Danish pipe line : Pipes and Tobaccos Magazine

Danish pipe line

Located in a corner of Denmark, Bisgaard Pipes provides high-quality smoking pipes to the rest of the world
Stephen A. Ross

Margit and Aage BisgaardAlthough they may be located in a remote town on the eastern shore of Denmark’s Jutland Peninsula, Aage and Margit Bisgaard provide high-quality briar pipes to pipe smokers and collectors around the world. Looking for a Tom Eltang? Click over to Bisgaard Pipes. Seeking a hard-to-find Nanna Ivarsson or Anne Julie? The Bisgaards just might have them. They also get the occasional Teddy Knudsen—as well as pipes from Dunhill, Lasse Skovgaard, Peter Heding, Kent Rasmussen and many other great pipemakers. Information for all of the pipes is uploaded onto the website accompanied by at least five images. One of the new features at Bisgaard Pipes includes a short video of many of the pipes rotating on a wheel. Viewers may click on the video to watch it and also stop it to examine the pipe at any angle they wish—a remarkable feature for the website, considering that when the Bisgaards decided to get into e-commerce in 2000, they barely knew how to operate a computer.

In 1963, when he was just 24 years old, Aage purchased a small shop located just off the town square in Ebeltoft, a picturesque seaside village of about 7,500 residents that’s a popular vacation destination for Danes in the summer.

In the early days, the shop was more like a gift shop than a proper tobacco shop. Aage sold lottery tickets, soft drinks, magazines, newspapers, souvenirs and tobacco products, including just a few pipes. Having previous experience working for a corporate grocery chain, Aage was able to turn a profit from the shop, and a year later, he married Margit, who gave up her job at the local bank to join her husband in running the shop.

In 1968, the couple doubled the shop’s size and brought in more pipes and pipe tobaccos, selling mainly Stanwells, Kriswells, Comoys and Georg Jensens.

The couple continued in the business for close to 40 years, overseeing a gradual transformation from gift shop kiosk to a premium tobacco shop that also sold wine. As they grew older, the Bisgaards began dreaming of retiring and spending more time in their summer home, but they also recognized that they were too young to retire. They sought a way that they could continue to work but do so at home and at hours of their choosing. Amid the e-commerce boom of the late ‘90s, Aage wondered if maybe they could start a pipe business online. Intrigued by the idea, he made a phone call to Lars Kiel—a pipe enthusiast who knew how to build a website.

Neither Aage nor Margit had ever been online before, but they were willing students and Kiel was a patient teacher.

“Aage is to blame for it all,” Kiel jokes with Margit and Aage from the studio office inside the Bisgaard home, which overlooks Ebeltoft and offers a beautiful view of the sea. “It was a challenge because it was more than just making strategic business decisions. At that time, the market was quite new to e-commerce and it was certainly new to pipes. But it was also challenging because they had such little experience with computers. Not only were we discussing the business, but I also had to give them lessons on how to operate a computer.”

There was also the matter of corresponding with customers. Margit took a week-long course in business English, and by December 2000, the couple was ready to unveil their website.

“Adding the website changed our business a lot,” Margit explains. “It became easier to reach the customers, of course, but it also became easier to contact different pipemakers too. We wanted to concentrate on Danish pipemakers initially, which hadn’t really been done in Denmark before. There never really has been a big market for artisan pipemakers here in Denmark. There are a lot of pipe smokers in Denmark, but very few may have heard of Teddy Knudsen or others. There are not many Danish pipe smokers who are aware that Danish pipemakers are considered to be among the most highly regarded pipemakers in the world. We wanted to advertise Danish pipemakers not only in Denmark but around the world.”

Within a few years, the Internet business was doing well enough that the Bisgaards started thinking of selling their brick-and-mortar store.

“The Internet business became too big, and it was difficult for us to manage both it and the brick-and-mortar store,” Margit translates for Aage. “It was a small shop but there was only Margit, myself and a woman who worked for us part time. We were overwhelmed with the work, so we sold the store. It was a risk because the Internet business was running well enough that we might be able to support ourselves on it alone, but it was too big to continue doing both. We’ve been very lucky—we got a good price for the shop, and the Internet business has grown so that we can comfortably support ourselves.”

Ten years later, the Bisgaards are celebrating their success in selling pipes online with a very special pipe they commissioned from Tom Eltang. Eltang developed a new shape, which he calls the “Macaroni,” and the Bisgaards got the first 10 pipes.

“We’re very lucky to have Tom make these pipes for us,” Margit explains. “The pipes look very fragile, but they are not as delicate as they might appear because Tom has inserted a steel tube all the way through the shank, just like he does when he uses bamboo. Each pipe was presented with a certificate of authenticity with our signature.” The Bisgaards have also used the anniversary to fine-tune their website to improve the website’s features as well as to show the customers that they are committed to providing great service.

“For some reason, we come up with new ideas to include on the website that makes life harder,” Kiels says, while the Bisgaards laugh. “For example, Aage has made videos of almost the entire stock. So now, in addition to the five pictures you get with every pipe, there is now a small video that shows the pipes in the hand. You can hit the space bar and stop the movie at any moment, which provides tens of thousands of pictures because we put sharp key frames in for every second. You can stop the movie whenever you want and have a very crisp and clear photo of the pipe from an angle that you would never see from one of the five pictures.”

They have also added a biweekly newsletter to their website, so that they can have more interaction with their customers.

“It’s a signature of the Bisgaards,” Kiels adds. “They concentrate on building good, personal contact with the customers and the pipemakers. The most important part of owning an online store is maintaining good communication with the customers. From the first day the business opened, Margit’s rule is that she should always respond immediately to customer inquiries with an e-mail, a phone call or sometimes both.”

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Category: Feature Article, Pipe Articles, Spring 2011

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