There are two ways to get more business: win new business or get your existing customers to spend more. It is important to ensure that you do not focus on one at the expense of the other, as both are important for growing your customer base. This is something Phillips & King International, a distributor of tobacco, vapor and alternative products based in California, has been doing since 1906.
Sergio Montolfo, general manager of Phillips & King, has seen his company grow over the years in spite of challenges on the state and federal level and all the changes that have taken place in the markets his company deals with. Phillips & King looks at the 50 states as individual countries, each with their own set of regulations and compliance needs. In addition to understanding the requirements and challenges of different states, Montolfo also has to stay on top of the trends emerging from each industry.
In the Q&A that follows, Montolfo shares his views of how other tobacco-centric businesses and those working in the industry can stay ahead of the curve and grow their share and presence in the market.
Tobacco Business: If you could go back to when you first started at Phillips & King, what advice would you give yourself?
Sergio Montolfo: Master relentless focus: Find the most critical things the business needs for the next six months, make them the everyday focus of every person and hour you can spare, and cut out everything else to the point where it hurts at least a little. Only then will you have the focus you need.
For tobacco businesses that need to grow their customer base on a budget, what advice would you give them?
At Phillips & King, we have a lot of repeat business and feel we offer the most value with long-term retailers. However, we need to keep bringing in new business as well. Old business can falter if budgets change or people move on, so it is important to look for new opportunities. You need to start a relationship early, so that it is mature enough to deliver new business when your other work is completed. Grow your business with caution—this is the only way to minimize the risks and increase your chances for success.