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Cigars and Networking—A Natural Pairing

Mar 5, 2013 | By Mike Scott
Cigars and Networking—A Natural Pairing
Photo/John Dade
Professional networking events, such as this one held at the Tobacco Barn in Southern California, are becoming more prevalent.

Business professionals around the country are always looking for an advantage when it comes to finding new business. One of the traditional ways to develop new business opportunities is through the traditional networking event, often hosted by chambers of commerce, business networking groups, communities and more. But the days of the typical networking event are disappearing. And professionals like John Dade of Buena Park, California, are looking for opportunities to “break the ice” at business networking events that differ from their past experiences.

“I don’t golf but I like good cigars and good spirits,” Dade said.

So he, like other business-minded people around the country, are using cigar-themed events as a way to comfortably introduce himself to other professionals. As the founder of the Cigar Night Business Mixer Group in Orange County, Dade utilizes a mailing list of nearly 350 individuals to market monthly cigar business mixers at cigar stores and cigar-friendly restaurants around the area.

Dade is not alone. For nearly a year, the Cigar Chamber of Commerce has organized networking events through a grassroots process that emphasizes social media. Founded and funded by Jay Shapiro and headquartered in Hollywood, Florida, the Cigar Chamber’s first member was Scott Pietreface of Fumatore de Sigaro Cigar Lounge in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

The goal of the chamber is simply to create business networking events for cigar smokers and industry professionals and, of course, support cigar industry right. Another main goal is to support local cigar stores and retailers.

“We currently have about 15 members, and our first event was held November 7, 2012 at Florida Cigar Company in Fort Lauderdale,” Shapiro said.  “It was attended by 25 cigar enthusiasts. We have many females now attending the events. I’d even say about 40 percent of our members are females.”

What makes the chamber a popular outlet for business professionals is the shared interests and the desire for good smoke, drink and liberty, Shapiro said. The desire for such benefits creates a virtually instant bond amongst those who attend.

Local cigar bars have been hosting early events. Shapiro works to find a central location and a place which will support the efforts by finding sponsors and sharing appetizers over cigars, he said. “Cigars are provided along with specials such as buy two get one free and other offers,” Shapiro said. “Generally they get one free cigar, a drink and some light appetizers along with cigar specials. Some people do bring their own yet it is somewhat frowned upon. The goal is to also support the local brick-and-mortar store.”

The Auburn Hills Chamber of Commerce in suburban Detroit held its first cigar-themed business networking event in late February as part of an ongoing effort to create unique networking events that are designed to increase interest among members and non-members, said executive director Denise Asker.

Another recent networking event held included skeet-shooting at an outdoor trail, Asker said. Such themed events have been established as a way to encourage business networking in an area that has been hit by a poor economy since 2000, but one that has seen fortunes rise in the last couple of years as the automotive market has improved.

“We still see many of our members being people who work long hours whether they own their own business or are in management or sales,” Asker said. “Traditional marketing events where you have food and drinks at a restaurant don’t generate much enthusiasm so we wanted to meet the needs of our members and offer something different.”

The Auburn Hills Chamber’s first Cigars and Conversation event drew more than 50 people, many of who were non-members, Aster said. It was held at a restaurant that offered an outdoor, heated covered area which would allow for smokers given that Michigan does not allow smoking in public restaurants.

“Some of the comments we received were that’s it so great to have an event that people wanted to come to,” Asker said. She was also surprised by the number of women who attended and participated in the Cigars and Conversation networking event. It served as a motivational event for existing members while also helping to recruit new members, she added.

Dade started the Cigar Night Business Mixer Group in February 2010 and two more chapters have already been started in neighboring communities in southern California. He has even received calls from people as far away as New York City for advice on how to start similar groups.

A professional working in financial services, Dade has found that cigar business networking events draw people from all business backgrounds. The first group of eight professionals he brought together included an insurance salesman, a local paramedic, a photographer and a wine and spirits distributor.

“The traditional networking events we have all been to are more like speed dating. With cigar smoking you have instant camaraderie,” Dade said. “You may talk cigars, spirits and sports for the first 30-45 minutes and before you know it there is a relationship that will often lead to further conversations.

“Eventually you may even get around to talking business,” Dade said with a laugh.

The Cigar Night Business Mixer Group holds its events at a number of local cigar stores as a way to support the brick-and-mortar, locally owned businesses, Dade said. The arrangement works well for all parties, including restaurants that offer patio smoking areas in the state California, where indoor smoking in public areas also is banned by state law.

Dade largely promotes his group through social media sites, including Facebook, LinkedIn and MeetUp.

“We focus on quality versus quantity in terms of the events we have,” Dade said. “It has been a self-limiting process, and we continue to grow. We welcome people to bring plenty of business cards and feel free to invite friends and business associates because it is a comfortable and casual atmosphere,” Dade said.

There is professional cigar networking groups all around the country, with the numbers seemingly increasing. A Google search turns up such results as the Boston Professionals Cigar & Networking Group, Speakeasy, a “secret society” of Atlanta business executives that gather over cigars and spirits, and Networking Over Cigars and Spirits, a LinkedIn group of executives and business professionals in the Midwest.

It is the informality that attracts many to the concept. But it also allows a networking event to become more of an actual event – something that will help encourage more active participants. That is particularly true in states that have enacted smoking bans in most or all public restaurants.

“Not everyone will want to attend a cigar business networking event but those who do are excited about it and are really looking forward to it,” Asker said. “It’s easier to talk business with people you have shared interests in and, from the feedback we received, we’ll definitely plan future cigar networking events.”

"We've been doing this for many years now. If there are any of you out there from Northeastern Wisconsin and would like to check out our group, we're at" —March 18, 2013 14:40 PM

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