Part II - About the Smoke Inn
About.com: I believe that your first cigar store in Florida is the Jupiter/Tequesta location. When did you add and move into your current headquarters in West Palm Beach, and when will the new Boynton Beach location become your headquarters?
Abe: Smoke Inn opened it’s first store in Tequesta Florida September of 1996. It was a rustic 900 sq/ft store typical of any mom and pop store in the country. Last fall, after many years of squeezing 20lbs of store into a 5lb bag, we finally moved to a 1500sq/ft bay at the opposite end of our center. While the new location is spacious and beautifully built, and embraced by our patrons, it was very difficult for me to see the original store get ripped down. A lot of memories were there. It is where it all began. Call me sentimental. In June of 2002 I opened up the West Palm Beach Store. I remember hearing my competition saying I was nuts. It was 1600 feet with literally back then, the biggest walk in humidor in the state. Many shops make this claim, but when the West Palm location opened, it was all my cigar reps that informed me that I really had the biggest walk in at that time. I was really nervous about it too. I will never forget expressing my concerns with Rex Snyder, my Ashton Rep, who without hesitation looked at me and said, “You got a grand slam here buddy!” For many years Smoke Inn West Palm Beach ran efficiently with a crew of about 3 people. Today you can find anywhere from 12-14 people working the store on any given weekday. So as you can see we are very excited, and ready, to open Boynton Beach which we hope to officially do on March 1, 2013.
About.com: Despite the threat of more government regulations, taxes, bans, etc. affecting cigars, you have continued to expand your cigar empire by adding more brick and mortar locations over the last several years. How many retail stores do you have now, and what are your plans for additional cigar stores in the near future? Do you to prefer to build new, or acquire existing businesses?
Abe: Boynton Beach will be our 11th Florida location. Of the 11 locations, 4 are licensed stores that are owned by friends or former employees. We work hand in hand with our licensees to ensure that they operate like any other Smoke Inn location. I am very fickle about opening licensed store and have turned down many people. It really has to be the right situation with the right person. I think Boyton will be our last Corporate location, unless we happen to pick up another competitor on the way out for a steal.
At this point I have done it all. I have built stores from scratch on the inside, purchased existing stores and done complete over hauls, purchased existing stores and made slight modifications, and designed and built a store from dirt to building. Each scenario has it’s advantages and disadvantages…either way it always ends up being hard work.
About.com: How many total cigars and different brands do you have available for sale online? How many in your largest retail store?
Abe: WOW! Total cigars, I am not sure if I can tell you. There are over 450 Headings in our Drop Down menu online. While we started our on line store only about 5 years ago, I believe we are pretty caught up and that about 85-90% of what we offer is available on line. How many are in our largest retail store….hmmm...I guess I will let you know after March 1st. In the meantime I stand by our statement, “If we don’t carry it, it’s not worth smoking!”
About.com: At smokeinn.com, you are able to reach customers who do not live in Florida. Do you plan to continue expanding your internet marketing efforts, establish additional websites, etc.?
Abe: Our reach nationally continues to grow by double digits every year. We currently do fulfillment under three websites, but over 90% of it is through smokeinn.com. I believe our success here has been our ability to treat the mail order customer like a person and not like a number. I put our service up against anybody. We set standards that are hard to maintain, but take one look at all our authentic testimonials on line and you can see why we do what we do.
About.com: Tell us about your exclusive house brands, such as the Smoke Inn's MicroBlend series. Do you have a big role in formulating the blends?
Abe: It has long been known in the brewing industry that Microbreweries, also known as Craft Breweries, have focused on quality and diversity rather than mass production and cost efficiency. Such relatively limited production quantities allow for a greater emphasis to be placed on quality and consistency. A wider range of specific and unique ingredients can also be used when creating micro-blends, given that the end product does not have to be mass-produced. Microbreweries have, thus, been long famed for their resultant production of unique flavor variations and unprecedented consistency. Observance of such artistry in the brewing craft was the inspiration for Smoke Inn's Microblend SeriesTM. We have commissioned some of the world's top manufacturers to create for Smoke Inn an exclusive blend and/or size of cigars, produced in a one-time limited batch. Using only the finest and select tobaccos available, these manufacturers were able to pay the utmost attention to quality and craftsmanship, exercised in every facet of the production of these cigars. You can be assured that the last cigar you smoke from a Microblend Series will be just as enjoyable as the first.
Our role in formulating the blends basically goes something like this…. we tell a manufacture what we like and what we are hoping to achieve. They send us a bunch of samples that the crew and I will smoke. We will talk and usually formulate a consensus. Sometimes we find something we love on the first try, other times we may go back and forth four or five times till a manufacturer sends us a blend we all agree is THE ONE.
About.com: Is there anything more that you would like to say about the Smoke Inn?
Abe: To put it simply, I attribute our success to one underlying principle…Giving consumers what they want, and the best possible price, with the most positive experience. I mean lets face it, most cigar shops, outside of a few exclusive brands are selling the exact same stuff. The experience, from the moment they walk in the door or you pick up the phone, is the area where you can make the greatest difference between yourself and all your competitors. That is why I like to use the tag line, “Continuing the cigar journey like no other!” I believe it is our job to make each and every patron’s cigar journey the most positive and memorable experience possible.