Cigar Weekly Interview with Tim Socier of Timothy's Fine Tobaccos
Tom Chapman (tchapchap)
Thursday March 12th, 2009
I live in the Detroit, Michigan area. And Timothy's Fine Tobaccos is located a way's away in Bay City, Michigan. Folks ask me why I'd drive a hundred miles to visit a cigar shop. There's got to be one closer, right? Well, yes and no. There certainly isn't one like Tim's!
I've been to shops all over, and Tim's represents something very special. This place was born out of an intense passion for cigars. You can sense it from your first exposure to Tim. His words and the twinkle in his eye say it all.
I met Tim Socier about three years ago while searching for a copy of Smoke Magazine. His shop was listed as one of the retailers selling the mag. Just so happened we were heading to the northern part of Michigan's Lower Peninsula, and Bay City was on the way. I stopped by, figuring this would be like any other quick shopping stop. But it was the start of something all together different! I've been going back ever since.
Tim in front of the shop
Tim operates a very active shop that's more like a club house than a store. His store is exceptionally well stocked, with numerous name brands of cigars presented in cabinet humidors rather than a walk-in. He also carries a wide variety of pipes, tobacco and smoking accessories. All of this is situated on the ground floor. Upstairs, there is a large, comfortable smoking lounge with TV and leather easy chairs. Tim hosts numerous events in the lounge.
Tim owns the entire building.
The lounge is on the second floor overlooking Center Ave.
through the big picture window above the awning.
You can always visit Tim's website at:
I recently sat down with Tim before enjoying an evening at the shop of blues, micro-brews, cigar rolling and, of course, copious quantities of cigar smoking!
tchapchap: Tim, thanks a lot for taking the time to do this. Fill me in on some personal history.
Tim Socier: I was with a small company working as a tool & die maker, then moved into an engineering position. We got lucky with a couple of patents, and the business took off from there. I did a lot of traveling. Smoked my first cigar about nine years ago. It was at the Habana Lounge in Milwaukee, WI. Had an Arturo Fuente, and I absolutely fell in love with it.
TC: And that brought you all the way to this?
Tim: Yup. I smoked and studied cigars. I'd go around to some of the shops in town, and wondered how they could get along with such crappy service. I thought, "I can do this and I can do it a lot better." So I got my State Tobacco License in November of 2003, and my wife and I started the business three years after smoking my first cigar. We started selling right from the house. We'd be sitting there in our pajamas watching TV, and guys would knock on the door wanting to buy cigars. We only carried a couple of brands at that point, Cusano being the first. We even had the occasional Herf in the living room. Then we opened a very small shop over on 7th St. I was still working full time as an engineer. My wife would open the store at about 1:00PM when she got off work, and I would come in at the end of my work day and run the shop until closing time. It was brutal. It took about four months to decide we were doing well enough to go full time, at which point I left my job. We stayed in that store for about nine months, moved to a slightly bigger shop on Saginaw St., then moved in here where we've been for a couple of years.
The upstairs lounge.
This picture was taken from the picture window looking into the
room. The day it was taken, Tim had the furniture set up theater
style facing the window. Later that night a local blues band
kicked some booty from where I was standing.
Timâ€™s beautiful, homemade cabinet humidors
TC: What sets you apart from other shops and makes you unique?
Tim: We try to take it a step farther than just selling cigars. We have frequent visits from manufacturer reps for our monthly cigar nights. We have monthly pipe, movie and card nights. We have larger events also, like Christmas dinners and a Summer Cigar Festival. And we work closely with the Fuente Family Charitable Foundation by hosting an event with them every year. For renters of our lockers, we offer discounts on store purchases. We sell pipes and tobacco, humidors, lighters and ashtrays. We try to provide everything necessary to keep the smoking enthusiast happy.
TC: Most shops have walk-in humidors. You've chosen cabinets. Why?
Tim: Cabinets worked well when we started, and they fit better in the philosophy of the store â€“ personalization and the art of the cigar. People can casually roam and look at cigars while they smoke. Besides that, we made them all ourselves, including the lockers.
An impressive assortment of pipes
TC: Who represents your customer base?
Tim: We have people from all walks of life:“ doctors, lawyers, professionals, blue collar. We get a lot of folks from General Motors. I'd probably say blue collar makes up most of our business though. The thing about the cigar hobby is it brings all people together. That's one of the reasons I love cigars and this business so much.
TC: How much of your business is transient versus regular customers?
Tim: 80-90% is solid, regular customers. Lots of our regulars come in and just hang out.
TC: How many cigar brands and front marks do you carry?
Tim: About 20 brands and around 400 front marks.
TC: What are your best sellers?
Tim: Well, that sort of reflects my personal preferences. I stock a lot of Robustos and Churchills and big ring gages. I don't stock a lot of Torpedos.
TC: What brand is your favorite?
Tim: Presently, one of my favorites is La Flor Dominicana.
TC: Do you sell mostly singles? Many box customers?
Tim: Mostly singles. On-line box prices and our tax structure do not make for a good box sales situation. We sell comfortable atmosphere and customer service.
TC: How is your business doing?
Tim: We're presently doing well. We exceeded our 2008 goals. Things are looking good for 2009. We're growing nicely. About the only thing that could hurt us is legislation.
Blues, micro-brews and a cigar roller.
Scenes like this are not unusual at Timothy's Fine Tobaccos!
TC: Where do you see your business and the industry in the future?
Tim: I'm worried about it, with SCHIP going through and the possibility of the FDA controlling tobacco on the Federal level and the pending Michigan smoking bans, even in cigar shops. Michigan cigar retailers have just formed a new group to deal with the state on local issues. It's something that customers will be able to get involved in also. We're losing more and more of our Constitutional rights everyday. It's scary. I'm definitely worried about our future. I'm not sure I'll be able to leave this for my daughter. But, I'm excited about the defensive effort we're putting together.
TC: Any final thoughts on the cigar industry?
Tim: I love this business. What I like about the cigar industry is it isn't plastic. Cigars are still an art form. They bring people together. They're a social catalyst. I love the creativity, the passion, the pride, second, third and fourth generation cigar families; all of it. I just plain love this industry.
Tom Chapman (tchapchap) is a recently retired mechanical engineer who survived over three decades in the bowels of the domestic car business developing future products. He's been a lover of the leaf for several years, and has been known to go considerably out of his way to make cigar-related visits. In addition to family and cigars, Tom enjoys motorcycles (owning more of them than he needs to!) and, in spite of living, breathing, eating and getting beaten up over cars, still loves them too! He's also an avid fisherman.