Please don’t shoot me… Wednesday, Sep 8 2010 

I’m really embarrassed that I’ve gone so long without posting, but we’ve made a lot of changes, so let me give a little recap, here.

The big thing is that we moved our warehouse and shipping operation into the same building as our main brick & mortar location. It was a monumental task, and I have no idea how Bobby was able to get the computers, the network and our communication system up and running so quickly. It’s taken a while, but we’re finally all settled in, and things are working better than expected. With everyone all in the same building, things are a little quicker and more efficient.

We’ve also started implementing changes to deliver better customer service, and if the feedback is any indication, our innovations seem to be working.

Berry Nice, our new aromatic is on the website. It is a non-goopy black cavendish scented with blackberry, wild berries, black currant and brandy. What’s nicer is that the berries come through in the flavor. Next up will be Steamroller, a hard blend to classify. It is mainly Burley and Virginia with unflavored black cavendish, Perique and a hint of Latakia. Because of the darker Burleys and the Perique content, it packs a bit of a nic wallop and has a uniquely intriguing flavor. Expect it in November.

We’re also looking into a possible arrangement that will allow us to have wider distribution of the Hearth & Home brand, bring out more new super-premium blends (thanks to the availability of some tobaccos that I haven’t had access to in many years), all while keeping our prices reasonable and quality high.

One other aspect of this will address one of the longest standing issues we’ve had. A number of people have expressed that they wish that our tobaccos had more time to marry before shipping. Unfortunately, due to space limitations and the fact that this is a one-man operation, it’s nearly impossible for me to make enough to stay ahead of orders sufficiently to allow them to age. If everything comes together (and I will know by October), we’ll be able to put a lot more time on the blends before they ship. In addition, this arrangement will also afford me access to some higher grade components, and I will be able to pick and choose what I need, but, I’m fairly sure, without much of any movement in the pricing.

For those of you who are into the pipe show scene, I will be representing PipesandCigars.com at the C.O.R.P.S. show in Richmond, Va. on October 2 & 3, and at the West Coast Pipe Show at the Palace Station in Las Vegas on November 6 & 7, where I will be doing a seminar on blending on Saturday afternoon (both of these shows will allow smoking in the venue).  I was also really flattered and humbled to be asked by Craig Cobine  to do a talk  for next year’s CPCC (Chicagoland) Pipe Show on May 14 & 15, 2011. Craig has inherited some large shoes to fill following the lead of Frank Burla, but he’s been heavily involved for quite sometime, and I suspect that the show will be as good as ever. I’m just a little taken aback that Craig has asked me to help out with his inaugural show as director. As I said to Scotty when I was approached, that invitation kind of makes me feel that I’ve “arrived”. I hope to be able to put together an entertaining presentation, because I want to keep the attendees awake for at least the first 10 to 15 minutes.

Some of the buzz about taxes and regulations have quieted down for the moment, and we’re hoping that we’ve seen the last of it for a while, but I wouldn’t hold my breath (which would be far more hazardous than second-hand smoke). In spite of all of this, we’re seeing a modest increase in pipe business, probably due to people switching from cigarettes to pipes.

Here’s hoping that the momentum lasts for the foreseeable future, and I’ll try to write again (much sooner).

Gearing Up Friday, Mar 19 2010 

March is over halfway gone…how is that possible? But at least the weather has been beautiful for a few days; I could get used to this.

It’s time to get ready for the Spring rush (it always seems that there’s a spike in pipe tobacco sales when it starts to warm up) so people will have their tobacco on hand for those who enjoy long springtime strolls. But it also means getting ready for the Chicagoland Pipe Show.

We’ve decided to take 4 tables for this show, and we have a bunch of estate pipes from Frenchy’s Danish Connection and, of course, our Dunhills. Additionally, we’ve decided to produce more tins of the Hearth & Home blends, including the new ones, so that means that I’ll be busy. Since we will also be selling the pipe club blends (Seattle and Sherlock Holmes), we will have a fair amount of tobacco to sell and sample. So, for the next six weeks or so, there will be very little breathing room, but it’s much better than sitting around.

