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Pipe Smokers a Breed Apart

Pipe Smokers a Breed Apart

for Retail Tobacconist

by Larry Ciptak


Pipe Smokers' are a breed apart, according to Diana Gits, owner of the Up Down Tobacco Shop in Chicago.

"A pure pipe smoker and a pure cigar smoker are probably further apart than a man and a woman are, in temperament," she said.  "Pipe smokers' are very intelligent.  You can easily insult a pipe smoker if you're not real careful.  While you can insult a pipe smoker, you can't insult a cigar smoker.  He knows what he wants, he never gets sick, he's got a lot of money, he works day and night," said Gits.

The pipe smokers is a "calm and cool guy," said Paul Spaniola, owner of Paul's Pipe Shop in Flint, Michigan.  "If he wants to avoid a question, he'll just pick his pipe up, fill it, puff on it a little bit, and think before he says anything, which gives him a chance to think things over.  Most people just blat it out right away, and they're sorry they ever said it," said Spaniola.

Pipe Smokers' Week

This article concerns Pipe Smokers' Week, scheduled from March 8-15.  But manufacturers, distributors and retailers were so consumed with getting through the holiday season, that at the time of this writing many had not yet made their promotional plans for Pipe Smokers' Week.

Pipe Smokers' Week was created by Diana Gits–past president of the RTDA–to bring national awareness to pipe smoking, to promote the fledging industry.  "We started it because we were getting a lot of publicity in Chicago [for her annual Chicago pipe smoking contest] with the media, and we tried to get on Good Morning America and some national magazines.  They wouldn't cover it because it wasn't national, and having National Pipe Smokers' Week took care of that problem," she said.

National Pipe Smokers' Week was adopted and sponsored by the RTDA seven years ago.  The RTDA designs posters promoting the week, and various retailers, distributors and manufacturers contribute by offering specials and having contests, said Bill Fader, Executive Director of the RTDA.  "It's not very coordinated, and everybody kind of does their own thing," Fader said.  The RTDA in January also supplies its members with a booklet that lists specials from various suppliers, and describing promotional programs they can use to increase visibility and business during the week, according to Fader.

"There will be shows where high-grade pipes and unusual items will be brought," said Fader.  "Some people bring their own museums, collections that they don't sell, but that the pipe aficionado will appreciate seeing.  Sometimes the retailer will develop a special tobacco blend for the week," he said.

National Pipe Smokers' Week always starts on the second Sunday in March, and wraps up the following Sunday, said Gits.  "This is a real good time to do this, because nothing else is really going on," she said.

Special Promotional Plans

While some retailers and manufacturers are unsure of what specials they'll be offering during Pipe Smokers' Week, others are already proceeding with their promotions.

Distributors Beth and Sam Sermit, owners of SMS Meershaums in Iowa, are offering a free pipe stand and video on the making of Turkish Meerschaum pipes to retailers for each pipe over $100 that they purchase.  "What we do is send a selection [of pipes] to the stores, and they can tailor their selection to their clients and individual store needs," said Beth Sermet.  The pipe stand and the video can then be used as giveaways for the retailers' clients, she added.

Judy Weinberger of Mastercraft Pipes Inc. said that for Pipe Smokers' Week her firm is making available a specially-priced pipe, "at least one-third off retail."  Mastercraft will also provide additional sales aids to stores free of charge, such as keychains, articles and other goods to be used as door prizes or in some promotional way, she said.  Also being made available by Mastercraft are gift certificates–"for the spouse or children of the pipe smoker who might not know what to select"–and "how to smoke a pipe" booklets, said Weinberger.

Chuck Levi, owner of Iwan Ries Tobacco Shop in Chicago, plans on doing what he's done in the past for the week–mailing specials and offering gifts.  "The gift selection varies by what [customers] buy, and there's no one gift, but a number of choices they can make," he said.

Iwan Ries is also promoting their "Three-Star" tobacco and pipes with special prices.  "But primarily we promote [Pipe Smokers’ Week] through the store and through a mailing.  They've always been successful," Levi said.

A new line of Meerschaum pipes is being introduced during March by Servi Meerschaums, collector pieces about how Columbus discovered America, said owner Fena Servi.  The three pipes will feature the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria, he said.  Servi is also currently test-marketing Meerschaum pipe stands.

Larry Weinfeld, President of Hollco ROHR, said his company is coming out with a new line, the Jobey Bolero, and extension of their Jobey line.  Hollco will be putting through some special offers for Pipe Smokers' Week that will go into the RTDA flyer, "but we haven't gotten through Christmas yet, so we're not sure what they're going to be yet."

But not every retailer is participating in Pipe Smokers' Week.  Spaniola isn't joining his colleagues in promoting National Pipe Smokers' Week because "our Michigan pipe smokers' week and contest has been held for 45 years in May, and we haven't changed it because of the tradition."

Fragmented Industry

"Manufacturers are always coming up with new blends, new pipes, accessory items that might be introduced during this period," said Fader.  But Fader admits that there is little innovation in the industry.  "It's difficult to do anything.  We're fragmented all over the country," he said.

