Promoting Pipe Tobacco

An interview with Leonard Wortzel of Scandinavian Tobacco Group.

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STG Lane

Pipe tobacco is still very much a popular category for retailers. The challenge, however, is how to make pipe tobacco products even more appealing in today’s market. Leonard Wortzel, vice president of marketing and product development at Scandinavian Tobacco Group Lane, Ltd. (STG Lane), offers advice and tips on how you can successfully market pipe tobacco products today, and how to reach new pipe smokers in one of tobacco’s oldest categories. The following are excerpts from that conversation.

Leonard Wortzel from STG LaneTobacco Business: What are your tips for building an effective marketing team?
Leonard Wortzel: The first rule is to hire somebody smarter than you. For us, I won’t say that we’ve gravitated away from hiring people with a tobacco background, but we certainly expect a good marketer who can bring a fresh look to the categories.

In my case, these are products I’ve been staring at day in and day out for several years now. It’s good to have somebody who hasn’t had that initial exposure to tobacco as a market who can come in and look at it as a consumer [would] and be able to look at it in a different way. Beyond all of the other things you’d generally want in an employee, a lot of it is hiring somebody who can knock your company out of its complacency in the way you’re used to looking at things.

How can retailers best promote and market pipe tobacco products to
consumers?
It’s a challenge because if you’re new to the category, the product really doesn’t explain itself. In an ideal world, you’ll have a very knowledgeable staff. The No. 1 priority is making sure that people know you sell pipe tobacco. You need to create an awareness that you’re in the business of selling pipe tobacco. That’s your primary challenge.

How can people put a new spin on pipe tobacco and get people excited about this product?
Part of it is not just reflecting the pipe smoker of the past, but the pipe smoker of today. The reality is that there’s a completely new influx of pipe smokers who don’t look anything like your stereotypical image of a pipe smoker. But that’s not usually reflected in either the brands or in a lot of the marketing that’s out there. It’s usually all very old school. A lot of what you’ve got to do if you’re catering to somebody who’s just getting into the hobby is to show him or her that they’re not alone. There are plenty of folks in that 21-30 age group that are really aging into this hobby.

STG Lane Captain BlackSpeaking of the new generation of pipe smokers, how do you go about reaching new customers and people who are interested in pipe smoking?
I think you’ve got to do some of it at the pure grass-roots level. Part of it is getting out to pipe-related events because there are plenty of new pipe smokers there and people who are new to pipe tobacco who are really trying to get their heads wrapped around it.
What we’ve been trying to do at Scandinavian Tobacco Group Lane (STG Lane) is get outside of those pipe events and into cigar events where there’s got to be a crossover, such as craft beer festivals, wine events and other areas where people are experimenting with different flavors. When they get into pipe smoking, they want to go onto forums and review sites, and that’s another place where you can reach out to them as well. We’ve just kicked off social media to have a broader presence there in January. Just as with the imagery, you need to be reflecting the users who are coming into it. You also need to be speaking to them in the platforms they are truly comfortable using.

What’s the key to getting people excited about pipe tobacco?
A lot of that is getting more grass-roots and getting people interacting more with the tobacco itself. They need someone there to help them navigate through how to pack a pipe and how to manipulate a pipe. For us, it’s not just about building awareness of the hobby, but supporting the grass-roots areas that are already out there, including the pipe shows and pipe clubs.

Interview by Ben Stimpson

This story first appeared in the May/June 2017 issue of Tobacco Business magazine. Members of the tobacco industry are eligible for a complimentary subscription to our magazine. Click here for details.

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