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Student entrepreneurs open their first cigar shop in the Brazos County area

Jess Fields and Sean Miller said they have learned more about business in the past six months than any degree from a business school could ever provide.

The two 19-year-old students opened Texas Ave. Cigar on Sept. 22 after jumping through all the hoops necessary to open a business - much less a business selling tobacco.

"The first semester of my freshman year I noticed there was no cigar shop in Brazos County," said Fields, a sophomore economics major who has smoked cigars since his 18th birthday. As president of the Texas A&M aficionado club, he knew there was a market of cigar smokers in the area. "It would have been foolish not to take advantage of such an opportunity," he said.

In March, Fields took his idea to Miller, his friend since sixth grade who, he said, was one of the only people he had the confidence to go into business with.

"We've been friends forever," Fields said.

"Too long," Miller interjected.

They said they mulled the idea over - first as a joke. But the more they thought about it, the more serious it became. "We just didn't know how to start," Fields said.

While sitting in an Irish pub in downtown Houston in April, the two decided to go for it. And at that point, Fields said, the arduous process to business ownership began.

"It was extremely difficult," he said.

The two had to take out a loan, write a financial plan, find a location to lease and incorporate with the state. Also, because they were opening a store selling tobacco, Fields said they had to work around the government regulations for such a business.

"That almost killed us," said Miller, who is in the process of transferring from the University of Houston to A&M.

Though they were much younger than most other entrepreneurs, the two had to follow the same procedures and deal with bankers and government officials all the same.

"We were treated with a lot of respect," he said. "Though I wouldn't be surprised if they thought we were joking."

Miller said there was one key difference: "Most businesses don't have their parents co-sign their loan for them."

The bank approved their financial plan and loaned Fields and Miller the money to start the shop. (Miller wouldn't say how much was borrowed, except that it was "a lot" for a 19-year-old.) With the money, they leased space in the shopping center on Texas Avenue next to Harvey Washbanger's in early August.

Miller moved to College Station after making his first visit to the city only a few months before, and then he and Fields got their friends together to prepare to open. They took the empty commercial space, Fields said, and painted it, bought and built furniture and made the only honest-to-goodness cigar shop in Brazos County.

Will Yarberry, a sophomore physics and math major who has been a friend of Miller since elementary school, was one of the friends assembling furniture and getting everything together for the opening.

"In middle school, we used to talk about opening businesses someday, computer programming or something," he said. "But when I heard they were doing this, it surprised the hell out of me."

"It was nice to see everyone make sure it came together and get the store open," said Yarberry, who doesn't smoke, but still hangs out there because he enjoys the atmosphere.

In the week before the grand opening, Fields said everyone slept for five hours - if that - so the store was ready for business on schedule.

And it was. On Sept. 22, Texas Ave. Cigar opened its doors to customers for the first time.

"We opened the business because we saw a market opportunity," Fields said, almost a month after the store's launch. "It has far exceeded our expectations."

Students, professors and area businessmen make up most of the customer base. "Our Suddenlink rep works here as though it's his office,'' Fields said.

"People say they are 'so glad you opened,'" Miller said. "People like to come in here and relax."

He added customers discovered the store through word of mouth, because they haven't spent any money on advertising.

Fields said most of the customers enjoy dropping by because of the relaxation cigars and environment provide.

"Cigars are a great way to take a half-hour or hour and just relax," he said. "Anyone can smoke the same cigar as Donald Trump as long as they want to pay $20. They're very egalitarian."

The store, Fields said, is becoming quite a success. Proving, in his mind, that almost anything has the potential to be a success with enough hard work.

"We got a three-year loan," Miller said, "but we will pay off the loan by next spring."

They said they hope the store succeeds and, one day, expands, but this isn't the business they plan on working in for the long haul.

"We won't do this forever," Fields said. "But we look to expand and grow as much as we can."

Though the money will be good whenever it starts flowing in, he said the main objective behind the store is experience. After enduring the entrepreneurial process from concept to breaking even, Fields said they will certainly have learned quite a bit about the world of business.

"This has been a more valuable learning experience than we could have gotten from any degree at the May's Business School," he said.

Source: Texas A&M The Battalion