In the mid-1990s, the U.S. experienced a cigar boom. Michael Giordano noticed this growing market and decided to import some cigar accessories in hope of selling them online. When he realized that e-commerce presented challenges he wasn’t expecting, Giordano teamed up with a local online retailer who picked up his inventory and got it to sell. Giordano and the retailer went on to form Quality Importers, which has since acquired popular products, including Palió, Cigar Caddy, Humidor Supreme, Stinky Cigar, Div Pro and HygroSet, to name a few. Tobacco Business talked with Giordano about tips on succeeding as an entrepreneur. Excerpts from that conversation follow.
Tobacco Business: How did you first know that you had an entrepreneurial spirit?
Michael Giordano: I was intrigued with how I could buy bubble gum by the case for 5 cents each [then turn around] and sell them for 10 cents at school. Some kids would say, “Hey, it says 5 cents on the gum” and I’d say, “Yeah, but this is a closed campus and if you want gum and didn’t bring any, you can get some for 10 cents right now.” I had a sense of urgency before I even knew what that term was. I was also very competitive.
What inspired you to start your own business?
The curiosity of whether I could do what the company I was working at was doing, [but] in a different industry, more efficiently.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned since running your own business?
No matter how hard you try, mistakes will happen. How you communicate and fix them is what determines your success or failure.
Would you have done anything differently?
Anything we think of changing or doing differently, we can do moving forward. Looking back, I think it’s been a wonderful journey. I really wouldn’t change a thing.
If you were somebody’s mentor, what would be the first thing you would teach or share with them?
I would first find out what it is they are having difficulty with, or listen to their plans or ideas, then share the questions I ask myself when confronted with a new opportunity. The philosophy of business and life are always incorporated into everything I do. Analogies are a priceless method of open-minded communication. When relayed appropriately, they are a great way to express a thought that is easily associated with the subject at hand.
What is your advice to someone who wants to start their own business?
I think back to when I was making this decision for myself. I was in my early 20s and renting some space in my parents’ house. I didn’t go to college, and I didn’t have a business plan. I had very little expenses and no family of my own at the time, so it was an ideal time to take the leap. I remember the feeling I had; I can best describe it as getting ready to walk a tightrope, looking down and watching the net get pulled away. There was something exciting about it, a competition of me versus myself.
For me, that is where risk tolerance was born. My advice to someone who wants to start their own business is to identify the end result you truly wish to achieve. Identify what you are truly willing to do to achieve it and trace the steps back to where you are right now before you risk one dollar of your hard-earned money. I find it helps to create an achievable perspective versus just putting your head down and charging forward. It’s the difference between working hard and working smart.
– Interview by Ben Stimpson
This story first appeared in the March/April 2017 issue of Tobacco Business magazine. Members of the tobacco industry are eligible for a complimentary subscription to our magazine. Click here for details.