Evolution of an Independent

When a Chicago tobacco institution known for decades of consistency faced a sudden need to relocate, the owner made the most of it with an entirely new direction - a professionally planned and designed tobacco store.

By Don Mayslak

A couple of years ago, the Jackson Street building that was home to Jack Schwartz in Chicago, Ill. was getting a major remodel that would uproot the cigar retailer. Owner Billy O'Hara was apprehensive about the change to say the least. His options were few and far between - O'Hara was in a predicament. But, he looked at the situation optimistically - the store had not been renovated since its inception in 1921, and an updated store with some refinements and additional conveniences would be welcome.

A new location was needed, and the time frame for finding it was tight. Fortunately, a location in the Chicago Board of Trade Building was available - just a block away. The Board of Trade Building is one of the most prestigious buildings in a city known for its architecture. The reputation of this building and its occupants offered a wonderful opportunity to create a new and improved Jack Schwartz. With a clientele base that would demand a top-of-the-line store and product mix, an upscale image would be required. O'Hara's background, a trader himself at one time, and his experience in the store made him believe that Jack Schwartz would be a spot in which traders would congregate to celebrate a good day or a place for them to unwind after a tough day - with a good cigar and a kind ear.

Next came the question - where to start? O'Hara thought of his long-time customer and cigar enthusiast, Ted Gladson of Gladson & Associates and their Store Design Group. He knew of the company's reputation as an industry leader in retail store design and merchandising and felt confident that Gladson could point him in the right direction. There were many questions regarding design that had to be answered. First and foremost, Gladson needed a "wants and needs" list from O'Hara - a wish list of what O'Hara wanted his new Jack Schwartz to be. Of course, store size would restrict some of his wishes. The new location was actually 200 sq. ft. less than his existing location, but Gladson assured him that with good store layout and planning many of his wishes could be included. Once O'Hara had drawn up his list, Gladson could begin working on the layout. Allocating space became the next step. In addition to retail space, a shipping room large enough to handle Schwartz's heavy mail order business and the luxury of an office needed to be factored in.

The next issues to be addressed were the sales floor and product storage humidors. These areas needed to be large enough to cover the extensive inventory they carried. Also to be included in the humidor was a smoking lounge for sampling brands or just for a relaxing smoke. This room would be enclosed in glass for maximum visibility to the sales floor as well as enticing the customers into the humidor.

The clientele of the Board of Trade Building and the surrounding customer base were to be major considerations, in not only the type of presentation to be made, but in the determination of product line and price points of the product carried. The store's location indicated that many of the clientele would be in the upper income brackets. This was a major factor in determining the image and store fit. A decision was made to carry a premium product line that would be expected by the clientele of the building. A cigar line of the finest brands would be carried along with high-end accessory line to accompany them. The uniqueness of the building was that many of the occupants were traders. There was also a middle-income group of runners and administrative staff that would call for a selection of modestly priced cigars and accessories - the best of both worlds for the store.

The store itself sits in the entryway of the Board of Trade Building, which is a high traffic area of its own. As luck would have it, a large window along the entry hallway exposed the store to approximately eighty thousand potential customers on a daily basis. This location also allowed anyone in the courtyard to view the store through a large window in the back of the store. A display area for a clothing line of Jack Schwartz products marketed as Jack Wear was also incorporated into the store's design. The store's coup da gras, though, was the smoking lounge featured off the courtyard of the building. This lounge has large leather chairs that seat up to four people comfortably for the express purpose of enjoying a cigar and relaxing during lunch or after a long workday. The higher end cigars, for security purposes, were to be housed in humidor showcases built off the front of the main humidor. This allowed for a single ventilation system to be used. A metal grid backing was put on the backside of the cases for ventilation from the main humidification keeping both sides correctly humidified while at the same time keeping costs at a minimum. Adjacent to the walk-in humidor were additional showcases for premium cigar lines allowing product visibility for customers as they went into the humidor as well as when they came into the store for maximum visibility.

The placement of premium cigar lines is critical to sales and need to be in high traffic areas in order to maximize sales. The store was to carry a selection of lighters, cutters, and other accessories including humidors that also needed to be placed in high traffic areas to take advantage of impulse sales.

The cabinetry was completely custom and assembled on-site to meet the highest standards expected. The upscale look was created using a combination of rich Mahogany and Spanish cedar. Brushed nickel accents were used as a design element to create an art deco appearance that would match that of the building. This combination created a look that fed its heritage and was also modern enough to set a look for the millennium.

The new Jack Schwartz has proved to be everything O'Hara had on his wish list and more. Determining the needs of the store both for the present and the future, along with knowing what the customer would expect, and a good layout with the correct product mix has insured a prosperous future for O'Hara, and also a future that identifies him as a leader of independent tobacconists throughout the country.

Don Mayslak is the director, store planning for Gladson and Associates, a store design and merchandising company. Gladson is located at 1973 Ohio Street, Lisle, Illinois. For more information, contact the design group at 1-800-538-9945. Website: www.gladson.com e-mail: design@gladson.com.

SMOKESHOP - June/July, 2002