The Famous Smoke Shop is one of my favorite places to buy cigars online. I (GM) had the opportunity to ask Mr. Gary Korb, Chief Copywriter at Famous Smoke (FS), a few questions about the company where he works.
GM: Tell us a little bit about the Famous Smoke Shop. When was it established, who owns it, how many locations, etc.?
FS: The company, actually, the original cigar store, was established in 1939 by David and Rose Zaretsky in New York City. Their son and current president, Arthur Zaretsky, took over the business in 1980. There is only one retail store, which is located on the premises of our company headquarters in Easton, PA.
GM: Tell us about your online store, mail order catalog, and any other ways that you sell to customers out of state. Talk a little about state sales taxes, delivery options, buying single cigars, etc.
FS: Our online store features practically every major and boutique cigar label available, including a large selection of cigars made exclusively for us. The site is easy to navigate and customers have the option to buy boxes, 5-packs, or singles. We also offer free UPS Ground shipping on all orders over $99, as well as on all "house" brands. We print 11 catalogs a year including several specially-targeted catalogs. Each catalog has a featured special on the cover, while the inside is filled with deals like free samplers, cutters, humidors, etc., which are also reflected on the website. One advantage to buying on our website is subscribing to our email sales, which often offer an additional discount off a brand seen in the catalog, or some other free item. Another one of our most successful areas of marketing has been in creating a massive library of cigar samplers.
Sales tax is charged only to customers who reside in Pennsylvania. Shipping is offered primarily via UPS in all categories from Ground to Next Day Air (AM). Our rates are also among the lowest compared to most online retailers, but more often than not, Ground Shipping is free. We also offer International shipping, which is handled through our Customer Service department. However, all duties are the responsibility of the customer. If a customer's only shipping option is a PO Box, or if they're in the military, we ship via the USPS.
GM: What is your return policy? Talk a little about customer service.
FS: Famous Smoke Shop offers one of the most liberal and fairest return policies in the business. On boxes or bundles of 25 cigars or more, full credit is issued if four cigars or less have been smoked. On boxes or bundles of 20 cigars full credit is issued if three cigars or less have been smoked. On boxes or bundles of 10 to 15 cigars, full credit is issued if two cigars or less have been smoked. It's mighty reasonable.
With regard to customer service, check out my interview with Susan Hegarty, our Call Center Manager. This is one area where Famous Smoke Shop really shines. We go above and beyond the call of duty to help our customers, and we have a silo-full of thank you emails to prove it. Whether it's a problem with an order, a return, or just helping customers choose the right cigar, our excellence in customer service has just helped us earn our second BizRate.com "Gold Honoree" award.
My job also spills over into the customer service area, since I receive a lot of emails from customers looking for cigar suggestions or answers to questions about the care of their cigars.
GM: How many different brands do you carry, and which are your most popular?
FS: We carry over 500 brands, most of which are handmade premium cigars, as well machine-made cigars.
Our most popular brands in terms of hard numbers are Arturo Fuente, ACID, Rocky Patel, Padrón, and Romeo y Julieta. But among those brands are also several "house" brands, which include our Rocky Patel American Market Selection, Famous Dominican 4000, and La Floridita.
GM: What are your duties at Famous Smoke?
FS: My official title is "Chief Copywriter," but I wear many hats, like the one I described earlier regarding customer service. I'm also the resident cigar "answer man," and since I also have a background in Public Relations, I also serve as a publicist. Plus, I'm also a journalist, writing original articles, interviews, and news stories on new cigars, etc., for CigarAdvisor.com.
When I started here seven years ago, I was mainly responsible for writing the entire catalog, the website product descriptions, and the weekly email sale. Since then, the company has grown exponentially, and thankfully I have a co-writer, Hayward Tenney, and a proof reader, Anne Ringlaben, who have helped immensely with regard to the catalogs, emails, package inserts, website copy, as well as the communications for our local retail store.
Hayward and I split up some of the work to keep the messages from getting stale, too. Besides, it's good to have another "voice" that our customers can identify with. Practically all of the copy goes through me for final editing, including the galley proofs of our monthly catalogs.
GM: Besides famous-smoke.com, tell us about your other websites. For example, Cigar Advisor, Cigar Monster, etc.
FS: CigarAdvisor.com was Arthur's idea. He felt we needed to be more than just an online cigar store. Providing a "noncommercial" information channel on cigars and the state of the industry would be a big benefit to all cigar smokers, and he was right. Many readers who have found CigarAdvisor.com have also become regular Famous-Smoke.com customers.
CigarMonster.com was another one of Arthur's ideas. "Deal-a-day" sites create a lot of excitement among consumers, and CigarMonster.com has become the "go-to" site for a lot of cigar "addicts."
We also have an auction site, CigarAuctioneer.com where cigar smokers can often pick up a box of rare, limited edition, or hard to find cigars, some of which are only sold in retail stores. There are a few peripheral websites, too, like our Famous Smoke Shop YouTube Channel, a Facebook Page, and our Cigar Advisor Blog.
Interview Continues on Page 2