The pipe industry is not exactly roiling in change.  Most manufacturers and retailers are happy if they can successfully maintain their market shares as tobacco consumers get pounded with anti-smoking legislation and non-smokers' rights groups.  The result appears to be adherence to the status quo, an economic hypervigelence designed to survive this epoch in the tobacco industry.

"We're waiting for someone to start rolling the ball.  The industry–at least where pipes are concerned–is struck with inertia, and I'm as guilty as the next guy," said Robert Siegel, Vice President of Marble Arch Limited.  "There has been growth in the cigar industry, but there hasn't been much growth in pipes.  I've seen some real interest and benefits accumulated during Pipe Smokers' Week.  But it's not as big as it could be, because there are some dealers who haven't embraced the concept that it's possible to develop interest [in pipes]," said Siegel.

"There's no way to candy-coat it.  Prices have increased.  Quality has decreased.  We are a long way into the anti-smoking climate and all the dynamics that are involved where society is concerned, and so on.  The industry as a whole is sticking it to the smoker in the sense that we're trying to sell them products which no longer carry the "oomph" that they once did," said Siegel.  "The fact is, retailers need better products, products they don't have to apologize for."

Pipe Resurgence?

But some manufacturers are responding to the market changes and noticing positive changes in the pipe industry.  Mastercraft Pipes Inc., who's brands include the Alpha, Seville and Velani lines, is developing a line of economical domestically-manufactured pipes, said Judy Weinberger.

"The economy as it is, we are putting added emphasis on manufacturing pipes in the United States," Weinberger said.  "We feel we are coming to a point where we will have a [domestic] line that competes very successfully with anything imported."  These pipes will be standard for the "mid-price range" market, she added.

Weinberger said the last few months have been "strong" and that "it looks like pipes are having a resurgence."

"Until [the last few years] it was easier to smoke a cigarette or cigar wherever you were, as pipes were a little more cumbersome," Weinberger said.  "But you can't smoke in most areas now in any case, except at your leisure at your own place, or in designated areas.  You might as well smoke your pipe and relax and have some "easy time"," Weinberger said.

Chuck Levi said he sees a "small resurgence" in pipe smoking.  "They are yuppies, people who are getting off cigarettes, as well as people who gave up smoking [pipes] years ago who now say "screw it", they miss it and are coming back to it.  We've seen more of that in the last year than the past three or four years," said Levi.

"I don't see anything different from the consumer standpoint," said Levi.  "[Consumers] are more price-conscious, and the way we merchandise with huge inventories and price breaks on many items, we do okay.  But I don’t see it a lot different than ten years ago.  For the future, I see [the pipe industry] going down a bit, primarily because of areas of smoking becoming limited."

New Pipe Products

"In pipe tobacco, there's nothing new and tremendous, that I know of," said Jerry Christensen, V.P. of Phillips & King & National Cigar, who added, "we are seeing an increase in the bulk pipe tobacco that stores package and sell under their own name."

According to distributors, most of the new products seem to be coming in the form of collectible series pipes.

Hollco now offers the complete set of their Peterson line's Sherlock Holmes Series.  All of the shapes and names are available for the collector who wants to complete their collection, said Weinfeld of Hollco.

A new diamond-finish hand-carved block Meerschaum, with a lacquer finish, is now being distributed exclusively by SMS Meerschaums.  "It's stain, mar and scratch-resistant.  Because it's sealed you can wipe it off with water or alcohol.  We can't keep up with the demand," said Sermet.  A Scrimshaw pipe with a lacquer finish, originals by Pierce of Massachusetts, are also being featured this year, said Sermet.  The pipes include a "nautical" of a clipper ship, and a bald eagle "attacking with his talons out," Sermit said.  Sermet added SMS Meerschaums is also offering a Reagan/Gorbachev Meerschaum set, and new desk lighters with a carved Meerschaum base.

Club Imports is introducing a new freehand series–the "Rico Master"–in 1992, said Kay Stephan.  Their current best seller is the "Rock," a rough finished pipe that sells for $55 a dozen, she said.  "Some retailers tell us that they mark the pipe up more than Keystone (double)," she added.

Fewer "Pure" Smoke Shops

Most tobacconists now sell a variety of non-tobacco related products in their smoke shops.  Whether it's due to economic reasons or simply the practicing of merchandising diversification, it is getting harder to find smoke shops who deal only with tobacco and ancillary products.

"I think that hurt the industry.  People did it because they couldn't pay the rent," said Levi, whose pipe shop is the oldest in the country with the same family ownership–135 years.  "Sadly, we're one of the few stores in the country that are a pure tobacco shop.  We don't sell any of the pens or gidgets or gadgets that most of the other shops do.  Our bag is cigars, pipes and tobacco," said Levi.

"There's a better markup in the gift business, but every time I see a smoke shop close up I get saddened by it.  I don't look at it like another competitor going out of business, I look at it like another colleague gone that could convert people to smoking cigars or pipes," Levi said.