decent sales (that’s why we have exceeded our $5,000 budget by a little.)

To measure how we’ve done so far, use this simple Marketing Analysis sheet.

Chapter 4: Why education is the key

and how to do it so it doesn’t cost you a cent.

I was at a businessman’s lunch a few months back. I was running late by 10-15 minutes and took the last seat at the table. Everyone else was already seated and sitting there a bit uncomfortably.

As usual, I decided to eat something straight away to soak up all the booze I’d be pouring down my throat later! I reached over, grabbed a bread roll and put it on the plate to my left. Tore it opened, tossed some butter on broke a bit off to eat.

As soon as I did that all the rest of the guys at the table grabbed a roll and followed my lead.

You see, they were all sitting there uncomfortably because they didn’t know which bread plate was theirs! Left or right?? Right or left? Oooooooooh, they were so confused!

When people aren’t sure on what to do, they’ll often do nothing. It’s human nature. We don’t want to seem foolish. We want to look smart.

Who do you think is more likely to smoke a cigar when one is offered?

  1. A man who has a good general knowledge of cigar smoking. He knows how to cut a cigar, he knows how to light it and he knows how to smoke it.
  2. A man who has never learnt anything at all about cigars.

Of course the first guy is the one who’ll try a cigar (notice how I never said either of them had ever smoked a cigar.)

Us guys are pretty dopey. You know that and I know that. But we don’t want everyone else to know that.

So one of my main marketing strategies as the owner of “Bren’s Cigar Store” will be to educate my target market about cigars. Because when I do that, I’ll grow my market.

An educated market is a market that is far more likely to buy. Show us how to do it without us making a fool of ourselves and we’ll give it a go. That’s the key.

From knowledge comes understanding. With understanding comes acceptance.

What education based marketing would do for the Cigar Store

  • Raise profile
  • Build credibility
  • Position Bren’s Cigar Store as expert and informative
  • Demonstrate the expertise and quality of the store
  • Enables cost effective, long term and consistent strategy

And Here’s How We’ll Educate The Market

  • Public Relations – free
  • Seminars & Programs – free
  • Articles distribute to local magazines – free
  • Newsletters – free (or get a related company to take an ad to pay for the printing)
  • Surveys – free
  • White Papers on “How to smoke a Cigar” – free
  • Public Speaking – free

An education based strategy is usually slower at working – building brand/store awareness than traditional means – i.e. advertising – but far more effective at demonstrating the true positioning of the business. it’s better quality marketing.

The essence is this:

Keep providing something that is of value (i.e. informative) and position the Cigar Store as expert, committed and approachable.

Importantly, all information and systems developed are reusable – critical for expansion. If you develop the education material once you’ll always have it.

Chapter 5 Encouraging word of mouth – a key to success

It’s not easy in business. But that doesn’t mean you should make it as hard as possible.

The easiest, best and most profitable customers you will ever get are those customers referred to you by their friends. They are the easiest, best and most profitable for a whole range of reasons.

  • Don’t need convincing that your business is trustworthy
  • Know where you are and what you sell.
  • Don’t need expensive advertisements to become aware of you – reduced customer acquisition costs
  • Are far more likely to buy.

The list goes on, but the bottom line is that referred customers are your best customers.

Now that’s well and good. But how do you get your current customers to refer their friends?

Simple. You ask them.

Sure, it’s not always as simple as saying “Do you have any friends who you’d like to bring in?”

But it can be!

Here’s 3 ways to get your customers to refer others

  • Offer such great and exceptional service that the customer can’t help but recommend you.
  • Have a “Bring a friend for free day” – or dinner, or lunch
  • Offer an incentive for each current customer who is mentioned as referring a new customer – maybe some free cigars?

The key to generating referred business is this: trust.

The client has to trust that you’ll treat their friend well. It’s about your current client making a sacrifice – by putting part of their reputation on the line – and you not breaking that sacred trust.

If you remove that risk, then referral business will come to you for years to come. And that’s the way to build a business.