The success story of Mary Lynn Kane and her husband Don Kane, owners of Lake Country Cigars in Delafield, Wisconsin, is a study in the power of presentation as a fundamental of marketing. The story begins in 1992, when the Kanes were in a waiting room and came across one of the first issues of Cigar Aficionado. At that time Don Kane had been a sales engineer for a mechanical contractor for nearly 30 years, and Mary Lynn worked in business-to-business marketing.
“Actually, we just saw the pretty pictures and said, ‘This is beautiful; look at how they’re presenting smoking the cigars,’” says Mary Lynn Kane. “So we said, ‘Let’s go get one.’ We went and got one and, I would say, within a week and a half we both had our own humidors, and we were both buying our own cigars.”
Neither of the Kanes were smokers before that experience. Yet something clicked for both of them, changing the course of their lives.
“One of the things that we had talked about as we were smoking cigars was, ‘Wouldn’t this be a great business to have in our life?’” she recounts. “And Don was getting sick of the business he was in. So I said, ‘I love small business, let’s go for it.’
“We decided to open a store in the Lake Country area, which is a very affluent area where people have a lot of discretionary income. Space became available in a strip mall in a very desirable location, so we actually pulled the trigger about a year earlier than we wanted.”
The year was 1998 and, at the time, neither of them had any retail experience. They modeled their shop after a store that they had frequented.
The Kanes found out early on that partnering with manufacturers would help their marketing dollars go further. “We started with snail mail and we still continue with it,” says Kane. “Manufacturers help us with the ads. You wouldn’t believe how small a percentage of our budget is for advertising because we get sponsors for the things we do: signage, products, everything—we get sponsors.”
Mary Lynn Kane also brought her marketing background to bear in engaging customers through events, both in the shop and at external venues. “We got involved with a lot of different venues [local clubs and golf courses, etc.], and our off-site events grew very big,” she explains. “And our in-store events, we developed those over the years to be some of the best attended, we think, in the country.”
The couples’ event marketing efforts also enabled the shop to create a database of customers, contacts and relationships. “We have nice cards for people to sign in, and then we have all their information,” says Kane. “And people are willing to give it to us because we have a philosophy that if you help us with the marketing, you’re going to get stuff in return.”