So the basic rundown for us for the CPCC Show is- about 25 different blends in the H&H line will be available, the 3 Seattle blends and the 2 from SHPC, and maybe a surprise or two, if time allows. We’ll have a fair number of estates, Dunhills and some others (I’ll have a better idea of what brands soon). We’re going to have deals on lighters, and we’ll have a promotional “goodie bag” with all kinds of neat stuff for a dirt-cheap price. We’re also donating Anniversary Kake samples for attendees of the Pipe and Cigar dinner. Keep an eye open for our CPCC t-shirt; I think it’s pretty funny, but then again, it was my idea

If there’s any way that you can make the trip to St. Charles, Il. on 4/30, 5/1 or 5/2 (Pheasant Run Resort), you won’t be disappointed. In fact, if you’ve never gone to this show, be prepared for sensory overload. But if you can make it, please stop by our tables so we can say hi and chat. In the meantime, I’d better get back to making tobaccos.

Been busy… Monday, Feb 15 2010 

I’m sorry that I haven’t written in a while. Between my new responsibilities for the company (disseminating product information to customers and staff), a huge upswing in the sale of Hearth & Home and the pipe club tobaccos, and making plans for International Pipe Smoking Day and the Chicago show, I’ve been more than a little preoccupied.

The first of the things I’ve taken on has lead me to produce a number of trifold borchures that will be available in the store, and eventually from our website, about subjects like cigar and pipe basics, pipe tobacco types, humidor and lighter care and much more. If you think you could use a little info, keep an eye out for these free handouts. I’ll also be sending updates and doing seminars for our employees, and we’ll be starting a series of seminars for our customers in the B&M.

I can’t believe what has happened with the sale of the Hearth & Home tobaccos since the first of the year. I’m looking at making about 50% more Anniversary Kake for 2010 than I did in 2009. Classic Burley Kake is keeping pace with Anni Kake, and Larry’s Blend is through the roof. The newest blends (Daybreak, Ambassador’s Blend and Stogie) are all doing very well. My biggest concern is that with the increase in sales, it could slow down the development and release of new blends, but I guess that’s a good problem to have. The next step will be getting tobaccos ready for Chicago, and that will be quite the task.

Speaking of Chicago, our plans are pretty much in place, and they include a limited edition tobacco which will only be sold at the show. If there are any tins left afterward, we’ll make them available online, but I don’t expect that there will be many, if any, extra. Our plans for International Pipe Smoking Day are all set, and it’s the best we’ve done yet. We will have a special selection of Peterson pipes at 25% off, Peterson and Ashton tobaccos to sample, Irish Whiskey tastings, snacks, and a very special IPSD blend- a medium-Balkan containing Basma and Yenidje, which is limited to 110 tins.

Our pipe club has its agenda for the rest of the year in place, and we have a lot of great events planned, plus I just found out last week that we may have a previously unexpected guest (a very distinguished one, at that) at our March meeting. Now if I can fit in an hour or two of sleep somewhere along the way, we’ll be in great shape.

‘Tis the season Monday, Dec 14 2009 

The weather outside is…yuck.  Sorry, winter lovers, but I hate the cold, ice and snow. Regardless, I have plenty of work to keep me indoors and warm. At last count, I’ve got 14 requests for blends to match discontinued or unavailable tobaccos, or custom blends. In addition, our tried-and-true products (like Anniversary Kake and Larry’s Blend) and our hot, new items (Daybreak, Classic Burley Kake, Ambassador’s Blend) have been jumping off the shelves, so I’ll be keeping busy.

We have opened our incredible new store (moving our flagship store about 1/2 mile to a bigger location). We now have over 350 packaged pipe tobaccos on display, and will have more than 150 bulk blends on the tobacco bar. In addition, when we move our mail-order division into the same building, we’ll have about another 150 bulks available immediately upon request. I’ve been spending a fair amount of time organizing and merchandising our displays, and it’s absolutely beautiful.

