Tobacco: Little Cigar, Big Feedback

How a sampling kiosk helped induce trial, conversion and plans for more kiosks

Admit it: That sampling kiosk in the supermarket got you to try—perhaps buy—the exotic meat snack you never thought you’d enjoy. That sampling kiosk at your local liquor store got you to sip—maybe love—the new Riesling that never found its way to your cellar.

These are in-store sampling formats with proven track records, and they can be eyeopeners to consumers, suppliers and retailers alike. They also seem to fit naturally within the confines of the retail locations described—but a kiosk in a convenience store to sample little cigars? Who knew?

The coupling of tobacco, c-store and sampling kiosk might seem unorthodox—and certainly all parties involved must adhere to regulations and card customers just as they would for a sale. But a successful collaboration last November between Scandinavian Tobacco Group Lane Ltd. and Enon, Ohio-based Speedway LLC (Marathon Petroleum Corp.) indicates that future adoption of the concept could be in the offing.

The monthlong kiosk initiative occurred in 25 Cincinnati-area Speedway stores, with some positive revelations manifesting for both the retailer and Tucker, Ga.-based STG Lane, which sponsored the event to obtain consumer input about its Cubero Natural Leaf Cigar brand.

The event yielded some key insights, including:

  • Just the way that millennials dictate much of what a retailer does these days, millennials are also a prime group that values a concept like in-store kiosks.
  • The partners in this endeavor have to make sure they have product fulfillment covered for the duration of sampling because if they run out, it casts a negative light on both parties. In the STG Lane-Speedway case, they passed that test.
  • Consumers like to be surprised. They go to the same stores regularly, so a kiosk can build excitement.
  • Suppliers may believe they have a right-sized tobacco category in place at stores, but during a monthlong sampling event, retailers and suppliers can learn about ways to better calibrate the category-management plan.
  • If done properly, in-store tobacco kiosks can generate a double-digit sales lift for a retail unit, can recruit new users to the segment and can even coax some brand loyalists to switch.

Try It, You’ll Like It

STG Lane, a leader in the roll-your-own and pipe tobacco segments, was eager to obtain insights for Cubero and establish a stronger foothold in the little-cigar subcategory.

Setting up 6-foot-high-by-6-foot-wide kiosks in the Ohio Speedway stores enabled the supplier to conduct a monthlong study on its cigarillo variety and the subcategory as a whole. Brand ambassadors hired by STG Lane and the event planner manned each kiosk and were trained in the particulars of the line, which features three flavors: wine-flavored No. 7; No. 35, a mint and sugar-cane blend; and No. 12, with a blend of coffee and chocolate flavors.

STG Lane also took care to work with individual store managers to conduct the kiosks based on their needs. “Each store manager was able to control the scheduling,” says Dionne Lucas, cigar brand manager for STG Lane. “You have to be strategic about the day-part you set up the kiosks. A lot of decisions are based on demographics and traffic patterns.