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How To Start a Smoke Shop: Your 10-Step Guide to Success

Have you been dreaming of starting your own smoke shop? 

Whether you're a passionate cigar aficionado or an entrepreneur looking for a new venture, starting a smoke shop can be an exciting and profitable business opportunity. However, it can also be a daunting and complex process.

Imagine owning a smoke shop where you can share your love for cigars and tobacco with your community while running a successful business. Your dream can become a reality with the right guidance, tools, and resources.

In this guide, you'll learn the key steps in starting a smoke shop, from research to preparation to launch. We’ll show you how to create a financial plan to ensure your business stays profitable, review the legal requirements, and provide some tips for promoting and successfully launching your tobacco store.

With this comprehensive guide, you'll be equipped with the tools and knowledge you need to confidently start your smoke shop.


How To Start a Smoke Shop

Success in the smoke shop industry doesn’t happen overnight or by accident. It’s a cocktail — or perhaps a carefully rolled cigar — of research, planning, and preparation. Think of it like running a marathon. Just because you love running, it doesn’t mean you can run 26 miles without studying the route, getting your nutrition on point, and having a game plan.

You’ll also need to plan for operating costs, how you’ll market your shop, and how you’ll price your products. Profit margins in the tobacco industry can be as tight as a finely packed humidor, so it’s essential to have a solid plan.

Related Read: ANSWERED: How Much Does It Cost To Open a Tobacco Shop?

You might be wondering how you’ll manage multiple aspects of your business. Will you need various tools? Perhaps. But an often overlooked yet crucial tool is the right point of sale (POS) system. Your POS isn’t just a cash register; it can be the command hub of your entire operation.

From tracking sales to managing inventory and implementing loyalty programs, your point of sale keeps everything running smoothly, so you can focus on providing the highest quality cigars and unrivaled customer service.


How To Start a Smoke Shop in 10 Steps

  1. Establish Your Goals
  2. Research the Industry
  3. Create a Financial Plan
  4. Choose Your Location
  5. Apply for Licensing and Permits
  6. Take Care of Business
  7. Choose Your Point of Sale
  8. Hire Your Team
  9. Create Your Marketing Plan
  10. Launch Your Tobacco Store 

1. Establish Your Goals

Why do you want to open a smoke shop? Are you passionate about the artistry behind tobacco products? Or are you someone who sees unique opportunities in your local market? Understanding your purpose will inform everything you do, from the products you sell to the customers you want to attract. 

With that in mind, what products do you want to sell? Perhaps you’re a cigar aficionado or a flavored tobacco connoisseur. You might even want to branch into the world of vaping. Making these decisions will help define your brand.

Lastly, set realistic yet ambitious goals. You’ll need to know how much revenue you expect to generate in your first year, how many customers you need, and what growth rate you’d like to see over the next five to ten years.

2. Research the Industry

The industry sounds like a huge place you might get lost in trying to do your research. So start closer to home. Consider your local area. What’s it crying out for, and what’s the demand for tobacco products like? Perhaps you’re based in a bustling city with many prospective buyers. Or in a rural town with the potential for loyal customers.

Wherever you’re thinking about setting up your business, understanding the landscape is crucial to aligning with your potential customers.

Speaking of potential customers: Who are they? Do they appreciate the complexity of fine cigars, or are they novices curious about trying something new? Creating a tailored customer experience and product selection begins with knowing your target audience.

Don’t forget about the competition! Who else is serving your target market? Find out what they do well and where they fall short. Look for gaps. You don’t need to be a copycat, but you can still find inspiration and identify where your smoke shop fits in.

Related Read: How Much Is a Tobacco License? [Costs & Criteria]

Lastly, stay ahead of the curve by learning about industry trends and regulations. Maybe a new product is flying off the shelves, or a proposed regulation might affect your operations. You must keep your finger on the pulse to adapt and innovate.