We’re talking about what our plans are for 2010, and I will let you all know about anything new once I’m sure what we’re doing. In the meantime, I’d like to wish you all peace and joy during the holiday season, and the best for a happy and healthy new year.

A Rant Tuesday, Oct 20 2009 

I dislike expressing opinions in a forum of this type as they are just that- opinions.  My thoughts have no more validity than anyone else’s unless I’m working from empirical fact, and so I avoid it. But I’m fed up enough that I’m going to allow myself this one rant, and will try not to repeat it in the future.

What’s got me fired up? A proposed piece of regulation from the state of Florida which would tax tobacco pipes at a rate of 25%. Come on now, have we finally lost our minds in the face of political correctness? Haven’t we been demonized enough with anti-smoking regulations and usurious taxes? Haven’t we taken away enough liberties from independent business people who would prefer to allow smoking in their bar/restaurant? Now we have some people who want to keep smokers out of parks; something even such a virulent anti-smoker as NYC mayor Bloomberg considers over-the-top and unenforceable.

I have no problem being asked not to smoke around people who find it offensive. If a restaurant or bar wants to ban smoking, but I like the establishment, I will go without a pipe or cigar, gladly. But many of these new anti-smoking efforts are ridiculous.

Why the hell would any state or city pass a law disallowing smoking from a smokeshop? Why not make it illegal for more than 5 people to gather in any one place to cut down on the spread of viruses and bacteria? Next we”ll be getting fined or arrested for passing gas in an elevator.

If it is clearly labelled that smoking is allowed in an establishment, then people shouldn’t go in there. Since bars, restaurants and smokeshops are, generally, privately-owned businesses, no one has the “right” to go there. If the owner wants to allow smoking, then an anti-smoker should have no call to demand admittance and to require all others in the establishment to stop smoking. But we live in a society where, it seems, we believe that if some is good, more must be better, so we make the laws more stringent and exclusionary as we go.

There are organizations like Cigar Rights of America that are trying to make some common-sense headway in these areas. We need to support them in their efforts. When I get involved in the November 9th conference call for the United Pipe Clubs of America’s executive board, I will ask about their lobbying policy, and see if we can get something going.

I have no desire to have anyone who doesn’t want to smell or breathe my smoke do so, but let’s use a little forethought as to when we’re carrying the “nannyism” too far. What do you say? Drop me an email and let me know

Post-Richmond Workload Thursday, Oct 8 2009 

I just got back into my routine after making the trip to Richmond for the CORPS show, and it was, as always, a terrific event. I traveled with two customers from the retail store who also volunteered to help me at the tables, so I wasn’t tied down for the entire show. The trip was fun and (thankfully) uneventful, and the hospitality upon arrival was typically warm.

The dinner on Friday night was great, and it let me spend some time with Rick Newcombe, author of one of my favorite pipe books- “In Search of Pipe Dreams”. If you haven’t read this book, buy it. It is a great personal reminiscence of someone who loves the hobby. I also had a nice chat with Vernon Vig,  president of both the New York Pipe Club and the United Pipe Clubs of America,  who unselfishly devotes a large amount of his time to the pipe smoking community. I am on the executive board of UPCA this year, and look forward to more involvement with this wonderful organization which encourages pipe smokers to join or form a local club. Visit their website at http://www.unitedpipeclubs.org/.

The show went very well and I had a chance to meet or say hi again to a number of our customers, and we introduced our tobaccos to a lot of new folks. I rolled out a new blend, Stogie, created for the person who occasionally smokes cigars, or those who want to transition from cigars to a pipe. Look for it within the next week on our website.

I bought a gorgeous black sandblast pipe from Joe Nelson of Old Nellie Pipes (www.oldnelliepipes.com) that is very unique. It is a kind of 1/8th bent cross between a pickaxe and acorn shape with a shank extension that appears to be rosewood, and a remarkably comfortable bit.

