Cigar Commentary: Where I Buy My Cigars

A lot of my friends ask me where I get cigars. I usually tell them that I buy cigars at my local brick and mortar cigar shop. But that’s only half the story. I find myself buying a few cigars through online retailers too. Even though in both cases I may be buying cigars, I’m definitely getting something that is not the same at all.

At a cigar shop, I like to think of it as paying for the experience. And as for online retailers, I’m just buying cigars.

At the shop, I’ll always buy a cigar (or a few) because I’m going there to hang out, not to simply buy something and leave. Of course that’s the case. At a shop, I’ll have access to a great selection; there will be smokes that are hard to find anywhere else. After perusing the wide variety of cigars, there aren’t many things in life that’s more satisfying than picking one out, sitting down with a bunch of the shop regulars (a.k.a. my friends) and relaxing in cigar bliss for a while.

Here’s how I see it. Selling cigars is a little bit like selling beer. Allow me to explain this analogy. Beer can be bought at many places – for example, at a bar/lounge or at a supermarket. Sure, the same beer sold at a bar (for a premium) is also sold at a supermarket.  But a beer at a bar can be priced as much as a supermarket six-pack – for the same beer. It is significantly more expensive to buy beer at a bar – but people do it all the time. Why is that? Well, more often than not, people are not just purchasing beer at bars, they’re enjoying their chilled beverage at a haven with the  right ambiance, décor, and the company of other patrons of the bar.

The difference (a definite significant one) is the overall experience.

Now, buying cigars online is a bit like shopping at a supermarket. For example, I’ve never been able to drink beer at the supermarket (not in the U.S. at least). Even if I could, I don’t know if I’d want to. But if I buy a beer at a bar, it’s  a sure thing that I’ll drink it at the bar, immediately upon purchase.

On a similar same note, patrons should never bring their own beer to a bar. That’s like bringing sand to a beach. Maybe some thrifty individual may wish to bring his own, but the reality is that the thrifty individual is not only tacky, but that person is thieving services. Also it is very a bad policy for patrons to bring their own – bars would go out of business. It’s just not a nice thing to do – it’s kind of like scaling the walls of a museum just to avoid paying the nominal admission.

The same can be said about cigars and cigar lounges. So yes, it may be true that people can buy the same cigars that may be available in a cigar shop for less at an online retailer, but they’re definitely not paying for the same things.

I can imagine that manufacturers can have it rough. They can get caught in the middle between the B&M’s and the online retailers. Not wanting to alienate shops, cigar makers have been doing B&M only releases. Also, not wanting to skip out on the online sales volume, their cigars  are increasingly becoming more available online. Some makers are even considering online-only releases. Could that be a bit too much?

Ultimately, it’s all about getting great cigars in the hands of cigar smokers. Brewers know this too – all they want to do is put great beer in the glasses of beer drinkers.

You know what beer brewers would say about this? They would say that bars have nothing to worry about. Just because supermarkets are offering the same beers (even at a lower price), they’re not going to put bars out of business. Everyone intuitively knows this: Bars sell experiences and supermarkets sell products. This just means that bars need to step up their games and be better bars, and stop acting like supermarkets.