BY MAGGIE BEAMGUARD
Local cigar merchant Steve Norrell, who owns three retail stores including the Cigar Box Lounge in Southern Pines and two others in the larger area, has expanded his tobacco domain to include a West End warehouse.
Norrell, who has decades of experience in the credit card processing industry, needed a space from which to run his stores and that would also allow him to grow into wholesale and e-commerce.
Norrell has created office space, meeting space, shipping area and a giant walk-in humidor at his warehouse, 1975 Juniper Lake Road. A sweet, earthy aroma emanates from the nearly $800,000 worth of product housed in the protected space — an impressive sight.
Norrell sells wholesale to golf courses and other cigar shops and anyone who wants to resell. Once his website 2468Cigars.com is ready, they will be able to accommodate the individual who enjoys cigars at home.
The distinct, brawny culture around cigars emerges from their simplicity. Composed of three things — binder, filler and wrapper — cigars can be mild, medium or full bodied and have complex notes such as vanilla, nutmeg, pepper or oak.
And they can cost a premium — as much as $100 a pop — but also can be a more budget-friendly $3. Norrell says there are plenty of people who can’t tell the difference. “There are no two people that think the same cigar is the same. You can put five guys with the same cigar, and all five will come up with a different opinion. It’s very subjective.”
In a highly regulated and competitive industry, Norrell has crafted a business plan he hopes will appeal to cigar aficionados and compete effectively with other online retailers. Contracts with cigar brands limit the pricing structures for sellers. According to Norrell, a problem arises where the marked up prices mean stores are selling cigars within pennies of each other so that there is no real advantage to one site over another other than preferences for shipping or business practices.
Norrell wanted to distinguish himself from these competitors.
“We’ll sell the sticks at the same price we do at the store, with a 20 percent discount, but we’re going to sell cigars at $2, $4, $6 or $8,” he explains. “Clearly there are certain cigars I buy that are more than $8. The brand name ones I can’t do that with. So we’ll bundle naked cigars, ones with no label.”
Norrell plans to build his own brand around them with his own stickers. “One we have is a cigar that’s sweet and we’re making a label that says sweet Sweet Carolina.”
When Norrell talks to guys smoking a cigar on the golf course, he says he typically hears them say they bundled it from another big online store.
“So that’s what the average guy wants,” he said. “He wants a bundle of cigars for $40, $50, $60 and you can smoke those cigars on the golf course all day long and not worry about losing them.”
He muses he’d own his own golf course by now if he got paid for each cigar he lost on the greens. “What happens is, you’re getting ready to hit a shot and you’re over in the pine needles, you throw the cigar down and it’s the same color. The next thing you know, you just blew a $10 stick. So what we have is a $2 sticker, $4 stick. That’s what our model is.”
Norrell is poised to become an e-commerce distributor in the area and believes the business can only grow.
“What I foresee is we’ll run out of room,” he said. He hopes to expand into the warehouse space beside him. And he has big dreams for his space that include a sound studio to make recordings for YouTube.
It sounds like a strange thing for a cigar warehouse to build. But Norrell, who visits cigar shops across the country, dreams about bringing the cigar shop experience to people at home.
“I go visit them and at every single one, you go in there’s the old guy sitting around smoking and busting chops,” he says, noting that they also always say “we should put this on film and we’d be rich.”
Norrell wants to be the one to actually follow through with recording the humorous banter, creating his own scripted and edited show.
That camaraderie around a shared amusement is what it comes down to for Norrell. Cigars are an experience. “You’re sitting around, smoking with friends. You’re talking about things. It’s an event.”
Contact Maggie Beamguard at email@example.com.