Frenchy’s No-Holds-Barred blend was a hit with his pipe smoking friends, and with the preparations for Richmond, I was slowed down getting it put together for tinning, but he should have it shortly.

I hope to be having a meeting soon to discuss plans for future blends and the form they will take. Once that is done, there should be a number of new products to release.

We are coming into the best time of year for taking a walk and enjoying a bowl, in my humble opinion. Autumn weather and the incredible foliage here in the Great Northeast are the perfect companions for a stroll. I wish you all a pleasant fall season, and will try to get back on the blog again much sooner than in the past.

Summer’s Finally Here Thursday, Aug 27 2009 

This summer has been unusually cool and rainy, that is until the past 10 days or so. It has turned into the heat and humidity that we normally face in summer. But that’s not really important; the big thing is that I’ve been busy with some projects, and haven’t checked in for awhile.

One thing that’s kept me busy is developing some blends for Frenchy’s Pipes. Frenchy’s a great guy who sells fairly priced pipes with a nice selection of estates. We’ve been friendly for a few years, and now Frenchy’s selling some tobacco, so I asked him if he’d like some blends of his own. He was excited about the idea, so I made three blends, sent them and modified the blends after feedback from Frenchy. He will soon have an English, Virginia and Burley blend in tins with his label. I’ve also sent a sample of a “no-holds-barred” blend to him. This has enough of a kick to make you want to sit down. I can’t wait to hear from him about it.

I’ve also been doing a lot of  “matching”. A number of tobaccos have disappeared in recent years, and I’ve been inundated with samples sent by customers to see if I can come up with something similar. It’s a challenge to do things of this nature, and some of these samples are going to present me with puzzles that will take some time. But when I find a blend that works, it’s very rewarding. Reverse engineering is a lot simpler with electronics and the like, as it’s very easy to determine what the components are. Tobacco is much different as the leaf changes from year to year, and there are so many things one can do to change a blend.  It’s been fun, and I hope to finish these matches in the next week or so, so I can get back to working on new projects.

Keep and eye out on http://pipesandcigars.com/ruouhobl.html in the next month or so. Very soon you will see our next blend called Stogie, which is a true pipe tobacco made for cigar smokers.

We’re gearing up for Richmond, but more about that in my next post.

Rested and ready to go Friday, Jul 24 2009 

Well, I’m back after a little vacation time and I’m getting ready for our move to new facilities and for new products. We’ll be moving to a large space above our new retail store, so everything will be in one place, which will make things much more efficient for both the B&M and our mail-order operation.  No more running from one building to the other when something is needed. I should also have a nice area for blending, and I’ll be able to set things up to make things easier and quicker.

I’m still waiting on the status of the tobaccos for the new blends. Hopefully I’ll hear soon so I can have some of the blends ready in time for the Richmond show.  I’ll have at least 2 flakes coming out, and I’ll be working on a Burley/Virginia flake with a unique twist. With any luck at all, we’ll roll out a number of items before year’s end.

We won’t be going to Columbus, since a one-day show is a lot of work and expense, and this year everybody’s watching their pennies.  We will be going to Richmond, though, since it really costs little more to do a 2 day show, plus it gives me a chance to make some stops that will be very useful.

Classic Burley Kake has turned out to be a winner. The reviews and customer feedback has been very positive, and the orders are coming in fast. Thanks to everyone who has tried it and sent an email or called me with their comments. Now that I’ve found the method, other aromatics may follow.

As the summer begins to wind down, we’ll be gearing up for a big increase in pipe and tobacco sales (which always seem to pick up in the fall), and as a start, we’ve brought in some pipes from a terrific, relatively new American pipemaker, Kevin Arthur. I bought a couple of his pipes at Chicago this year. They’re visually stunning, and great smokers as well. All of them are one-of-a-kind, and very reasonable. Take a look on our site.

