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Macho appeal moves cigars

Three years ago, cigar shop owner Kendall Culbertson decided that to grow his business he would need to convert non-cigar smokers to smokers.

He says the strategy is working. Sales at his Kansas City, North, store, the Outlaw Cigar Co., have grown 42 percent in the last two years, reaching more than $1 million annually.

Culbertson has brought what he calls sizzle to the business by hosting monthly events that draw a demographic that crosses into the one he hopes to attract. To attract those people, mostly men, Culbertson has partnered with dozens of businesses and organizations.

For instance, at one of his recent events, Culbertson hooked up with a local Porsche car club. He said the event drew more than 1,000 people.

"I want the drivers and their passengers," Culbertson said. "It's those guys that I'm actually targeting, not for what it would appear I'm doing, that is to have cars there for other guests to look at."

Toward that end, Culbertson holds events with entities representing a variety of interests, such as a golf-swing analyst or Benchmade Knife Co., the maker of an upscale line of knives.

The military also has signed on to partner with Culbertson and at a recent gathering brought along some he-man goodies, including a Howitzer. Later this month, an Apache helicopter from Whiteman Air Force Base will land in a field near the Outlaw Cigar store.

Other lures have included waitresses from Hooters, an Outlaw Cigar pinup calendar, free beer, roasted pigs and Italian sausages.

Event partners pay their own expenses, and Culbertson doesn't allow them to sell during the parties, although they are free to distribute information, samples, coupons and other enticements.

A big draw for the already converted cigar aficionados are "cigar celebrities" such as Jose "Pepin" Garcia, Ernesto Padilla, Litto Gomez and Jorge Padron.

Culbertson said that when he began to sponsor the events, it was hard to convince others to join in. Now they are clamoring to get in on the action.

"The whole idea wasn't a big brainstorm," Culbertson said. "It was more ‘I need customers — who has those customers?' It seemed pretty obvious to me.

"A mistake the (cigar) industry seems to make is that this is for the rich and famous, but it's not, it's all kind of guys," Culbertson said. "Although most of our customers are between 25 to 50, we don't target any specific income or age group — we just target guys, all guys."

Source: Kansas City Star