An American Original: Sutliff Tobacco Company

    For 170 years, Sutliff Tobacco Company has been pleasing pipe smokers.


    Improving Sutliff’s customer service has been McKenna’s focus since he joined the company four years ago. The company has always enjoyed a reputation for providing good service to its customers, but as the pipe tobacco industry changes with more regulatory threats and higher taxes, the entire Sutliff team is working diligently to improve the value of its service. Retailers who are considering starting a bulk pipe tobacco bar in their stores or who are thinking about replacing a slow-moving pipe tobacco can rely on Sutliff to provide a consultative conversation about their best options.

    “Conversations with retailers are important,” McKenna says. “We use sales numbers to help retailers select the tobaccos they want to sell. If they are calling and saying that they want to get into bulks or want to expand their bulks, we will start at the top. ‘Do you have Z-92 Vanilla Custard? Let me send you a sample.’ We are more than happy to send them samples of our bulk blends so that a pipe customer can give them the feedback he or she needs to decide whether to bring those tobaccos into their store. Then we go down the list. We will ask what other products they carry in their tobacco bar and then find out how we can complement them. That’s the kind of support that tobacconists can rely on from us.”

    Sutliff Tobacco Company

    Focus on the Hobby
    While drug stores and supermarkets have traditionally dominated pipe tobacco sales, premium tobacco retailers have steadily grown in importance, especially in the last 30 years. Some pharmacy chains have stopped selling tobacco products altogether, and others have greatly reduced tobacco products within their stores. Consumer tastes have also changed. More consumers are looking at experience-driven hobbies and enjoy consulting with experts on what products to try. This level of expertise for pipe tobacco is available only in premium tobacco retail shops. With more than 550 blends on its menu but only regularly producing less than half of them, Sutliff Tobacco Company has resources that it is dedicating to provide brick-and-mortar retail tobacconists an exclusive line of premium pipe tobacco blends as part of its Tobacconists Reserve line, which is available beginning in June.

    “Brick-and-mortars are an important part of our industry,” says McKenna. “That’s where people start smoking a pipe. They learn all the tools they need and how to smoke it. Brick-and-mortar shops build the excitement around the pipe-smoking hobby. Giving brick-and-mortar retailers a product that they cannot be undercut on by online or catalog sellers helps them build stronger businesses. They can carry it and have people come directly back to their stores to buy it again. We’ll launch Tobacconists Reserve with two really high-end products—an aromatic and a non-aromatic—to give consumers a chance to savor both flavor profiles.”

    Sutliff Tobacco Company learned a long time ago that providing its customers more than just great products is the key to staying in business. It is a philosophy that has allowed Sutliff to navigate 170 years of business, and sticking to the philosophy will ensure that it has as strong a future as it has a past.

    This story first appeared in the May/June 2019 issue of Tobacco Business magazine. Members of the tobacco industry are eligible for a complimentary subscription to our magazine. Click here for details.

    – By Stephen A. Ross, senior editor of Tobacco Business Magazine.