I was greeted immediately as I entered Smoke World , a new B and M cigar establishment in West Los Angeles. Xavier Loudon , the affable manager gave me a tour of the humidor, lounge area and explained the how and why what Smoke World was planning to do. In a series of questions, Xavier’s thoughts and game plan for the lounge became clear
When and why did you decide to bring a new cigar lounge to West LA?
The Smoke World family of tobacco stores has had a presence in Los Angeles for more than a decade. Once we started to diversify our cigar selection, it only made sense to open a new lounge for our West LA customers. Before we came along, the closest lounges were in West Hollywood or Santa Monica which meant a significant fight through traffic for anyone local to the West Side or Culver City.
Who is your competition and what makes you different from them?
In my mind, our competition is with ourselves. We are constantly striving to improve the lounge, enhance our customer’s experience and find new ways to lower our prices. With that being said, of course we compete directly with other tobacco stores and cigar lounges, but what really matters, is two things. The first is that we work really hard to have the lowest prices in Los Angeles and we do price matching to ensure that are customers are always getting the best deal. The second thing is that we try incredibly hard to make sure we have the most comfortable and inviting lounge in the area. For example, we recently expanded seating and added new televisions. It comes down to taking all the pretentiousness out of the cigar business and focusing on the customers
What challenges do you think are the biggest in the cigar industry and your business?
Right now, the biggest challenge is staying relevant with the younger generation. The veteran cigar smokers all know the tried and true brands like Fuente, Montecristo, Ashton etc. But tastes are changing, especially with younger smokers in their twenties and thirties. So it’s a fine line that business like ours have to walk in order to cater to both tastes. There are folks who have smoked the same stick every year for thirty years and there are the younger guys that are always looking for the hot new cigar.
How do decide what cigars and accessories to sell?
Everything we stock on our shelves is there because customers asked for it. Every time someone makes a suggestion for a new stogie, we go out of our way to make sure it’s in stock the next time they come in. For instance, A.J. Fernandez has been having incredible success with his cross-brand collaborations. Our customers were practically screaming for the Hoyo/AJ collab so we put it on the shelves and sold out in a day.
What are your best sellers and how do you introduce a new product in your store?
Our best sellers are the Oliva Serie O Connecticut Reverve and My Father Le Bijou. Those are the staples of our clientele, as well as the classic standbys like Fuente Short Story or Punch Punch. Most recently our new products have been launched via our secret email list. If we get a new product in, especially something that is rare or sold out at competitor stores, we will send out an email to our customer mailing list to let them know, when it goes on sale and how much it will be. This method has had tremendous success ad we like being able to give our most loyal customers the first crack at new offerings.
What are the trends for the future for B and M establishments and cigar industry in general?
As with any industry, predicting long-term trends is like reading an 8 ball It makes you feel good but no one really believes in it. For now the future of brick and mortar cigar retailers hinge on being able to connect with the Millennial generation and bring them into the fold. For so long the cigar community has been depicted in popular culture as the White haired men in smoke-filled rooms, or the monocle wearing titans of industry. If we want to survive for the next 20 years and beyond we have to do the best we can to eschew that image and focus more on the enjoyment of cigars as a hobby for the everyman. The current wave of vintage nostalgia sweeping through millennial helps. If you look at things like the resurgence of bearded men and badger bristle straight razors, it proves that a large segment of young people are nostalgic for life’s simple pleasures cigars are just that.
What do you smoke as an everyday smoke and on special occasions?
My daily smoke is a Nat Sherman Timeless Nicaraguan torpedo; it’s got a perfect draw and a surprisingly rich flavor. For special occasions I stick to Artuo Fuente’s Opus X which incidentally is another one of our best sellers.
Why do you like the cigar industry and what is your clientele like?
To me the cigar lifestyle is all about relaxing and socializing. The atmosphere in our lounge especially is able to bring people together and create friendships or business ideas that couldn’t happen anywhere else. We are fortunate to have a fantastic clientele. without exception our customers are exceedingly friendly, generous, down to earth folks who just happen to share a passion for fine cigars.
What advice would you give the novice and experienced smoker?
The same advice that I would give to myself if I could go back into time and save myself plenty of frustration: don’t start with the biggest darkest cigar in the room. In all seriousness, novice smokers should generally start with something lighter. I typically recommend an Oliva Connecticut Reserve in a smaller ring gauge and shorter length. You have to build up your tolerance to the intense nicotine found in cigars, as well as your palette.
Are there too many brands and choices in today’s market?
Absolutely not. Variety of choice is at the heart of the free market. aside from the economics, the immense variety of choices available to consumers force the bigger brands to constantly be innovating and improving their product offering to avoid becoming irrelevant. , just look at all the cross brands collaborations that have emerge in the past year alone. Of course many smaller companies don’t make it in the long run. so it can be difficult as a cigar retailer to keep up with all the new brands popping up, however it is certainly good for the consumer.
Is the opening of the cigar trade in Cuba going to impact your business and what are you plans about this development?
Nnormalizing relations between the United States and Cuba is certainly going to have an impact on the cigar industry but I’m optimistic it won’t be too disruptive to the cigar industry as a whole. Cuban cigars aren’t what they were, now that there are so many quality products coming out of the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. Currently, the small portion of the public that are able to go to Cuba and purchase cigars for personal use won’t put much of a dent in the cigar sales overall. if Cuban products are green-lighted exclusively for domestic sale, then it will only be good for us, as many within the cigar community still smoke Cubans exclusively and we will have access to a new regiment of the market.
There you have it, a great inteview with a smoking young mind in the cigar industry. A particular viewpoint which is well thought and open for future discussion. Please make a point to visit Cigar World, have a smoke and enjoy good compansionship.