By Greg Girard
When Wayne and Ben Anstead started looking for a new location for Anstead’s Tobacco Company in Fayetteville, North Carolina, they knew it would be one of the most important decisions they made for their business. After 37 years in a shopping mall, it was essential to find a place convenient for their longtime customers as well as welcoming for new customers. Needless to say, father and son took their time with the process.
“We saw on the horizon that our lease was coming up in the mall,” says Ben. “The numbers the mall wanted, both in the amount of money they wanted for rent and in the time they wanted us to be there, were just off the charts. So we spent about two years looking at different properties. We looked at everything—warehouses, bank buildings, you name it. Huge, small and everything in between.”
Eventually they decided to check out the old barn resting vacant on North McPherson Church Road. “We kept driving past it because we felt it would be too big. We didn’t know if we were ready for a full-scale bar and lounge. But once we walked into the building and saw the character of it and the ceilings, our eyes just lit up,” remembers Ben.
The Barn, as it has come to be known, was a dairy barn built in the 1940s. In the 1970s, it was converted to a retail shop and over the next several decades had several iterations, from a sporting goods store to a high-end men’s clothing store, before sitting vacant for several years.
“Everyone who tried to turn this into a retail store did their best to make it not look like a barn,” explains Ben. “When we moved in, we embraced it. We wanted it to look like what it is. We repainted it red. He [Wayne] had a vision, and I was on board with it.”
It was an ambitious leap for the business, but in three months they had renovated the 5,000-square-foot building, replete with bar, lounge, conference room, offices and storage. They use about 2,600 square feet, including retail space of a little more than 1,000 square feet and a walk-in humidor of about 600 square feet. “Our whole store in the mall was 996 square feet. Our humidor itself is nearly two-thirds the size of what our whole store was in the mall,” says Ben.
“We want to offer that old-school tobacconist feel,
so when you walk in, you know you’re engaging with employees
who know what they’re talking about.” —Ben Anstead
The result is a large, but somehow intimate, setting to enjoy a premium cigar or pipe. The downstairs holds the retail shop, comfortable couches and chairs, some chess tables, and the conference room. Upstairs, under beautiful refurbished beams, is home to the bar and a widescreen TV.
If they had any reservations, it was probably the challenge of incorporating a bar into the business. In fact, it’s something they still find themselves adapting to. “We were never in the bar business before we opened this,” explains Ben. “We’re more than two years into it now, and I think we’re still learning. We’ve not mastered it by any means. The fact that the retail shop and the bar are underneath the same roof and you use the same entrance and exit means when one is open so is the other one. So finding that perfect balance of keeping the bar open later while retail traffic slows down, striking that balance is a challenge.”
Part of that balance is keeping to their original strategy that the bar is a complement to the retail shop. “The way the bar is structured and the rules we have means the bar always serves as an amenity to the retail shop,” says Ben. “This is a true cigar bar. All the spirits are high-end. All the beers are craft. We don’t keep crazy late-night hours, and if we have live music, it’s with strict instructions that they are to play as background. People still need to be able to come, sit down, have a conversation and enjoy themselves.”
It’s an amenity with benefits, however. “It’s been interesting to see how much more business we have staying open until midnight on Friday and Saturday, though,” says Wayne. “It was a shock for us. We can do a third, sometimes half of our day between 9 and 11. Sometimes we get the numbers at the end of the night and are just blown away.”
Yet for the Ansteads, location and ambiance are only half the formula. The other lies with the image and attitude their business reflects. “We see ourselves as a traditional, full-line, high-end tobacconist that operates with a high-informational customer service attitude,” says Ben. “We want to offer that old-school tobacconist feel, so when you walk in, you know you’re engaging with employees who know what they’re talking about. High information, not high pressure. We of course want to increase business, but our goal is to make sure customers walk out feeling happy so that they’ll come back and spend money with us again.”
That attitude has allowed Anstead’s to become a larger fixture within both the cigar culture of the Sandhills and Cape Fear regions of North Carolina and the Fayetteville business community. They sponsor community events, host ladies’ nights and a pipe club, and schedule manufacturer visits that complement their inventory. They’re extremely active on social media (you’d be amazed who visits the shop if you visit their Facebook page), and they seem to have solved the ultimate formula of melding business success with having fun doing it.
“We know what atmosphere we want to provide. We want the face that we trained to be the face customers meet when they come through the door,” explains Ben. “So when they walk in it’s, ‘Hey, how’re you doing? Welcome to Anstead’s. Humidor is over there. Lounge is over here. Let us know if we can help you.’ So far the customers have really responded to it.”
Anstead’s Tobacco Company
Fayetteville, North Carolina