Diary of a Bald Pipe Smoker

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UncleBob
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Post by UncleBob » Sun Dec 22, 2013 7:17 pm

serapion wrote:MORE BERT!
Bert is certainly a character and, like any of us, he had his strengths, weaknesses, charms, and annoyances. We worked together for 14 years and butted heads, conspired together, and even once came close to fisticuffs. Still, he taught me how to be a pipe smoker and he taught me how to be a tobacconist. For that, I will always be grateful.

I think to best convey the essence of Bert, I should do so with a series of vignettes. Over time, I hope you get a better sense of who he really is and the character he later became.

Vignettes Concerning Bert

#1: The Divorce Pipe

One day, early in my tenure at JFH (Spring '93), Bert was going over the noble art of selling pipes: what to look for in a pipe, what traits to focus on, how to listen to what the customer really wants, and how to help them find it when we have it. Bert really believed in helping people find what they wanted and to not pressure anyone into buying a pipe. More can be said about this (and how this model had to change in the industry) in a future post but, for this vignette, suffice it to say that we were discussing these matters when we heard the door open and shut.

As Bert and I walked to the front to greet whoever walked in, we beheld a fellow in his 30's, slightly overweight, wearing a navy blue pinstripe suit (which was unusual in Springfield then) complete with gold rings, and a heavy gold watch with a face roughly the size of a saucer. [Aside: For all you young'uns, watches could best be described as bracelets with clock faces. Often they were worn by men as status symbols and one was supposed to judge importance or social status by the various cues transmitted by one's selection. This watch screamed "money" and "I'm really important. Really! Please make me feel important!" Of course Iococca was right back then; the most important people (back then) didn't wear or carry a watch--kinda how the most important people now don't carry a cell phone.]

I watched as Bert implemented the strategies we had just discussed as the fellow looked over our pipe selection. He said that he was in town on business and he had left his pipes at home because he brought his wife instead. I watched as his eyes scanned the stock and I saw it when his whole body reacted to a particular pipe in the Stanwell tray. It was a smooth Majestic 54 (shape seen here) and it retailed for $40. I knew that was his pipe and you can bet your last nickel that Bert did too.

Bert continued to show the fellow more pipes but I noticed that the shapes were getting closer and closer to the 54. As he showed pipes, the fellow and Bert chatted about what the fellow did for a living (salesman of some sort) and the blues. Bert loves the blues more than breathing and no matter who you were, if you chat with him more than 5 minutes you are going to talk about the blues--especially Chicago blues.

Finally, the fellow said, "What about that one?" (pointing to the 54). Bert smiled (heck, I even smiled) and said that this pipe was a wonderful pipe! He handed the pipe to the fellow and begin to tell the story of that pipe. He told him about Stanwell pipes and how they were known for excellent quality at a low price. He talked about the curing process and he described the grain that particular pipe has. He talked of the virtues of a bent pipe as compared to the virtue of straight pipes. He talked about the first time he ever saw that Stanwell shape and remembered, with a smile, the first time he smoked a pipe that shape and the young lady that walked with him in the park while he did so. In short, he gave that pipe a living history and, as the fellow listened, it took on something more than pipe status; it became a living tradition and one that fellow wanted to be a part. When Bert ended, the fellow said, I'll take it!"

Just then, a tall lady walked in. She was wearing that makeup where she could be anywhere between 20 and 50, expensive clothing, and a pissed off attitude. She walked up to the guy and said, "Good Gawd! Not another pipe!"

He said, "Look honey! It's gorgeous!" And he started to recount some of the story Bert had told concerning it but she cut him short.

"If you buy that pipe, I'm divorcing you!" she hissed like a box of rattlers slithering over terra cotta shards.

I saw him deflate. He looked hopelessly at me and then at Bert. Bert leaned in and said, "You know, it might be worth it."

The fellow looked back at Bert and said, "You know, you might just be right. I'll take it." She gurgled in rage and stomped out.

So Bert compted him 2 oz of tobacco, a promotional sleeve of pipe cleaners, a box of matches, and a cheap pipe nail. The fellow stayed and smoked his pipe chatting with Bert about women, the blues, and the women of the blues and then he left. Neither of us ever saw him again.

