Lighting the Way to Profitability

A wide array of tobacco accessories to complement cigarettes and cigars shows customers you’re serious about tobacco and incites impulse sales.

By Erin Rigik, Associate Editor.

Many retailers recognize that it’s beneficial to step out from behind the counter to teach customers about smokeless alternatives and educate them on e-cigarettes, but taking the same approach with accessories—showing customers how to work new products as well as upselling lighters with cigarettes, cartridges with e-cigarettes and butane with refillable lighters—can not only increase revenue, but also secure repeated visits.

Light Up
Lighters are perhaps the most widely sold tobacco accessory at c-stores, as they’re not only useful to smokers but also to nonsmokers for use with candles or lighting charcoal grills during the summer season. For the 52 weeks ended Dec. 26, 2011, lighters brought in $484,491,400, up 9.75% compared to the previous year, according to SymphonyIRI data. Unit sales totaled 359, 101, 500, up 7.35%. The average price per unit was $1.35, up $0.03 from the previous year. The top selling lighters for the period included Bic, Bic Limited Edition, Bic Pro Series, The American Match and Ed Hardy Lighters, SymphonyIRI reported.

Discount Smoke Shops is no stranger to driving lighter sales. It offers a complete array of lighters from inexpensive disposable varieties, such as those by Bic and Djeep, to upper and mid-grade lighters like Firebird, which is part of Colibri, and Zippo.

“We rotate the styles and graphics throughout the year, so we don’t stay stagnant,” said Ray Calderon, director of marketing and merchandising for Discount Smoke Shops, which operates 50 stores in Illinois, Missouri and South Dakota. “We try to rotate all those items especially in the Zippo and Firebird line.”

Disposable lighters, such as those by Bic, are by far the biggest mover in total volume among lighters at Discount Smoke Shops, but the company also does a strong business with its Zippo line. “They’re a little more expensive, but we’ll turn over our complete Zippo line in a range of about 30-50 lighters per store in 30-45 days, so we sell a lot of Zippos,” Calderon said. He credits his chain’s strong lighter sales to the suggestive selling clerks do when making any tobacco sale. “When selling any smoking product we let customers know we offer lighters.”

Mark Tucci, president of 7 Valleys Custom Blends, a six-store chain with units in Pennsylvania and Virginia, agreed that communicating with shoppers about tobacco accessories is key to creating repeat business. Specialty decorative lighters have been getting increased attention from customers at his stores, especially Ed Hardy lighters. Tucci takes advantage of every sale of a refillable lighter, using it as a chance to teach customers how to refill the lighters with butane.

“You can hand a lighter to someone over the counter and tell them how cool it is and that it’s refillable. But if you actually come out from behind the counter, pick up a bottle of butane and show where the flint goes and how to fill up the lighter, what you’ll end up with a lot of times is a sale of the lighter, a can of butane and a pack of flints,” Tucci said. “And if the customer ever runs out of butane, they’re going to come back to you for butane. If they ever have a problem with that lighter, just give them another lighter and then sell them another can of butane.”

Tucci noted that retailers should train clerks to view sales as an opportunity to sell a whole line of supporting items and create a bond with the customer, so they return for a refill or other products. “The key to merchandising right now is having a wide variety of complementary, low-cost products that show customers that you’re looking to help them save money,” he said.

RYO Accessories
Aside from lighters, Tucci said all sizes and styles of Pure Hemp rolling papers have been flying off the shelves. “We’re seeing people heading toward the natural papers. People ask for Pure Hemp by name,” he said.

Meanwhile, at Discount Smoke Shops, rolling papers are holding their own. “We still do a good job with mainstays in the rolling papers, Top and JOB and Zigzag,” Calderon said.

Tucci has seen more customers gravitating toward rolling machines. “Smokers now realize they can make their own cigarette at home, and they’re starting to look at the machines as an investment,” he said.

This is proving to be a boon for retailers because customers aren’t opting for cheap hand-powered models. “We’re seeing strong sales of the Powermatic II electric rolling machine, which is a top of the line model for home use. We retail them for $99, and it is amazing how well those machines are doing right now,” Tucci said. “We’re also seeing great movement from the Supermatic and the Supermatic II machines, which also have a strong ring.”

Tucci cautioned retailers to stay away from in-store cigarette manufacturing machines. “I wouldn’t touch those machines with a 10-foot pole. They are absolutely illegal, and you don’t build a solid business in the U.S. by slipping through a loophole,” he warned.

E-Cig Education
As e-cigarettes increase in popularity among customers they also create an opportunity to introduce customers to various cartridges and show them how to work the product. With e-cigarettes come a whole new range of accessories to offer, from chargers to cases.

Discount Smoke Shops began offering two different lines of electronic cigarettes about a year and a half ago, and also sells a myriad of accessories to complement the e-cigs, such as car chargers, home chargers and a complete array of cartridges in non-nicotine varieties all the way up to full-flavored options. Calderon noted that customer response to e-cigarettes is getting better every day as more regulations affecting where people can smoke regular cigarettes pop up.

Sales of e-cig products, however, have not detracted from regular cigarette or RYO sales. “It’s more of an addition for when people are in a bar or their office, but during their normal day-to-day routine they’re still smoking their regular cigarettes,” Calderon said. “So e-cigarettes are doing extremely well—both the full line and the disposable—and customers keep coming back for the cartridges.”

Popular products
Discount Smoke Shops has also seen its hooka products and accessories soar in popularity, driven by the 19-23-year-old customer. “Young adults seem to be getting into these products more,” Calderon said. “I think there’s a lot of advertising out there keying into hooka lines and flavors.”

One of the best selling tobacco accessories at Discount Smoke Shops is surprisingly as popular with non-smokers as it is with smokers: Smokers Outlet Candles. Sales of the candles continue to grow, with many customers returning specifically to buy them. The chain has been selling the candles for about five years. They come in an array of scents that change with the season.

“We carry 20 different varieties throughout the year, as well as sprays (to mask the smell of smoke). But we get a lot of consumers who say those candles last twice as long as something they buy at the special merchandise stores like Target or Wal-Mart,” Calderon said.

So as regulations eat away at tobacco sales, smoke shops are building customer loyalty with non-smoking customers. This is just another sign that tobacco accessories is a category with endless possibilities.

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