A Smokin’ Way To Keep Customers Coming Back

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True confessions (with no apologies to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg; he who recently signed a bill outlawing smoking outdoors!); I enjoy the occasional cigar. Seeing that the key word in the previous sentence is “occasional”, it had been several months since I visited the cigar shop in my neighborhood.

One Saturday evening last year, I stopped in and it took a mere 10 seconds to realize that the store had new owners. Unlike previous visits to the Cigar Attic, I was promptly greeted by the owner; “Hi, my name’s Jim Brown. Thanks for coming in. Can I help you select a cigar?” Wouldn’t we all like to be greeted in that manner when we walk in to an establishment? It wasn’t just the owner; however, that welcomed me. Every customer in the shop introduced themselves to me. “Wow, is this the paid welcoming committee?” I wondered. After making my purchase and meeting the 10 or so customers, I headed for the door. Jim stopped me, shook my hand and said “thanks for coming in. When are you coming back?”. “Uh, soon” I stuttered. I was blown away. Not only was I greeted and shown gratitude for coming in, but the owner wanted to know when I would return.

Ivo Medina, Carlos Torano (Torano Cigars), Tracy Brown, Jim Brown

Fast forward a couple of months and owners Jim & Tracy Brown and Ivo Medina, along with many of the customers of Cigar Attic, would become friends of mine. Every time I’d walk in the door I felt like “Norm“, from the great 80?s sitcom Cheers; “Lee!” everyone would yell. This little (800 sq. ft.) shop was the home to many fun times; Sunday football games on the big screen, “launch” parties for new cigar labels, a 70?s costume party, Jimmy Buffett night and even a “Hugh Hefner” party (smoking jacket required).

No matter who you were, male or female, young or old, black or white, everyone was made to feel like they were the most important customer at Cigar Attic. How late would the shop stay open? Though the sign said “11 pm” Jim, Tracy and Ivo would keep the shop open as long as there were customers in the shop. Sometimes this would be as late as 2 am!

To gain a better understanding of how the customer-centric culture at Cigar Attic came to be, I interviewed Jim Brown for this post:

Me: One of the things that sticks with me is that you ask every customer ‘when are you coming back?’. How did that start?

The "Hugh Hefner" Party

Jim: I love eating at little ‘greasy spoon’ restaurants. One day I was having breakfast at one in Maryland when a couple got up to leave after only having coffee. The owner asked them: ‘Leaving so soon? When are you coming back?’ This happened 15 years ago and it has stuck with me since. In my mind it said to the customer ‘I like you being here; please stay’. When we opened Cigar Attic I insisted that, no matter who was working behind the counter, we would thank every customer for coming in (whether they made a purchase or not) and that we would ask when they would return.

Me: Where else did you learn lessons on customer service?

Jim: Several years ago I went to a Harley Davidson dealer to by a new bike. I had just gotten off of work (construction) and when I walked in to the dealer I was totally ignored. After making a 2nd attempt to get helped at this dealer I gave up and took my business to another dealer. Though the prices at the 2nd dealer were higher, they made me feel welcomed and appreciated my business. Over the next few years I wound up buying a 2nd bike and all of my accessories from dealer #2. I decided to return to the first dealer to tell them how, and why, they lost me as a customer. Funny, I was nicely dressed this time and pulled up in my Mercedes; I was promptly greeted. I promised myself that I would never prejudge a customer.

Cigar Attic Advisory Committee

Me: I have heard you say to customers “this is your shop”. Explain what you mean.

Jim: Exactly that. We are here for the benefit of our customers. This is why we created the advisory committee. A group of our best customers meet once a month. We do a blind taste testing of one of our cigars. We also solicit their advice on how we can better run the shop, what special events we should host etc. Most importantly, we act on their advice. We once did a tasting on a much-hyped, new cigar. The committee – every one of them – did not like the cigar. During the meeting I called the vendor and asked him to come and take back the entire shipment; my customers don’t like it. The committee members were stunned that I did that, but like I told them, “it’s your shop.”

Unfortunately, due to some real estate issues, Cigar Attic closed in November, 2010. I really miss seeing Dave, Mary, Sean, Lisa, Don, Stan, Rick, Damien, Chuck, Phil, Mark, Fred, Willie, Liz, Ed, Lee, Rick, Glen, Scott, Art, Kimberly and all of the rest of the gang. The good news is that they will be reopening soon in a new location under their new name, Twisted Cigar.

…that’s just what I think.

Some of the "regulars".

Thanks for checking out my website. You can also follow me on Twitter – @Lee_Silverstein

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