“What I love about the associations is the ability to share ideas,” Regina says. “It allows you to learn from other people in the industry. As an entrepreneur, sometimes [I] get really stuck on what I think is right or the way that I think it should be done. So to work with others on the same level as you is refreshing and helps me look at things a little bit differently.”
Along with the collaboration and sharing of ideas, Regina notes that the associations are also vitally important to protect the industry. “We’ve been in some battles, whether it’s smoking bans or taxes. But this industry, when it seems like we’re getting down and we’re getting kicked, we have the ability to rally and get stronger. I’ve seen it at every level of government. I don’t like politics getting involved in businesses, but since that’s the way it is, I think that there are a lot of great people in the industry that are coming together and fighting every day. The associations help us do that.”
Focusing on business growth, Regina approached the challenge by asking a few key questions. What is our foundation? What defines us? What is our vision? What can we do new or better to be successful? His answer to them all: service.
“I can’t say it enough: We’re fortunate because we have a great team. Whether it’s the people at the office or the guys in the warehouse or the store managers. But most importantly, it’s the guys on the front lines creating that experience for our customers. They take a lot of pride in using their experience and expertise to guide each customer in the right direction.”
It’s not by some stroke of luck, however, that Regina has such a strong team in place. He notes it takes a consistent and ongoing effort to develop and maintain high-quality customer service. He recognized the business needed some structure to make it perform better. From brand training to incentive programs to creating an employee handbook, he found that each element he introduced to the company built a stronger foundation for the business.
“Take our sales process that we train everyone on,” Regina says. “That was definitely a difference-maker for us. It’s not rigid where it says, ‘You have to do this.’ It’s more of, ‘These are some guidelines, and as a sales associate or store manager, you’re going to put your touch on it. Using this as a foundation, you’re going to figure out how to make it work.’ We found this gave them much more confidence to provide the best possible service.”
Regina will be the first to admit it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. There are always challenges, especially in a multigenerational business. Not every decision made on both sides of the generational gap is agreed upon. “There were some tough conversations,” he says. “When you’re sitting across the table from a family member, while you want it to work out absolutely perfect for them, you also need to make sure that it’s something that does not handicap business growth. But we always had a rule: that we’re going to have those conversations, but once the conversation is over, then that’s it. As bad as we argued, or maybe as upset as we were at the time, once we closed our notebooks, it was family time.”
In the end, it’s about stretching that bowstring of tradition with new ideas but never allowing it to snap. “I take a lot of pride in being able to say ‘second generation.’ That we’ve been here since 1975,” says Regina. “I feel like I’ve got just as much passion and energy about the business today than I did when I first got into it.”
This story first appeared in the November/December 2018 issue of Tobacconist magazine.
– Contributed by Greg Girard. Photos by Jacob Krekura.