Southern Cigar gets new wrap
by Clay Neely
It’s a beautiful Sunday afternoon in autumn. Inside, the early game is broadcasting on the large flat-screen television with a handful of spectators sitting comfortably on the two leather couches, watching and casually talking. The front door is open, allowing the fresh autumn air inside. Friends meander in and out, saying hello, striking up conversations before heading on their way.
It may sound like a normal Sunday afternoon at home for most people, but for Southern Cigar, this is a retail experience. And for everyone involved, it’s not simply retail — it’s business as usual.
Steve Singletary and Danny Boyd are co-owners of Southern Cigar who purchased the Coweta County store off Highway 34 East from Bill Clowers when he decided to retire from the business in March 2012. Both Singletary and Boyd carry other jobs — Singletary is a former owner of Habersham Casework turned salesman, while Boyd is a full-time firefighter.
Following their acquisition in 2012, Southern Cigar underwent some extensive renovations. Singletary removed the odorous carpeted floor and switched to tile flooring, in addition to building the new humidor and counters by hand.
“It took us about a year to get it how we wanted it,” said Boyd. “People would keep on shopping with us but were always asking, ‘Are y’all gonna make it?’”
The answer to that question is clear. Walking into Southern Cigar now feels like an upscale, modern-day man cave with only a counter display unit to remind you that it’s still a business, while the fresh, distinct smell of Spanish Cedar envelops the customer once setting foot inside the new humidor.
Watching the football game Sunday on the couch was one of Southern Cigar’s regulars, Rex Wilson — owner of Southern Limousine Services, who drives 40 minutes from his home to come and visit the store on a weekly basis. He acknowledges that there are plenty of other cigar stores in the Atlanta area to choose from, but he enjoys coming here the most.
“There’s a big difference in just one year here. A real big difference,” said Wilson. “They’ve done a good job and these guys understand that, as a small business, taking care of your customers is the key to success. You can’t just have product, you have to have personality.”
Personality comes standard with a visit to Southern Cigar. Boyd is on a first-name basis with the majority of Southern’s customers. Even to the patrons he doesn’t know, he doesn’t deviate from his outgoing style, engaging strangers as if they are old acquaintances.
“Some shops don’t even bother to really talk to you,” said Boyd. “You’ve got to talk to people or else someone else will. Nowadays, people can go online and find their cigars almost anywhere. That sort of thing reminds you why you’re doing this to begin with.”
Although Boyd acknowledges that while running the store with Singletary is a lot of fun, it’s also a lot of work. Stock is taken diligently and new orders are placed on an almost daily basis. “Half of my work is watching the prices on each cigar we order,” said Boyd. “They’re like gas prices, always fluctuating. You have to be vigilant.”
Southern Cigar has its own house cigar, which is also their number one seller. The “Southern Blend” cigar is a hand-selected Dominican that comes in a Maduro wrap and without a ring. “It would be a buck extra for a band,” said Boyd. “Didn’t seem like a great deal to us. Folks just throw them away anyhow. This allows us to keep the price on the cigar so low.”
The hard work just doesn’t extend to the regular duties of owning and running a retail business. A strong emphasis is also placed on working just as hard on the human element and always finding new ways to improve the overall experience for the customer.
One unique idea implemented following Boyd and Singleton’s acquisition of the store was to hire Google to create a “virtual tour” of the store. The tour includes the brand new humidor, allowing anyone online the ability to tour the store and see the selection of cigars.
“It was a $400 dollar investment but it’s for the lifetime of the store,” said Boyd. “It’s remarkable. It gives potential customers an accurate view of what we have and what changes we’ve made to the store.”
“When we first started out, we had about 10 boxes in the new humidor,” said Boyd. “Now look around. We have sealed boxes ready to rip open as soon as they’re needed. I don’t think we could fit hardly any more stock in here. I mean, it is filled up.”
“The best part is, we don’t owe a dime,” said Boyd proudly. “All we owe is our monthly rent and that’s a really great feeling.”
The newly-renovated and hand-built humidor is a sight to behold in itself, but Boyd still believed something was missing. “It looked right but it still didn’t feel right,” said Boyd.
Ultimately, the idea to have some music playing inside the humidor at a comfortable level changed the atmosphere dramatically.
“Before we piped in the music, it just seemed kind of impersonal, like it was missing something,” said Boyd. “We put in the music and now it seems to flow with the rest of the store.”
The cozy vibe of the store runs both inside and out, with Southern Cigar hosting monthly contests and events such as cook-offs, cornhole tournaments and even having actual Cuban immigrants hand roll cigars for their customers.
Southern Cigar also hosts fundraisers for charities at the store — helping out organizations like Wounded Warrior, in which they raised more than $2,000, and other local families who find themselves in need.
While Southern Cigar is known to give discounts to all military, law enforcement and firefighters, it also goes the extra mile for every customer, regardless of profession — from sending cigars to deployed soldiers in the Middle East to the Newnan Yamaha representatives that reside back in Japan.
If someone can’t make it to the store during normal business hours, Boyd and Singletary have been known to accommodate by allowing customers to pick up orders after hours.
“We’ve been blessed with good business. So whatever you send out, you ultimately get back,” said Boyd.
The loyal customer base is a testimony to the emphasis both Boyd and Singletary place on customer service.
“You should see it whenever they have an event here,” said Wilson. “You’ll have all these folks pitching in, helping set up and doing whatever needs to be done. It’s a real family atmosphere.”
“People just love to come and simply hang out, buy their favorite brand, maybe sit in the rocking chairs outside. One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that you never know who you’ll talk to in a cigar shop like this. Every walk of life comes through these doors, but everyone is treated the same way — millionaires, young men, military veterans, you name it. We all enjoy each other’s company in a relaxed atmosphere.”
One only has to look around on this Sunday afternoon to see that Wilson’s description is an accurate one. Men and women, cigar smokers and non-cigar smokers, all casually enjoying the day. Boyd is manning the counter, visiting with each and every person who comes in and out of the store — smiling, upbeat and courteous. Customers leave the store with a smile as Boyd wishes them well. Singletary visits with guests as he walks through the busy parking lot with his clipboard, keeping tabs on the ongoing cornhole tournament.
“Small business owners — we’re the last of the American dream,” said Singletary.