That’s all for now. Enjoy the heat while you can.

Taking baby steps Tuesday, Jun 23 2009 

Well, I’ve tweaked the blend containing Yenidje, and everyone who has tried it has raved about it. I’m still waiting for word on the availability of the leaf, but signs at this point look positive. I can tell that summer is here by the demand for Virginia and Virginia/Perique blends. Anniversary Kake, Marble Kake, Louisiana Red, AJ’s VaPer and the others are all selling quickly.

I’d like to move forward more quickly on the variety of projects that I’m juggling right now, but there are questions to be answered, and the people who can answer them have a lot on their plates as well. They say that patience is a virtue, so I’m becoming more virtuous by the day. When I finally know all the info, I’ll be ready to move forward quickly. My best guess is that I’ll start working on these projects in earnest by fall.

I’m putting together plans for the fall shows. Richmond is pretty much a certainty, while Columbus is up in the air, but still likely. I hope to have things ready well in advance of the shows so we can just pack and go.

We will be moving our operation to new quarters in about a month. We hope to keep any delays in operations to a minimum, and it’s going to be quite a project.

Time to take care of some details, so I need to get going. Drop me a line at russo@pipesandcigars.com if I can answer any questions you might have.

Lots of stuff going on… Wednesday, Jun 10 2009 

I’m sorry I haven’t written recently but it’s been a bit crazy around here, and I figure that I’ll let you in on the activity.

The first thing that occured was that I received samples of some tobacco, which included some incredibly sweet Virginia and the long-lost Yenidje. I’ve tossed together a couple of blends based on the samples, and the tobacco is amazing. The Virginia adds a rich, tea-like sweetness, and the Yenidje is as flavorful and fragrant as I remember.  If I can procure a quantity of these tobaccos, I will bring out some super-premium blends, which will be available in tins only. The folks who have tried it so far have been enthusiastic, and a couple of people made some comparisons that I find very encouraging

I just spent some time with Joe and Carolyn Lankford from the Seattle area. For those of you who are not familiar with Joe, he’s the blender of the Seattle Pipe Club tobaccos, which we produce and/or distribute. He’s also done some blends that Cornell & Diehl make. Both Joe and Carolyn are great people, and although we had met before, this was the first time we’ve really had any real time together. I was amazed at how similar our tastes, approaches and attitudes were, so we were definitely off on the right foot.

The first day, Joe and I toured our warehouse, and he was very impressed with the sheer volume of items we had on hand. After chatting for a while, we put together a new Virginia blend with a “secret ingredient”, and that was all we could do before heading over to the B&M to have a smoke, meet the staff and customers and relax a bit. Carolyn seemed to be enjoying meeting everyone, and we stayed at the store until supper time, then proceeded to kill some barbecue.

Saturday, we had our pipe club picnic, which was well-attended, and the club members were thrilled to have Joe and Carolyn there.  The day was perfect, the food was great, and the venue was beautiful. We spent the day talking, eating, playing games, and, of course, showing pipes and smoking. Then it was back to the store and off to dinner, although we were still a bit full from the picnic.

On Monday Joe and I worked on and completed 2 more blends- a Va/Per and an English. All three will be available soon, but we’re still figuring out the marketing. As soon as we’re ready to release them, I’ll note it here. Joe also gave me a new blend for the Seattle Pipe Club series, and he gave me another that we will modify once I find out about the availability of some of the new tobaccos.

On Tuesday, I drove Joe and Carolyn to the airport, and was sorry that our time went so quickly. We agreed that we need to get together again, and I’m sure that this won’t be the end of our collaborations or friendship.

Now I’m back in production mode, having made 8 different blends for stock, and I’m cranking out more Plum Pudding to keep the Seattle fans happy. I hope to find out the status on tobacco availability by the end of the week, and if I get good news, I will be bringing some hot new products out by fall. That’s about all for now; I hope to write again this week.

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