The Other Side

Two tobacconists working in different cities, separated by the Atlantic Ocean, open up about the challenges they face as retailers today. Is business all that different for them, or do they have more in common than they think? Tobacco Business finds out.

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How have the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) deeming regulations impacted your businesses in the U.S.?
Grossman: Quite honestly, the FDA has not changed how I do business on the retail level. It has, however, played a somewhat inconvenient role in how I interact with my suppliers, who are burdened by the FDA requirements. Specifically, the price increases across the board from all manufacturers are never a good thing. In addition, some manufacturers are using the FDA ambiguity to limit free product giveaways that hinder event planning at the store level.

What do you consider to be the biggest threat to your business?
Sahakian: Overreaching and burdensome regulations aimed at cigarette manufacturers that affect handmade cigar consumers and retailers by accident.

Grossman: The biggest threat to my business is many of the government regulations and tobacco taxes.

How are you voicing your concerns and opinions on these legislative issues that are having an impact on how you run your businesses?
Sahakian: Through our trade associations and peer groups. We aim to stay as involved as possible in the legislative debates and are part of two trade organizations that represent cigar shops in the U.K. and Europe. We are also members of the IPCPR [International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association].

Grossman: The New York Tobacconist Association employs a lobbyist firm and receives support from the legislative arm of the IPCPR. Being that each of our members is working hard every day to keep our businesses afloat, it is definitely a challenge to grow membership and actively engage in politics.

To focus more on what’s going on in your stores, what would you say are the most popular tobacco products and brands that your stores have to offer?
Sahakian: Handmade cigars represent the majority of our sales value and volume. Davidoff and Cuban Cohibas, Montecristos, Partagas and also Fuente are our most popular cigars.

Grossman: Davidoff is my No. 1-selling brand in all my locations. Second is probably Padron, followed by Ashton, Fuente, Tatuaje and My Father.

How are you promoting your business and its products to your customers?
Sahakian: We are not permitted to engage in significant tobacco promotion in the U.K., so we rely on excellent customer service, word of mouth and the goodwill of our happy customers.

Grossman: We do email marketing and events on a regular basis. We support our local charities with donations. We do social media. We do periodic print media campaigns, and, most importantly, we try very hard to take care of our customers that walk in the door. There’s nothing like good old-fashioned word of mouth.

This story first appeared in the November/December 2018 issue of Tobacco Business magazine. Members of the tobacco industry are eligible for a complimentary subscription to our magazine. Click here for details.

– Story by Antoine Reid, an editor and digital content director for Tobacco Business Magazine. You can follow him on Instagram @editor.reid.