Or of my clients. You, if that what you intend to do. Although if you are 40 and have had your share of success in the corporate world, perhaps you should consider other options than getting a tobacco machine to start your business. I don’t mean to discourage you, it’s just that this is no walk in the park. But if you can access the resources you’ll need, your heart is in this and you have the time and will to learn, read on. 

A client told me once he’ll just come down the workshop for four hours and learn all there is to learn about it. No. That’s not it. That’s not it at all. 

And that’s the main thing to know about having a tobacco business: that it’s not easy. You and your staff will need to learn sensitive skills. It takes a completely new mindset, just like learning a new, complex alphabet. They all fall into your responsibility. And assuming you do them right, they will bring (so much) joy.

There’s quite a bit to say, so we’ll ship this in two batches. Here’s today’s:

1. Stay humble

For no other reason than arrogance will cost you dearly. Admit you do not know and be willing to learn with all your senses and wits. This industry will need all of them. I graduated with a degree in science, with a major in engineering and organic chemistry, have advanced accounting studies and after 10 years continue to need more information to understand how this business works. I’m not ashamed to say it. Bottom line, beginner’s mind will win the day.

2. Look at the big picture

Chemical engineering is about looking at the whole system. When making wine, you don’t just watch the sugar. The same principle applies to tobacco. Your raw materials are alive and change all the time. But your output needs to stay in the same parameters every time. That is the promise you made to your customers. That’s what tasters and samples are for in the mass market goods industry.

And ending up with the same product every time takes some art. Chemically, the product will be transformed. With raw materials that are not identical, you will need to produce a perfectly identical result for your clients to savour. You will have to constantly supervise and fine-tune your batches for that. 

Mechanically, the elasticity in your raw materials is never the same either. And your processes will need to adapt. We say in this industry that when an error occurs, you need to look 6, 8 or 10 steps before it actually happened. There is a cause your product gave in and it’s not the one in front of you. And only experience tells you that. For a long time I judged the industry for being too secretive, but quite frankly, it is that way for a reason. I sometimes think that if we ran in the streets handing truth out, nobody would believe. 

3. Don’t let shortcuts tempt you 

Because there aren’t any. If you want to make a quality product, you must follow and complete every step as the book says. You can’t knead sweet bread dough for only 5 minutes and expect perfectly uniform bubbly texture. It will be sweet and flavoured, sure, but is that all you’re looking for in sweet bread? The same principle applies to the tobacco industry.

4. Aim from high to low, not the other way round

Start with an expensive product on a tiny niche. If your output is expensive, you need not make much of it and that gives you precious time to make mistakes and learn. You’ll train yourself for clues on your processes. You’ll have plenty of time afterwards for inexpensive products. #1 will help here again. You need to stay humble an learn what a good product means on this market. Expensive products do not sell because you say they’re good, but because they actually are. And that is, first and foremost, your responsibility. It means you value your work and your team’s as well as your clients’ expectations.

When you make an inexpensive cigarette, you having just started out and all, you’ll be going against the heavyweights that have been doing this for years, who know the best raw materials, have the most trained technicians and already have a good market share. Your product’s just come out the assembly line. Your turnaround (production) costs are higher, although you are working on a smaller production line. You do the math! Is this the kind of battle you can actually win?

Prices are equalised by taxes in this industry, as you already know. To make it in this business you will have to pick your battles. So many brands have been launched we no longer remember of now. What makes the difference in all this is you. How you think, how you act, what you know. More on your responsibilities (and joys) soon.

Photo by Bethany Legg on Unsplash