Friday night at the club
Friday nights are sacred at the shop. Thats when Lacerra shuts down the retail operation and opens the store to his cigar lovers club. The club is about 40 strong in membership, but only 15 to 20 tend to show up for those weekly encounters when the drinks, cigars and catered dinner are on Lacerra.
In addition to the cigar club, Lacerra hosts cigar dinners for the same group at a local restaurant four times a year. Launched one year ago, the $150-a-plate dinners have now become a tradition. As many as 40 people are on the waiting list and it is unlikely the guest list can expand anytime soon to accommodate the demand because the restaurant is already seating its capacity of 40 people, Lacerra said.
The cigar club and dinner have become a subtle marketing tool, Lacerra said. He tried and subsequently discarded marketing via radio and print. For my store it just doesnt work, he says. Now he relies on a fairly simple concept: Word-of-mouth.
A lot of my customers travel a good deal and they come in contact with other cigar smokers and tell them about me, Lacerra said. My customers have been coming here for so many years their word of-mouth is big, very big for us .Many other of my customers are actually in the advertising field and they promote it for me. They are the best marketing technique I have.
Lacerra operates the shop with Joe Schiano, who ran a coffee shop nearby until he sold it and joined Lacerra four years ago. He started coming and hanging around. I couldnt get rid of him, so I put him to work, Lacerra teased.
Lacerra operated heavy construction machinery until he decided to make his hobby of cigars and pipes a full-time enterprise.
He opened a 435-sq.-ft. shop in a small shopping center in 1976 on Greenwich Avenue and
subsequently moved to a 1,000-sq.-ft. shop at his present location.
I heard about Greenwich and thought it was ideal. Everyone thought I was crazy. They argued Greenwich is too close to New York City. They thought customers would be more likely to buy their cigars and tobacco products in New York where they worked than from me in Greenwich where they lived, Lacerra said. I guess they were wrong.
Lacerra attributes his success to two things: My charming personality, and I think that my mom, God rest her soul, when she was alive she prayed for me and she was great at it. She still is. Her prayers have helped me out quite a bit.
It was his moms prayers, Lacerra feels, that were responsible for the downfall of Lacerras only competition, which crept into the market several years ago.
The largest tobacconist in all of New England moved in one block away. His store was four times the size of my store, with four times the amount of help and four times the amount of merchandise. Anyone would have been worried, he said. I mentioned it to my mom. All she said was Dont worry, Ill pray.
I told her it was going to take more than prayers. Six months later, he was out of business, Lacerra chuckled.
Competition? None at all, honestly, he said with a hint of sincerity. Not within 20 miles of the store, maybe even 30 miles.