After the

Just sold a pipe? Great, but have you planned ahead on how to keep your customer coming back? Position yourself for a long-term relationship with your pipe customers by building your after-market service.

Story and Photos By Richard Carleton Hacker

For tobacconists these days, it's not enough to simply make a sale. Customers want more. In addition to feeling they've gotten the best deal possible, the customer wants service, and in no category is this demand more pronounced than with pipesmokers. Let's face it; pipesmokers are a finicky breed. Otherwise, they wouldn't be pipesmokers. It's not just the shape of the briar that's important to them, it's the grain, the fit of the mouthpiece, the price, and last but certainly not least, the attitude and interest of the person behind the counter.

Although they surf the internet looking for bargains and brands, pipe smokers bemoan the lack of personal attention. On the homefront, in neighborhood stores, their tolerance level no longer permits putting up with clerks bearing an "attitude." And they feel betrayed when being shown a pipe by a part-timer who doesn't even smoke. But today's stress-filled times can actually spell "opportunity" for the tobacconist who takes a few extra minutes after the sale to make a customer feel "at home" in your store.

Okay, so you've jumped through the hoops to make the sale. You've laid out every well-figured sandblast for under $100 in your inventory, and at long last, your customer has finally made his selection, which he has just validated by handing you his credit card. The sale is over! But is it? Do you just let this fellow walk out of your store, perhaps never to return again?

Not if you can help it, for a return visit means repeat sales. So how do you get him to come back? The answer is simple: after-market service, which ultimately translates into after-market sales.

Think Like a Pipe Smoker
First, think about the pipe your customer just bought. Most pipe smokers have fond memories of the first time they light up a new briar. I know I do. It is something you never forget. So why not make your store the scene of that blissful, inaugural moment? After the pipe is purchased, offer your customer a free sample of one of your blended house tobaccos (that way, if he likes it, he will have to revisit your store to get it).

But that's not enough. If he is a novice smoker, offer to fill his pipe for him, explaining each step of the loading and lighting process, but taking care not to be condescending. Just be informative, friendly, and helpful. If he is an experienced smoker, let him fill the pipe himself, again, using your house tobacco rather than his own blend. Be sure to ask what type of tobacco he likes. You'll defeat the purpose by giving an aromatic tobacco to someone who prefers English blends.

Once the pipe is lit, you've created a psychological bond between your customer and your store. But it doesn't stop there. Give him a few pipe cleaners. They're cheap enough, and it's assured that within a short period of time, your customer is going to need more of them. Where can he get them? Your store.

As he smokes his pipe, he's going to need a pipe tamper. That's your cue for an add-on sale. It's not a big profit, to be sure, but it's in addition to the price of the pipe. Without seeming high-pressured, you might take the opportunity to offer your customer a slight discount on a specific tobacco pouch, if not now, then in the near future. After all, after springing for a pipe, he may not feel flush enough for anything else. But future paydays have a way of making flat wallets fat again and just maybe, next week, or next month - it really doesn't matter when - your customer may wander back into your store with the thought that yes, today would be a good time to pick up that tobacco pouch you showed him a while back.

Of course, besides tampers and pouches, there are other accessories a pipe smoker might need. A tobacco humidor is the obvious next choice, for it not only enables him to keep his tobacco fresh, but to buy it in bulk, which in turn can save him money. Be sure to point that out to him. Why, after a few months, the humidor will have paid for itself! Another item for the smoker with more than one pipe is a pipe rack. The bigger the better. Never let a customer with six pipes buy a six-pipe rack, for he is then psychologically limiting himself to sticking with the number of pipes he already owns. It is far better to sell him a 10-pipe rack, for that opens the possibility that in time, he will feel obligated to fill it with additional briars (which he will hopefully buy from you). If he already has a rack that is full and resists the suggestion of another rack, you can justify the sale of an additional pipe by showing him a selection of individual pipe stands. They will only enhance the pipe he is about to buy from you.

When matches are free, pipe lighters may seem a luxury. That is, until you explain that a pipe lighter is the mark of someone who takes his pipe smoking seriously. It also insures a steady and ready flame. In the case of butane, a lighter produces a hotter flame, which helps guarantee a more uniform light. But don't try and sell him a mini-blowtorch cigar lighter; the flame is too hot for briar, and will char the wood.

Think Like a Knowledgeable Retailer
Which brings up a valuable point: don't rely solely on your customer to decide what he will buy. He may have a good idea of what he wants and when he is ready to buy it, but quite often he may not even be aware of the many different types of accessories that are out there. That is, until you show him. No problem if he already has some of these items. One tamper or tobacco pouch never seems to be enough. They always get lost or worn out. And sometimes a smoker likes to change, just as we pick different pipes according to our moods. So why not have multiple pouches, tampers and yes, even lighters? Studies have shown that the average American male owns more than one wristwatch. So why not have more than one type of pipe accessory? But your customer may not realize all of the options that are available to him unless you show them to him, especially if the accessory is something new or innovative.

Unfortunately, that brings up the fact that, in recent years, there has been very little new in the pipe accessory field. Call it complacency if you will, but it is certainly not a lack of demand. Pipe smokers have always been curious about anything that is new and workable. But it seems as if the accessory market lies frozen in the 1950s. Hopefully, things will change as pipesmoking continues its slow but steady growth in the years ahead. New racks, elegant tampers, practical everyday and "dress" pipe and tobacco pouches, and decorative pipe racks are all sorely needed.

In the meantime, scour the merchandise catalogs of your suppliers, hone your marketing skills, and consider every pipe sale to be only the beginning of a long and mutually beneficial relationship between you and your "new best friend" - your customer.

Richard Carleton Hacker is an internationally acclaimed author of eight books on pipesmoking, including his two most recent publications, Rare Smoke - The Ultimate Guide to Pipe Collecting, and Pipesmoking - A 21st Century Guide.

SMOKESHOP - April/May, 2002