“The rest of my job is really looking at trends in the industry—how we’re doing, how different categories that we compete in are doing, coming up with ideas to grow, gain a competitive edge and really just trying to come up with some new ideas for an old industry,” he says. “How do you make it different? How do you engage your consumers, both on the retail level and also on the end user level?”
Social media provides McKenna with valuable insights into the pipe tobacco category. There are plenty of websites, forums and groups connected to the pipe tobacco community. In his spare time, McKenna scrolls through these groups and pages and takes note of the comments that were made. He looks for what people are liking, what they’re not liking, how they’re responding to limited releases and other general feedback that’s being posted online.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, McKenna would also seek this information from consumers attending various pipe shows, such as the Chicagoland International Pipe & Tobacciana Show, which Sutliff Tobacco Company has served as a sponsor of in years past, and the Richmond Pipe Show, for which Sutliff serves as a host. Spending time at these shows offers McKenna and his team valuable insights and gives them a chance to see what questions, concerns and products are of interest to their customers. Keeping a pulse on what the end customer really wants is key to Sutliff’s overall growth strategy.
Looking for new opportunities and investments is also important to Sutliff Tobacco Company’s overall business. In addition to being a major manufacturer of pipe tobacco, Sutliff Tobacco Company is also a major distributor of tobacco products in the U.S. The company has had a long-standing distribution agreement with Brigham Tobacco, a Canada-based company that makes pipes and accessories for both pipe and cigar smokers. Sutliff Tobacco Company is also the U.S. distributor of Gizeh, one of the largest manufacturers of rolling papers, filter tubes and accessories for the roll-your-own or make-your-own smoker.
This story first appeared in the January/February 2022 issue of Tobacco Business magazine. Members of the tobacco industry are eligible for a complimentary subscription to our magazine. Click here for details.
– Photography by Nick Davis. Story by Antoine Reid, senior editor and digital director for Tobacco Business Magazine. You can follow him on Instagram @editor.reid.