Jeff Lawrence - Founder of Cheap Smokes & Cigars

Date: SEP 18th, 2012

Topic: Interview with a CEO

BeTheBoss.ca: Tell us about the Cheap Smokes & Cigars concept.

Jeff Lawrence: We have created a themed store concept that really works for smokers based on the era where icons like Marylyn Monroe and the Rat Pack of the 60's made smoking in vogue. We are not trying to create new smokers what we are doing however, is treating people who smoke with some much over due respect. We have built a store which sells nothing but smoking products and our clients truly know that this was built for them. For years, smokers have been treated as an afterthought and/or an add on product and no one has really tried to create a store for them, until now. Smokers make up almost 20% of the (adult) population and in smaller rural markets, which our business plan is perfect for, it is estimate as high as 25%. We are the only franchise store that is is focussed on their needs and they will come directly to your location and thank you for it with their business. In our first two start ups we achieved over 25% market share in only 3 months proving our idea and concept works and ensuring you become profitable very quickly.

BTB: How and why did you start Cheap Smokes & Cigars?

JL: In 2009 the Government changed the rules on selling Tobacco and over night more then 7 drug stores in the town we live (Airdrie, AB) could no longer sale tobacco. The new law would not allow tobacco to be sold in the same location that sold drugs, therefore all smokers were push towards gas stations and small convenance stores. in these stores prices are much higher, service is poor and the selection is not very good either so we decided that this was an opportunity not a problem and opened our first store.

BTB: What was your background prior to starting Cheap Smokes & Cigars?

JL: Prior to opening our first store I managed my own sales consulting company working in both the Oil and Gas and the Rail Road industries and prior to that was the VP of Sales & Marketing for a Manufacturing company in Texas. This was not our first venture into retail as my wife and I also started a clothing company in Calgary and after 2 years sold that business as it was not exactly what we wanted. We want to build a business that we could franchise.

BTB: What are some of the advantages of being a Cheap Smokes & Cigars franchisee?

JL: We are business people with a huge passion for people and customer service. If you are new to retail or opening your first business having a parter like us is a huge advantage. We have also created something very unique that we can share with you and your clients that will separate you from all of your competitors. We have cultivated relationships and in some cases, very special contracts that you would not other wise be able to get if you were to try to start a tobacco business today. We also offer you training and on going mentoring to ensure your locations is successful and profitable.

BTB: Who is your ideal franchisee?

JL: Ideally it would be an "owner operator" with a love of people and a passion for customer service. It is a huge advantage if you have a passion for cigars or other tobacco products, but like most things, this knowledge/passion can be developed. This is a great opportunity for women in fact 95% of our current staff are women, however, it is also for anyone who is looking to get out of the busy corporate life and relax into your own business. When I say "relax into your own business" please understand you will have to work hard, but if your passionate about your own business it wont feel like work.

BTB: What are some of the greatest lessons you've learned in growing your business?

JL: In the beginning my wife and I wanted to do everything ourselves. We need too in order to learn how we want it done and so we could fail and learn from those failures. Eventually we learned to start letting other people do the little things so we could focus on growing our business. In short, you need to stop "working in your business" as quickly as possible and start working "on your business" if you want real growth. The great news with purchasing a Franchise is ... you can learn from our mistakes and jump right to "working on your business".

BTB: Do you have a mentor or is there someone you use for inspiration?

JL: I am very lucky as I have Ed Alfke (founder of Rent-a-Wreck) as a father in-law and franchise guru who has been coaching and mentoring us along the path to franchising our business.

BTB: What advice do you have for someone looking to acquire a franchise?

JL: 1) Sometimes it is the smaller new franchises, that cant afford to have any failures, that will help you the most ... not the large established ones.

2) Find out what your passionate about and then do more of that .... pick a franchise that you are or can get passionate about.

BTB: In your opinion, why do you think Cheap Smokes & Cigars would be a great opportunity for someone?

JL: This is a great opportunity because we have a niche business with a consumable product that your clients will come back every day for. It is perfect for rural towns which means low fixed costs (Rent), it builds sales very quickly to profitability, requires low investment, requires very little staff and most of all if offers a fun relaxed life style for the owners, staff and clients.