More snow this morning and I thought I was going to wretch. But it was light and when I went out to exchange my yearly planner (the one I was given for Christmas was too large) the shoveling was over quickly. There’s a lot of romanticism attached to the cigar broker business, but it is – a business. Yes, I have access to hundreds of brands of cigars that I can smoke at will. Though not in the house because the no smoking laws have been in effect here at the office long before the national laws changed the way cigars smokers light up. And I do need some structure, ergo the planner.
Today is scheduling day at the offices of Irv CigarBroker. Every year at this time I take a look at last year’s schedule and go over it month-by-month to see how it flowed. Review if I got to all the stores the number of times I projected.
You see I do scheduling the old-fashioned way. I do not rely on electronic gadgetry for my monthly meetings. I use paper and pen, often pencil because the schedule can change. And there’s this rubber tip on the end of the pencil called an eraser that wears down quickly at times. This year’s schedule is going to be especially difficult because I’m working with some different manufacturers (and they all want to come into town) and very often their plans conflict with mine. But as my business mantra states – My Business. My Plan. (By the way I have my doctor to thank for that, she was instrumental in helping me in keeping my sanity a few years ago and one day she popped out with that phrase and it stuck.) And I DO stick to it.
There will be two main challenges – the weather and the manufacturers’ visits. The weather I have no control over. But a manufacturer’s visit I do. Usually I don’t look forward to riding with anyone, especially a manufacturer. That’s because I’m a broker. And I represent a variety of cigars that I want to introduce to the shops. When I’m with one brand’s sales manager or the manufacturer himself or herself, I have to put aside the other brands I rep for however many days, and that is not conducive to my business. Will I ride with them? Of course I will. But I try to limit their infiltration to three days. I can take anybody for three days, but if the stay extends to four or five days, someone is going to have to peel me off the ceiling.
How I go about getting to the hundreds of stores that I visit each year is really rather simple. Some shops are visited quarterly, some three times a year, others – never, I do the “never” visits via email. It’s just not cost effective for me to travel, say from Palatine to the borders of Kentucky for one store. The owner agrees and we co-exist just fine.
I try to stop into each store in the four states I cover (IL, IN, WI, MI) at least six times a year. That’s every two months. But I have to remain flexible because things change on a daily basis. My schedule is there as a guide and I use it that way. Though I can be a barge stuck in Mississippi mud when I feel I’m being manipulated, or someone wants an event on a particular day and I’m just not in the state or the area. Yes I am flexible, but I don’t want to be pulled like taffy and end up trying to please everyone knowing full well that I can’t. I do my utmost to please, but I have to have boundaries for both the shops and the manufacturers and they have to be aware of that. (This is where I say my mantra.) One year I tried to do it all and I practically killed myself. I’m a quick study and I find that you can’t do it all. Damn the Blue Vase. (Look it up.)
So what I have done is I have divided the areas in each state into groups. I make a military mission out of it because as a broker, the manufacturer gives you nothing but samples. I have to pick up the tab for all the other needs. All. So in order to be efficient with the business and pull in as much profit as I can, I have to keep my expenses down and my eyes ahead.
Give you an example: Michigan. Big State. Lots of cigar shops. I can’t do the state all in one week (nor would I want to). But I opt to not stay out over a week. I have a family and I’m very much aware of that. So Michigan receives six visits a year, upper (read Traverse City) gets three visits with the show counting as one. It works and has for the past few years. Do I visit every store each time I’m on the road? No. The ducks have never gotten in a row like they should and I have to catch them on a later trip, date, or by phone, or Skype or some such way – but I do remain in contact. Plus I call ahead. These shops know I’m coming in. So make concessions. Work with me. Ninety-nine point nine percent of them do.
The easiest is what I call Local Runs. I get to and from these shops in a day and I can spend just a little more time in each shop. Anytime I’m out of town I have to hustle and get to as many shops as is possible without rushing the owner. No one likes to feel rushed and quite frankly each shop has its own personality and you have to flow with it.
So I have to get down to work here. The machinations of setting up the year takes a few hours and I do want to have time to enjoy my reward – a viewing of Reservoir Dogs. Just too bad I can’t light up a cigar and watch it undisturbed. Yeah, I’ll be undisturbed but I’d sure love to have that cigar.
Hug, hug. Smooch, smooch. Draw, Draw. For those who want to get back to the romantic cigar mood. Now excuse me I have to get to work.