How do I know this? By the very fact that I’ve been inundated with calls, text and Linkedin messages, and FB requests from a wide variety of cigar manufacturers – some quite well known – looking for independent sales reps. I responded to one particular query from a cigar maker, “Why you? I would think you have the cigar world by the b%#*s being on all the major (and minor) cigar selling sites on the internet.” The response I got floored me, “I need coverage, man.” Let me repeat that, and perhaps you, the reader, would go over his reply with a pause between the words, “I (pause) need (pause) coverage, (pause) man.”
So I asked him, “Are you serious?” He answered in the affirmative. “Then allow me to retort. I figured you had it made being on the internet.” Go to CI and check out what manufacturers are NOT on the list of cigars you can purchase, and that goes for all the other sites as well. They’re all there purportedly cashing in on the beauty and worldwide sweep of the internet. Purportedly.
“I need coverage, man,” is really shorthand for we’re not making enough sales on the Almighty Internet. Yes! Over 75% of cigar sales to consumers (that’s you cigar smokers) are made on the web! That’s a pretty big number. If I had 75% of my customers calling me for orders, I dare say I would be driving a different car, and perhaps taking vacations now and then.
But obviously that number is inflated. The internet sales of cigars are slipping. Manufacturers are eyeing the state of their cigar sales and are discovering that they are no longer rising. Yet, they stubbornly continue to push as did Sisphus in Greek Mythology condemned to an eternity of rolling a boulder uphill only to have it roll back down again. The only logical solution is to call in the independent reps and ask (beg?) for their help to keep sales from plummeting. The internet is no longer providing cigar manufacturers with instant profits.
Now I will be the first to admit that I visit Amazon.com to buy my books. Why? Because I can get the book used, or nearly used for less than a new copy. The shipping is inexpensive and the taxes are being paid, at least in Illinois. So I feel as if I am contributing to the state’s coffers. I just ordered a book and I clicked on this and clicked on that, paid with my charge card and I received the book in the stated condition (like new) faster than the Bullet Train. Neat. And I was happy.
So I’m no saint. I dig into the bowels of the internet as anyone would. But I don’t hear publishers broadcasting commercials, or I don’t see the books in the daily newspapers on sale for ridiculously reduced prices. Why? They have the coverage. And it works for them. But for the cigar market, it ain’t working no more.
In fact, I received a text message from a man from Turkey looking to sell his meerschaum pipes, and just the other day I began to be hounded by a cigar manufacturer in China. China! I wrote back that I’m an independent cigar broker, not a distributor nor a wholesaler. I visit the individual shops and introduce new cigars and sell them one store at a time. His response, “I understand. We need to get in touch.” Get it? China needs coverage.
Many, many manufacturers who whore themselves out to the internet are finding out that it isn’t working. But they still want it all! I remember when one of the manufactures I used to rep for, the same one who said he was a “true brick and mortar man” and would never sell to the internet, gave me a call. I was driving. I saw his number and it was convenient and safe for me to pull over and answer the call. (No, I don’t sport a Bluetooth.) And then he proceeded to inform me that he was going to offer his cigars to one of the major internet sites. I was in shock. And guess what? My sales that had been rising steadily for the past three years began to slow down. Yet, this a*^*%$e had the audacity – not of hope but the arousal of arrogance – to tell me that those who shop on the internet do not frequent brick and mortar stores. So don’t be concerned. As John D. would say “LMAO!”
I’ll tell you exactly what’s going on and it’s a godsend. The manufacturers are realizing that face-to-face sales have been – and always will be – the best way to build a cigar brand. The internet can give you this false sense of success, but when the brand peaks and sales begin to decline because the consumer is moving on to the next great brand, the manufacturer comes running to us to keep those sales from floating away. Why? Because the brand wasn’t built, a cigar was sold.
But get this, some of the manufactures that hire the independent rep are actually going out of their way to give us sales quotas. Can you imagine that? I pay for my gas, my food, my hotel bill, my car maintenance, and my empty time away from my family, and I’m given a sales quota?!! What is wrong with that picture? Sounds like an employer demand to me.
It’s so simple, they can’t afford to hire an inside sales rep, and they can’t make enough money on the internet anymore, so they have to make up the deficit by demanding sales quotas from independent reps. How funny is that? And then some are even trying to charge us for samples. Think about that. We have to purchase our own samples. Why? Because the income they envisioned from internet sales is not keeping up with the dollars spent on advertising and they are losing money by giving huge discounts to the internet houses, so they are going to charge us for samples? (“Expletive you”)
Face it, the savvy cigar manufacturer is getting out of the internet business. One just did and his story will be in this blog. The cigar manufacturer is going back to the old-fashioned way of brand building. Zig? Take a bow. And I guarantee the brands using this method will be built into solid, cast iron, time-tested products because of the power of personalities.
I have no sympathy for the cigar manufacturer, the novice cigar maker, the hopeful entrepreneur who goes on the internet and finds that the pot of gold is no longer at the end of the click and loses the investment. It’s in the soul of the human being who puts his heart into the brand and creates a relationship with the store’s owners, the managers, and the regulars. That’s where the brand is being built. Will the change from the concentration of cigar sales on the internet return to the independent rep take place overnight? Of course not, but it is in the process because I continue to field calls from guys who want to build their brand the right way – because of passion and concern and love.