Lake Country Cigars’ dedication to its customers leads to strong sales throughout the year
By Stephen A. Ross
Are your store sales lagging behind expectations? Or perhaps you’re looking for ways to enliven your store’s atmosphere and make it the happening place for premium tobacco enthusiasts in your area. Regardless of what your goals might be, premium tobacconists would do well to think about adopting the model that Lake Country Cigars in Delafield, Wisconsin, uses to not only attract new customers but persuade existing customers to stop in the shop more often.
Mary Lynn and Don Kane, the owners of Lake Country Cigars, strive to remind their customers and the larger community around their store that Lake Country Cigars is more than just a place where people can purchase their favorite cigars, pipes, pipe tobaccos and smoking accessories—that it’s also a thriving business that’s built around a community of tobacco lovers who contribute mightily to local charitable organizations. While Lake Country Cigars is a Davidoff Appointed Merchant, features a Rocky Patel-themed indoor private smoking lounge and a Drew Estate-themed outdoor smoking lounge, and offers hundreds of premium cigars in its approximately 300-square-foot humidor, the store is also something of a clubhouse where something fun and interesting is always happening.
“To be successful in marketing you have to understand that you have to touch someone many times before they understand how beneficial your business is to them. You have to remind them that they get something wonderful when they come to your store. Marketing is mostly about reminding people of the benefits of your business.”
“We’re completely about having fun,” Mary Lynn explains. “Don is from an engineering background, and I used to work in marketing. We work harder as retailers than we ever have before, but we don’t mind it because we love it.”
The Kanes’ love for cigars began in 1992. Don was a sales engineer for a mechanical contractor, and Mary Lynn was involved in business-to-business marketing. Neither of them were cigar smokers until they came upon a copy of Cigar Aficionado. Struck by the beautiful pictures in the magazine and the way it depicted cigar smoking, both Don and Mary Lynn decided to try cigars. About 10 days later each had purchased a humidor and were buying their own cigars. Six years later, both wanted to leave their careers and start a small business. Why not open a cigar shop?
“We love cigars and we love people who smoke cigars, but we also love business,” Mary Lynn explains. “You have to enjoy business to do this job, but owning a cigar shop seemed the perfect choice for Don and I.”
Located on the interstate in an affluent area of Wisconsin and within easy driving distance of Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago, Lake Country Cigars has been a success from the very start. The Kanes know they’re fortunate, but they also create a lot of their luck by adopting a full-scale marketing program that includes frequent events and communication with customers via their Snips newsletter, email blasts, social media posts and text messages.
“We’re in front of our customers all the time,” Mary Lynn explains. “To be successful in marketing you have to understand that you have to touch someone many times before they understand how beneficial your business is to them. You have to remind them that they get something wonderful when they come to your store. Marketing is mostly about reminding people of the benefits of your business.”
The Snips newsletter comes out six times a year and is sponsored by various manufacturers. It features cigar recommendations, announcements of new cigars in the humidor and a listing of upcoming events. Any future event will first be announced in Snips. As the date of the event approaches, Lake Country Cigars reminds its customers via email and social media posts explaining the event. The day before an event, everyone on the Lake Country Cigars list receives a text message about the event, including an incentive to come to it.
“It’s a program, and the customers want to give us their information,” Mary Lynn says. “Every time they get a text message from us they are given something for free—a raffle ticket, complimentary beverage or a bigger discount. They come in and show us their text, and they get something extra. Anytime we ask people to give us their information, they’re in. We give you a reminder, but you get something for it, so we’re in it together.”
A review of the October and November 2017 issues of Snips reveals five events in those months with companies such as La Palina, Tabacalera Perdomo, Alec Bradley, Gurkha and Drew Estate. These aren’t just cut-and-light or buy-four-get-one-free occasions. At Lake Country Cigars, every event has its own nuance or draw to bring more people into the store.
“We create events that are exciting,” Mary Lynn says. “We mix it up all the time and bring in people from other industries, such as a chocolatier or a home-brew guy. We market it heavily, and it’s never boring. Keeping our customers focused on Lake Country Cigars and building from there is the key to our success. There’s always something interesting and unique going on here, and people want to be a part of it.”
There’s the Alec Bradley 100 Box Challenge. The store recently hosted a talent show featuring customers called LCC’s Got Talent. There is the yearly customer appreciation party on Christmas Eve and the annual Christmas cigar breakfast the week before the holiday. And there is the Little Smoke, a two-day cigar celebration in June.
“We get some of the industry’s heavy hitters to come to Little Smoke,” Mary Lynn explains. “The first night is the pre-party, and the actual event is the next evening. You pay a ticket price and you get all your cigars upfront. You choose a table where you want to sit. Whoever is representing the manufacturer sits with those people all night long, and they get a special gift from that company that’s worth about $50. You get all your cigars and a $50 gift, the dinner and the opportunity to get the special prices that are available all night long. It’s a relaxing evening. The manufacturers love it because they have special time with the people who love their products. It’s intimate, but it’s also a selling event. Every event we do is a selling event.”
Those selling events spark strong sales throughout the rest of the year at Lake Country Cigars because the hospitality extended to event attendees is the same shown to any customer who comes into the store. The Kanes care about their customers so much that they’ve developed a customer advisory board, which consists of representatives from just about any demographic you can imagine—retirees to millennials, men and women—to assess customer service or recommend improvements or to serve as sounding boards for ideas Don or Mary Lynn might have.
“We have a lot of millennials on the board,” Mary Lynn explains. “We think it’s important to understand the traditional part of the business but move forward in our thinking. We will lose the boat if we don’t adjust to the next generation of customer. They aren’t like baby boomers or Gen Xers. The business shouldn’t be what we want, but it should be what our customers want. You can’t put your head in the sand and think that the business will be the same next year. Today is what matters, and the customer advisory board helps us move forward.”
In addition to creating the customer advisory board, the Kanes encourage their staff, led by longtime manager Matt Matheny, to do whatever they can to ensure all customers have a great experience at Lake Country Cigars. Every customer is greeted within a few seconds of walking into the store. Every employee is encouraged to provide a personal recommendation to a customer’s purchase or remind a customer of an upcoming event. “We hire a diverse staff made up of women and men, both young and older,” explains Mary Lynn. “They are committed to ensuring great customer relations because we hire only those that love what they do. That’s the key!”
Customer service at Lake Country Cigars is guaranteed by two programs the Kanes call the “Ladder of Satisfaction” and “Without Worry” guarantee. “On the bottom rung are people who walk in and walk out,” Mary Lynn says. “The second rung is the person who liked the experience, and they will come back when they’re in the area. The top rung is people who recommend you, and they come exclusively to you. We strive for the top of the ladder on every interaction. Without Worry helps us do that. We always say yes to a customer request. There’s never a no here because people like to hear yes. We’ll just have to work out some details to make sure it works for everybody.”
Always saying yes to customers, hosting a plethora of interesting events throughout the year, rewarding customer loyalty and constantly reminding customers about special events at the store are all part of Lake Country Cigars’ success. The store has a fine and wide selection of all the top premium cigars and smoking accessories that any retailer would be proud to offer, but it’s also got an atmosphere that promotes joviality and community.
“People like to have fun, and they like to feel like they belong,” Mary Lynn concludes. “Lake Country Cigars is just total frickin’ fun.”