Engineering success in pipe retailing : Pipes and Tobaccos Magazine

Engineering success in pipe retailing

Long ago, Stephen Richman figured tobacco would help him find girls. And maybe earn a living.

by H. Lee Murphy

As a brainy high school student growing up in Beverly Hills, Calif., in the late 1950s, Stephen Richman didn’t exactly wear a pocket protector, though he was rarely found without his slide rule. He was later destined to earn engineering degrees from UCLA, but at the age of 18 he was looking, like many teenagers, for an image booster that would win him girls.

Stephen Richman

Stephen Richman

“What I knew was that Hugh Hefner always had glamorous women around him, and he also smoked a pipe all the time,” Richman remembers today. “So I took up pipe smoking on my own.”

The experiment proceeded in a disastrous manner. Richman bought a Yello-Bole for $3 and some horrendously aromatic tobacco and suffered from severe tongue bite from his first draw. Fortunately, his father was a smoker himself and quickly inserted himself into the process, sending his son down to the hometown Kramer’s Pipe & Tobacco Shop for some retooling. It was there that the gawky lad first encountered the legendary retailing force that was Al Kramer.

“I walked into the shop with my Yello-Bole and my tobacco, and Mr. Kramer grabbed both of them and dropped them into a wastebasket,” Richman recalls. “And then he said, ‘Now let’s get you started.’ And he did: He sold me a reasonably priced Digby—a GBD second—and some Father Dempsey English tobacco that he blended himself along with pipe cleaners. Then he took me to a bar in the back of the shop and gave me a total tutorial, showing me the right way to pack tobacco and tamp and light and everything. If I hadn’t visited Kramer’s that day, I probably would have simply given up and missed out on a lifetime of joy with my pipes.”

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Category: Feature Article, Summer 2014

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