Uncle Bob

Written while smoking Lane Black Raspberry in a Savinelli Tivoli 606.
"One man's theology is another man's belly laugh." - Robert A. Heinlein

"Many of the points here, taken to their logical conclusions, don't hold up to logic; they're simply Godded-up ways of saying "I don't like that." - Skip

"Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please." -Mark Twain

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Post by Jocose » Sun Dec 22, 2013 7:41 pm

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"And for Freds sake, DO NOT point anyone towards CPS or you'll put them off of both Christianity and pipe smoking forever." ~ FredS



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Post by Spyderweb » Sun Dec 22, 2013 9:45 pm

To Bert, and to you for telling the story - Well Done!

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Post by Irish-Dane » Mon Dec 23, 2013 6:32 am

Spyderweb wrote:To Bert, and to you for telling the story - Well Done!
Amen.
It's not available because if you try it you will die. Your face will melt off and your children will weep over your exploded body. --Colton

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Post by UncleBob » Wed Jan 01, 2014 10:29 pm

UncleBob wrote:More can be said about this (and how this model had to change in the industry)...
When I started in the pipe tobacco business, tobacconists stayed in business by selling pipe tobacco. In 1993, Lane 1Q sold for $14.95 per pound or $.99 per ounce. It cost $6.30 per pound--including taxes--so each pound delivered $8.65 profit. By the time I left in 2006, Lane 1Q cost $13.70 per pound (with taxes) and sold for $19.95 leaving a profit of $6.25 per pound. This does not include 13+ years of inflation.

In 1993, tobacconists gauged their business by how many pound per month regular customers they had. If they had 2000 pound per month customers, that was $17,300 per month revenue. Still not a lot when you consider rent, utilities, shrinkage, spoilage, payroll, and so on. And, of course, you had to buy more tobacco to replace what you sold. Of course, we also sold cigars and chew and so on but this did not pay the rent. We also sold pipes but pipe tobacco was our primary revenue stream.

By 1995, we still sold a lot of pipe tobacco but the cigar boom had hit. If you did not live through it, you can not really understand how it changed everything. This is a topic for another post but essentially the cigar industry thought that it found the next cigarette. However, at the time, tobacconists started focusing on a hitherto minor part of the business and many ignored pipe tobacco and stopped emphasizing it to its customers. Coupled with the Internet, many shops lost their pound a month customers and pipes took a back seat.

Now, at JFH, we did not ignore pipe tobacco but many of our customers started smoking cigars to supplement their hobby. Local and state government started taxing tobacco more (pipe tobacco less than cigars, but it did start to rise) and retail prices were forced down due to the Internet. So pipe tobacco started to cost more while bringing in less profit. Tinned tobacco was even worse than bulk tobacco in this regard. In 1995 we sold Robert McConnell Red Virginia, as an example, for $5.75 per tin and it cost $3.31 per tin. There was little profit in pipe tobacco but cigars! Well, I'll save that for later.

So a decision was made in the pipe industry: pipe smokers needed to buy more pipes. Usually, a $100 pipe cost $50, and a $50 pipe cost the store $25. This is a much better profit margin. Some high dollar pipes had an even better profit margin and used pipes--well, that depended on the store. Some more unscrupulous tobacconists would buy used pipes in bulk for maybe $1 a pipe and sell them for $20 (or more depending). We never did that. We had a standard policy of buying them for 25% of retail and selling them for 50%.

Selling more pipes (and more expensive pipes) started to become an easy sell when people compared the inflated prices of cigars. You buy a box of cigars for $125 (one that cost $60 last year) and you enjoy them for 25 hours. A $125 pipe lasts a lifetime with care! Easy sales logic. Suddenly, tinned tobacco especially became an add-on sale so the small profit was not an issue.

In addition, tinned tobacco started to be compared to cigars. A $10 cigar is good for an hour but a $10 tin will last 8-10 hours for an average smoker. Customers started buying more tins and bulk blends started to wane a bit, nationally. Also, storing tobacco started to catch the consciousness of pipe smokers and tins are much easier to store. People were used to storing cigars and tins just came naturally to them.

So people started collecting pipes and smoking less. This is seen even today here on the forum. By the time I left JFH, we were one of 5 tobacco shops in the nation that still bought enough Lane bulk to get the Lane discount so they stopped selling directly to shops opting instead for wholesalers like Arango or Phillips and King. Many tobacconists were pushing pipes instead of helping customers find what they wanted. What ended this (if it has ended) was the rise of the boutique pipe carver who sells directly to the pipe smoker online.

