At the end of the year and the beginning of the next, we start to see various “Top XX” lists being released. These come from bloggers, magazines and other sources, and we retailers all have our opinions on the merits of these lists. Often, the rated cigars are limited editions long sold out or, better yet, cigars that can’t legally be sold in the USA. Other times, there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to how the rated cigars qualified to be rated in the first place.
Most of these lists probably aren’t seen by your customers besides maybe ratings for the bigger firms. It also seems to be more and more common that if the cigar isn’t rated in the top 5, the consumer doesn’t really care. So what is the point of all these ratings and lists if they don’t truly help retail sales?
At Up Down a few years ago we decided to stop criticizing other lists and start making our own “Top 25 New Cigars of the Year.” We set out clear qualifiers and the staff was given a list of eligible cigars and time to rank them. The scores were averaged out (lowest score wins, since No. 1 is the best) and a final list was posted in the shop.
The results have been fantastic. Customers were instantly engaged with the list, discussing the results with one another and with the staff. They thought about what their picks would have been and, more importantly, they wanted to smoke the listed cigars they hadn’t had yet, regardless of where they ranked. It became an instant sales guide for people lost by the over saturation of brands and too many options. It worked as a gift recommendation (“How about a sampler of our Top 25 cigars from last year?”). It also keeps working for the entire year. We keep it posted in the store so new customers can see it and immediately get engaged with our tastes and our inventory.
So forget what other “experts” think. In your store, you and your team are the experts and customers value your opinions over anyone else’s. Here are a couple things to use as a guide for your store’s own guide:
1 Make the qualifiers simple: It may be impossible to rate your entire humidor so pick a metric for a cigar to qualify to be rated. Our main Top 25 list consists of any cigars that are new to Up Down in the calendar year. New release or new to the store, if it hasn’t been sold in the store before, it’s a new cigar. You could also use format, price, country of origin, etc. Just make sure you can explain it to customers easily.
2 Figure out how you want to score the cigars and be honest with the ratings: No one can accuse you of selling ratings as long as you keep it open and simple.
3 Make sure it’s available in-store: That Limited Edition Aged Vintage New Unobtainium might have been the best cigar of the year, but if it’s not available for customers to buy at your store, what’s the point of rating it? Some cigars may make the list that will eventually sell out, but make sure you have everything in stock, at least when you publish the list. No one likes being told “This was the best and you can’t have any!”
4 If you’re including a new brand available in multiple formats, leave the sizes off the list. Let the customers see the different vitolas. They’ll have to buy more than one cigar to determine the best size for themselves.
5 Make multiple lists for other categories: You can create sublists like Best New Accessories, Best Forgotten Classics (i.e., old blends), Best Line Extensions (new sizes of existing blends) or Best Value Cigar. The more options to engage the customer with your selection and your recommendations, the better. Leave the results up until a new list is created.
6 Have fun with it: It’s a chance to really challenge and engage with your staff and customers and it’s something that will be unique to your store. You can even invite customers to get in on the action and let them rank the eligible cigars too.
An in-store Top 25 is a fun, engaging, and effective way to connect with your customers and showcase the cigars that you have in stock and want to showcase. It will be the ratings list most appreciated and utilized by your customers. As a bonus, since your list will certainly be unique, it might save you from the inevitable back orders of the No. 1 cigar from the other guy’s list.