In today’s culture, many things old and believed to be forgotten over time are experiencing a resurgence in popularity. Vinyl records, old video games, comic books and movie franchises are all getting another turn in the spotlight. Pipes and pipe tobaccos are also getting new life as millennial consumers seek out products that connect them to the past.
When it comes to pipe smoking, there’s a sense of nostalgia surrounding the entire lifestyle. Scandinavian Tobacco Group Lane Limited (STG Lane) is one manufacturer that is deeply invested in pipe tobaccos. Over the past few years, the company has seen a constant influx of new consumers coming into the category who view pipe smoking as a hobby rather than a habit. These consumers appreciate the craft that goes into creating the tobaccos as well as the artistry that is involved in creating the pipes.
Max Stokkebye is STG Lane’s pipe ambassador. Pipe smokers may be familiar with the Stokkebye name due to the popular Stokkebye 4th Generation pipe tobacco and pipe products. The family’s history in the pipe tobacco category dates back to the 1855 birth of Erik Peter Stokkebye, who went on to found the family’s tobacco business in Odense, Denmark, in 1882. The Stokkebyes’ pipe tobacco brand rose to prominence in the U.S. in the late 1960s under the leadership of Peter Stokkebye, the grandson of Erik Peter. Later, Erik Stokkebye took over the company and created new pipe tobacco blends built around the birth years of his great-grandfather, grandfather, father and himself. These blends—named 1855, 1897, 1931 and 1957—were blended specifically so that each individual one would have a unique flavor that was reflective of each man’s personal tastes. The Stokkebye brand was eventually sold to STG Lane.
As a child, Max recalls riding in the back of his father’s company car, which was filled with the aroma of pipe tobacco. While some children would recoil from the smell, Max believes it made his rides all the more memorable and pleasant. As an adult, Max used pipe tobacco as an excuse to sit down and spend time with people or give himself an opportunity to relax and reflect on life. Pipes and tobaccos became far more than just a lifestyle for Max—they became a profession. As a brand ambassador for pipes, he now serves as an advocate and promoter of STG Lane’s portfolio of pipe tobaccos, which includes the flagship brands such as Orlik, Captain Black, Escudo, Erinmore, Lane and Peter Stokkebye. The Peterson line of tinned tobaccos recently made a return to the market, including a new line of tobaccos that were formerly part of the Dunhill pipe tobacco line. If there’s one thing STG Lane’s pipe portfolio isn’t short on it is the variety of pipe blends it has for pipe smokers to enjoy.
For tobacco retailers, however, pipes continue to be a challenging product category to sell and promote to customers. Abandoning pipe tobacco could be a costly mistake for retailers as the lifestyle continues to experience a resurgence with younger adults entering the category, some who are inspired by fond memories of their grandfathers and fathers who smoked pipes, and others who are are looking for a nostalgic alternative to smoking cigarettes, whose use continues to decline among consumers.
While working at STG Lane, Max has seen a constant influx of cigarette and cigar smokers who have gravitated toward the pipe hobby. These individuals typically smoke less frequently than the older pipe smokers who rarely put down their pipes, but they are also typically willing to pay more premium prices for pipe tobacco. In addition, there’s been a noticeable growth in the number of artisan pipemakers who help expand the interest surrounding pipe smoking.
For retailers, knowledge is the key to better pipe sales in their stores. Whether it’s a store clerk at a brick-and-mortar shop or someone running an online store, successful pipe tobacco retailers need to have someone on-site who can teach inquiring customers all that they need to know about the pipe lifestyle, including how to pack a pipe, how to keep it lit, how to clean it and more. According to Max Stokkebye, smokers are genuinely curious about the hobby, but it can seem very mysterious and intimidating to them, which makes it necessary to have someone on your staff who can walk them through the basics.
One retailer who has had success with pipe tobacco is Wayne Anstead, a tobacconist and the owner of Anstead’s Tobacco Co. located in Fayetteville, North Carolina. When Anstead first entered into the tobacco retail world, pipes and pipe tobacco were big sellers, more so than cigars. Today, that has changed, but Anstead remains dedicated to pipe tobacco, putting it front and center in his store, near the cash register. While many other retailers have given up on pipes and pipe tobacco, Anstead has continued to push it hard in his store and has seen positive results because of his dedication to and promotion of the lifestyle. He trains all of his employees on pipes but always ensures that he has someone on staff who serves as an expert on the pipe lifestyle.
“You have to have a pipe guy because if people don’t know anything about it, they just don’t get interested in it,” says Anstead.
Stokkebye echoes this sentiment and dedication to pipe tobacco—retailers shouldn’t abandon pipes and pipe tobacco just because they are not as popular as cigars and other tobacco products. If you stock these items, customers will come into your store in search of them. Retailers can also gain an advantage over their competitors by just carrying pipe tobacco products and becoming a source for this underserved niche in the market. Stokkebye notes that pipe smokers are extremely loyal and willing to make the drive if they have found the right store. Today, many pipe smokers also smoke cigars, making these customers a potential double source of incremental revenue. STG Lane works with retailers to create engaging in-store blending events and also offers staff training for those retailers who are new to pipe tobacco. STG Lane also has a variety of merchandising options for bulk and tinned tobacco. In addition, the STG Lane-owned and -operated website This Pipe Life (www.thispipelife.com) serves as a great resource for anyone interested in pipes, with education, articles, history and a discussion forum for the pipe community.
Building an In-Store Community
As with any product category, having a good selection of pipe products to choose from is imperative. Beginning with pipes, Stokkebye recommends that retailers stock their stores with a range of pipes, including corncob pipes, which can cost as little as $10, to briar pipes with retail prices of $150 to $200, as well as various price points in between. This will give new pipe smokers an entry point into the category that won’t cause them to debate making the investment. Estate pipes, those pipes acquired by purchasing an individual’s personal collection, are another option for some retailers and could offer more variety for customers in terms of price points, shapes and styles.
For those retailers who may not be able to hire a dedicated pipe salesperson, it’s important to have at least a basic understanding of the difference between an English blend and an aromatic blend and between flake and loose-cut tobacco. Websites, such as This Pipe Life, are a good source of educational information and articles that can help retailers figure out the basics of the category and how to better serve their pipe customers. Another way for retailers to understand the needs and wants of their pipe customers is to open their stores to the community and become the host of a local pipe club. Stokkebye refers to pipe clubs and shows as one of the last safe havens for the hobby. STG Lane is still actively engaged with clubs and makes sure that it has a presence at most regional pipe shows.
“Between pipe shows, pipe clubs and retail events, we are activating over 50 times a year,” Stokkebye explains. “We are one of the last companies of scale truly focused on this category. We have a dedicated brand ambassador. All our major brands have websites and store finders. We’ve created forums, Facebook groups and a complete social media presence. We have built up one of the industry’s largest consumer databases, and we send them coupons and updates on events.”
The message is clear for retailers: If you aren’t selling pipe tobacco, chances are there’s a tobacconist in town who is—and you’re missing out. Stokkebye believes the pipe category will continue to see a changing of the guard toward new consumers and that these consumers will be more open to trying new and different pipe tobacco blends. As tobacconists and other retailers look for ways to attract new customers, the answer could be to look to the past and tap into true and tested products, such as pipes and pipe tobaccos.
This story first appeared in the March/April 2020 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, senior editor and digital content director for Tobacco Business Magazine. You can follow him on Instagram @editor.reid.