Some retailers worry about what their competition stocks, believing too much of a product in a particular city or region makes it harder to sell. This is not the case at Spring Street Cigars because the focus is never put on what others are doing.
“We really aren’t looking at other humidors,” Higgins explains. “We know what’s successful for us. We’ve done our due diligence in each area before opening a store there, so we’re very straightforward in terms of what we do and not really comparing ourselves to someone else.”
Daher warns other retailers about getting too caught up in competition as there’s no guarantee that a so-called competitor is doing things the right way or better than you are. Figuring out what cigar smokers in your area are interested in and are buying is far more important. Minding your point of sales reports and figuring out what customers are buying and what they’re asking for has given Spring Street Cigars a competitive edge and can do the same for any retailer in business today.
The Growth Blueprint
Growth has been Higgins’ focus since he bought Spring Street Cigars in 2018. Over the years he’s been able to help turn Spring Street Cigars into a retail operation with multiple locations—six in total with three more in the works. As anyone knows, growing a business takes work and often years, and expanding a retail store from one location to multiple locations is extremely difficult.
“It’s a little overwhelming at times, but it’s a controllable chaos,” Higgins says when asked about scaling Spring Street Cigars over the years. “We did a test market and run on this. We got to develop the blueprint for growth. We did a test store to make sure we could prove all the concepts of growth: how we needed to grow, what our stores needed to look like, who was going to handle different pieces of it, the timeframe, where we wanted to build a store—things of that nature. So we built a blueprint around what would make us successful.”
Creating a blueprint for growth was essential and allowed Spring Street Cigars to grow from one to six stores in a span of four years. With more locations currently in the works, Spring Street Cigars will consist of nine stores at minimum in just five to five and a half years.
“We’ve got a good blueprint for success. We have the people in place to help us, and then we have the right people in the right spot. This is not store-level people; this is people that are in positions to control the different pieces of growth,” Higgins explains. “You can’t expect a person to grow and to run a store while growing another store. That’s why we have people that are dedicated solely to growth.”
Higgins and his team do their due diligence when choosing new locations for Spring Street Cigars. Part of the research and development involves defining the demographics of a new location. What are the potential customers’ average annual incomes? What’s the geographic draw? What other retailers are established in the area, if any? Another consideration is how far the company’s warehouse and office space would be from the new location. All of these factors are taken into consideration to determine what new location makes sense.
As someone who is always thinking about growth, Higgins has looked for some unexpected ways to grow his tobacco business. When thinking about expansion, Higgins takes into consideration opportunities that are complementary to cigars and his retail store’s core business. Spring Street Cigars has gotten into e-commerce recently. The company’s physical stores have been the big focus up until nearly half a year ago. Spring Street Cigars’ online store is still in its infancy, so Higgins says the company has yet to see the full benefits of it at this point but expects this to change in a year’s time.
Beer is another product category adjacent to cigars that Higgins has gotten involved in. Spring Street opened its own brewery within one of its locations. Combining the worlds of cigars and beer made sense to Higgins and seems to have also resonated with Spring Street Cigars’ customers who have made its Starkville, Mississippi, location a destination.
“Each one of our locations is fairly unique, and they’re very, very cool,” says Higgins. “They’re always located in downtown areas because we support downtown small businesses and would like to be involved in the revitalization of downtown America.”
Another complementary business that was spun off from Spring Street Cigars is a wholesale business. This was another opportunity Higgins and his staff identified and allocated the necessary resources to in order to grow it. Now in 10 states, the wholesale business has its own dedicated staff and has been operating for almost two years. By providing premium cigars to businesses outside of their market, Higgins has been able to fulfill his original post retirement goal: to grow his business with the help of cigars.
Focus and Grow
Higgins didn’t let the fact that he had no retail experience keep him from coming in and growing Spring Street Cigars. He never claimed to know everything about what it meant to be a tobacconist but realized the greatest asset in his tobacco business was the people he surrounded himself with.
“Always take every challenge as a learning opportunity,” he advises. “Always look for the experts.”
Over the four years Higgins has spent as owner of Spring Street Cigars, Higgins has learned the importance of focusing on his strengths while finding other experts who can focus their efforts on areas he’s weak in. For Higgins, that means he focuses on growth and strategy while his employees are the real retail experts, a strategy that can be used by other tobacconists who are looking to grow and scale their businesses to new levels.
This story first appeared in the November/December 2022 issue of Tobacco Business magazine. You can view the entire issue online for free by clicking here.
– Photography courtesy of Spring Street Cigars. Story by Antoine Reid, senior editor and digital director for Tobacco Business Magazine. You can follow him on Instagram @editor.reid.