Cup O’ Joes : Pipes and Tobaccos Magazine

Cup O’ Joes

Spectacular ambiance is just part of this shop’s success

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Twenty years ago, Kathleen Kelly was having a tough time finding work. She’d just moved to Lake George, N.Y. Her love for the area was almost genetic—her parents had honeymooned in Lake George, and it was a favorite destination for family vacations when she was a child. Now, Kelly was back and needed a job, but work was scarce.

Since she couldn’t find work, and because she’s not the sort of person who is content to let circumstances decide things for her, she determined to make a job of her own. “I loved coffee,” she says, “and there was no coffee place in Lake George, so I decided to take a chance and open a coffee shop.”

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Cup O’ Joes has earned two of Dunhill’s Retailer of the Year awards

She had never run a business before and she discovered there was a steep learning curve, but she found support from other businesses. “I made friends with a lot of other store owners in Lake George, and they were very helpful.” The business evolved pretty quickly, though. It didn’t take long for her to branch out from coffee and cappuccino to add premium tobacco. “That was during the cigar boom in the early 1990s. A good friend was a cigar smoker, and he used to visit and try to find places to buy cigars. It’s a big tourist area, and people would often ask where they could find cigars. So, after being asked so often, we decided to bring cigars in. We had a cabinet humidor.” It was famously difficult for shops to maintain high-demand cigars during that boom—demand far exceeded supply. So around the second year, to provide more choices for tobacco enthusiasts, Kelly began stocking pipes. It was just Stanwells at first, but she soon expanded into other lines, including Dunhill, for which the shop would later become famous.

When pipes became part of the business, the workload increased exponentially and staff was added to accommodate online demand. EBay was the beginning of the shop’s online presence, but soon a dedicated website was built. Cupojoes.com has become a standard in the industry. “It branched from eBay,” says Kelly, “and our focus has always been pipes and tobacco accessories.” The site promotes some cigars, but pipes are the highlight of the shop’s Web presence.

Buying a pipe online often presents the buyer with a dilemma: how to judge a pipe without holding it and seeing it in person. That, in turn, generates challenges for the site’s owner. “Some people want to hold a pipe and even look in a mirror with it to see what it looks like,” says Kelly. “We encourage people to call us and let us know what pipe they may be interested in. What we do is obviously permit returns if anyone is unhappy with a purchase, but we also provide additional photos from different angles when they’re requested. We do the pipe cleaner test over the phone to reassure the client. We get to know our customers. We have one customer who is concerned with the weight of a pipe, so we weigh pipes for him. We encourage questions.” The key is dedicated customer service, which promotes comfort and trust and repeat business. A large inventory and fast, same-day or next-day shipping also helps keep the website busy.

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Category: Fall 2013, Feature Article

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