Tobacco Retailers: Coming Together

Tobacco shops and c-stores find common ground in a political world

By
Melissa Vonder Haar, Tobacco Editor

This RYO set may look like it belongs in a tobacco shop, but it actually replaced 3 feet of grocery in one of Kocolene’s convenience stores.
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It’s more challenging given the difference in time expectations between the c-store and tobacco-shop consumer. Myers believes c-stores should try to leverage the employee-consumer relationship, even if there’s a time limit on that interaction.

“C-store shoppers want in and out; tobacco-store shoppers like to mingle and chat, usually,” she says. “If you can train your c-store staff to talk about new tobacco products during the transaction, it helps sell more items.”

Metzinger agrees: “It’s definitely something that’s been able to carry over into our convenience stores. We’re trying to keep our employees as correct and abreast of what’s current as possible, on both sides.”

And it’s not just the employee-consumer relationship that tobacco shops rely on. Kerstein says he equally values relationships with tobacco manufacturers.

“Data is not as readily available as it may be for other product categories,” he says. “In many cases, you are forced to rely on the recommendations of the sales staff of the cigar manufacturers. So the relationship you build with those salespeople is crucial to the success in operating a tobacco store.”

Though data may be easily available in the standard c-store tobacco segments, as more retailers look to boost margins by entering new areas such as premium cigars and vaping products, building honest relationships with manufacturers and wholesalers could be key.

“Don’t be afraid to test new products or even new category extensions,” says Myers. “As long as you partner with vendors who will stand behind that product, there shouldn’t be much of a risk to you.”

And maybe there’s one more relationship that will be important to the future of tobacco operators: the relationship between c-stores and tobacco shops. After all, if anti-tobacco advocates and lawmakers are lumping the channels together, why shouldn’t c-store retailers and tobacco shops become allies in both legal battles and business?

“We’re in the midst of a very negative environment,” Metzinger says. “There’s a strong entity of people in this country who just don’t like tobacco and are trying to fight it. But I’m an optimist. I think there are better days ahead.”

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