A Smokin' Good Time

So what are 200 men — paying $150.00 each — doing at the Washington Avenue Armory in Albany, NY on a Thursday night? You got it, smoking good cigars, eating great food, talking with friends and getting a shave!

Habana Premium Cigar Shoppe's annual Habanapalooza event was so big that it had to be hosted in the huge Washington Avenue Armory. Guests received cigars, amazing food as well as raffles and door prizes. I caught up with chef Carmine from the eponymous Carmine's to gush over his chicken dish. I was hoping to get a doggy bag but there was nothing left at the end of the night. More spectacular food from Lo Porto and Yono's.

Carmine The event was hosted by Scott Bendett, owner of Scott Pipes and Cigars. I caught up with Scott and asked what the purpose of the event was. His reply was, "These are my customers who have stood by me all these years and I love having them all here."

Scott talks about the "old days" when, 13 years ago, he started the Habana Premium Cigar Shoppe with 15 boxes of cigars in a cart in Colonie Center. Today, Scott not only has two locations in the Capital District but is a leader in the cigar industry.

"What did it take to get where you are?" I ask Scott. "A lot of hard work and loyal customers," he says. Scott is also proud to have been voted the best cigar store by Times Union, Metroland and Capital Region Living. Scott has at least 15 events scheduled through the next two months. He also hosts a weekly radio show, The Good Life, on Paul Vandenburgh's TALK 1300 AM on Saturdays at 1:00 PM.

Okay, so what was I doing there? I don't get to go to cigar events that often, but I do have a favorite place
in Oklahoma City called Makers Cigar and Piano Lounge, where they also have good music
and cognac. My client, Sim’s Barbershop, was asked to provide complementary shaves to the guests at the show. Armed with lots of product, two barber chairs, and lots of good humor, owners Greg Zorian, Steve Vilot and barber Jill Sbrega start the shaves and the fun begins.  Greg and Steve love to do what they call their "extreme shaving" — shaving any place any time. Men have been shaved on ski slopes, golf courses, race tracks and at Habanapalooza. I have to admit, not having attended this type of function, I was unaware of male camaraderie. Sure, sporting events are one thing— though I wonder if maybe this is a sporting event.
According to Greg and Steve, getting out of the shop is a way to build business and get to know new people. Greg's been in the barber business since he was 14 and says "Men love to have a place of their own to get pampered just like women. High-end barbershops have never been out of style, there just aren't many of them."

With business tight, networking is a solid way to add to your customer base.

  • If you want to make new friends and get new customers, you have to get out of your place of business.
  • Be different, have fun and give value. What's value? It's more than the customer would ever expect.
  • Be willing to partner with other businesses. These don’t have to be aligned businesses, just good businesses that provide great service and are willing to share their customer base.
  • Remember that in order to get, you have to give. Be willing to get out and invest in your community.  Greg, Steve, and Scott are huge supporters of their local chambers and attend as many functions as possible.

I interviewed many guests and asked the question: why come here? The answers were almost always the same: good food, a good cause and good friends.

I guess it can’t get much better that.


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