UncleBob

Written while smoking RLP-6 in a Don Carlos S2 Straight Apple
"One man's theology is another man's belly laugh." - Robert A. Heinlein

"Many of the points here, taken to their logical conclusions, don't hold up to logic; they're simply Godded-up ways of saying "I don't like that." - Skip

"Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please." -Mark Twain

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Post by Ethell » Thu Jan 02, 2014 6:30 am

Love the history! I started smoking a pipe in 1994-5 had no idea about anything like this. I was in college and my friends and I want to a small little shop in Bristol, TN (or VA, not sure what side it was on). I had no idea about the variety of blends and pipes and sure wish I'd spent more time talking to the shop owner to learn more.

We just bought cheap briar pipes, whatever Aro tobacco the shop owner recommended and went our way. I was only a once a week or so smoker back then so I doubt I bought tobacco more than a few times in that two years I smoked.

Reading your accounts makes me see I was missing out on a much more nuanced world than I imagined. Not sure who the tobacconist was in Bristol back then, but if he was half as interesting as you and Bert I could have been in for some great stories.

Keep it coming, UBob.

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Re: Diary of a Bald Pipe Smoker

Post by DepartedLight » Wed Sep 09, 2015 6:45 pm

I WENT TO THIS BLOG BUT FELL ASLEEP BEFORE IT LOADED
DL Jake

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Re: Diary of a Bald Pipe Smoker

Post by UncleBob » Wed Sep 09, 2015 6:46 pm

DepartedLight wrote:I WENT TO THIS BLOG BUT FELL ASLEEP BEFORE IT LOADED
Image
"One man's theology is another man's belly laugh." - Robert A. Heinlein

"Many of the points here, taken to their logical conclusions, don't hold up to logic; they're simply Godded-up ways of saying "I don't like that." - Skip

"Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please." -Mark Twain

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Re: Diary of a Bald Pipe Smoker

Post by UncleBob » Wed Sep 09, 2015 7:16 pm

Hmm... I can't believe that I forgot about this thread!

JFH Trivia #1: One of the famous Middle Earth Pipe Tobacco lot originally had a very different name: Skunk Bait. Yes it is true. No it was not STM.

UncleBob

Written while smoking Mac Baren Navy Flake in a Peterson's Cetic 606, Smooth.
"One man's theology is another man's belly laugh." - Robert A. Heinlein

"Many of the points here, taken to their logical conclusions, don't hold up to logic; they're simply Godded-up ways of saying "I don't like that." - Skip

"Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please." -Mark Twain

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Re: Diary of a Bald Pipe Smoker

Post by Irish-Dane » Tue Sep 29, 2015 6:35 pm

I vote for more stories.
It's not available because if you try it you will die. Your face will melt off and your children will weep over your exploded body. --Colton

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Re: Diary of a Bald Pipe Smoker

Post by MrPiper » Tue Sep 29, 2015 6:53 pm

xxxxxx
Last edited by MrPiper on Sun Sep 18, 2016 6:17 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Diary of a Bald Pipe Smoker

Post by Rusty » Tue Sep 29, 2015 7:41 pm

MrPiper wrote:Thank you ID for the resurrection thread. I had never seen this before. Good stuff all. The biggest LOL was one of Rusty's posts on the first page where he did a one sentence synopsis. I spit on my screen. :pipe2:
Well hopefully I refrain from doing that again. At the time I read conflicting messages on remarriage. You can see Del's post for example. :oops:
MrPiper wrote:I suppose we have the fellowship hall and the youth room, but it might be nice to have some kind of space here devoted exclusively to pipe smoking ephemera. Maybe devoted to Tom Dunn.

Would Petey stories then be transferred to "Ephemera" or would they remain in the youth room?
I think a thread called Pipe Smoking Ephemera in the General forum would be great to gather all of these stories and recollections. We tend to scatter pipe and tobacco stuff to fellowship and other forums thinking it's fellowship and we have a hard time finding them ever again. Put it in the Pipe Smoking section and nail the thread up. People will always be able to find it.
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Step into the sun
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Re: Diary of a Bald Pipe Smoker

Post by Tatanka » Mon Nov 16, 2015 3:20 pm

And I thought Uncle Bob was a real person! I am so gullible!
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Re: Diary of a Bald Pipe Smoker

Post by ReverendThom » Wed Dec 30, 2015 9:23 pm

This was great! More stories UB

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