Pro tip: Research local, state, and federal rules and regulations to ensure you cover all bases.
Tobacco POS Buyers' Guide


3. Create a Financial Plan

Fail to plan, plan to fail. It’s a popular saying for a reason. In your excitement to open your store, you might overlook how financially viable your idea is, and you might not factor in all the costs of opening and running your smoke shop.

Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Calculate your startup costs and ongoing expenses. These might include things like rent or mortgage, inventory, licensing, employee salaries, utilities, marketing... the list goes on.
  • Decide how you’re going to fund your venture. Will you use personal savings or apply for a business loan? Perhaps you have investors. Whatever the case, funding is essential.
  • Develop a cash flow projection and a profit and loss statement. A cash flow projection will help you anticipate incoming revenue and outgoing expenses, and a profit and loss statement will help you understand your business' profitability.

It’s a start, but a financial plan isn’t just a one-time thing — it’s an ongoing process — and you need to be prepared and stay organized to have the best shot at building a business you love.

4. Choose Your Location

Where do you want to set up shop? We touched on this earlier, but the location is essential to the puzzle. You want your location to be visible and convenient. Perhaps you want a buzzing city neighborhood. Or would you prefer a quieter suburban spot?

You must take into consideration foot traffic, visibility, and accessibility. How much will leasing or buying commercial space in your chosen location cost? Whether you lease or buy depends on your budget, long-term plans, and risk tolerance.

Lastly, factor in zoning laws and regulations. Each city or county has specific zones where certain types of businesses can operate. For example, some zoning laws prohibit tobacco sales within certain distances of schools, parks, or playgrounds.

Find a balance between a high-traffic area, cost-effectiveness, and legal compliance.

5. Apply for Licensing and Permits

We’re getting into the nitty gritty of it now. Applying for the proper licensing and permits is a critical step. Get it wrong, and you can delay the process.

First, obtain a business license and register your business. You may have to register with your local, state, or federal government based on where you live. It may seem bureaucratic, but operating your business legally and gaining credibility among customers, suppliers, and investors is essential.

Once you have a business license, you’ll need the specific permits needed to operate a smoke shop. Most states require a Retail Tobacco License (RTL), which signifies that a business may sell tobacco products in compliance with state law. Generally, you can apply for a license online, but some states require that you apply in person.

Remember that depending on your state, you’ll need to renew your license annually or biannually.

6. Take Care of Business

Your smoke shop dream is beginning to take form! There are a few things to take care of.

Register Your Business

You’ll first need to choose a business structure. You can be a sole proprietor, form a partnership, or create an LLC. Consider the pros and cons of each — picking the right one might impact your taxes, liability, and even day-to-day operations. 

Once you decide, you can register your business with the state. You’ll get a tax ID number which is an identification that allows you to hire employees, open bank accounts, and of course, pay your taxes.

Related Read: Small Business Tax Preparation Checklist for New Business Owners

Speaking of taxes, don't forget to register for state and local taxes. The last thing you need is fines and penalties for getting your taxes wrong.

Open a Business Bank Account

Choose a bank and open your business checking account. Don’t use your personal account! Separate your personal funds from your business funds, making life much easier come tax season. You should also set up a merchant account for credit card processing. Being able to accept credit and debit cards can make a world of difference to your customer experience in today's increasingly cashless society.

Keep track of your finances with a robust bookkeeping system. You can think of it as your business' diary, where you keep track of all your financial transactions. You need it for tax purposes, financial planning, and understanding the state of your business' finances.

Get Business Insurance

At a minimum, you’ll need liability insurance. This type of insurance can protect your business against injuries, accidents, and errors. It protects your business and personal assets in case things go wrong.

Other insurance policies to consider include:

  • Business Owner Policy (BOP)
  • Workers’ Compensation Insurance
  • Crime Insurance
  • Business Interruption Insurance
  • Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI)

There is a higher-than-average risk of fire-related incidents in tobacco shops due to the presence and sale of flammable substances such as butane-based lighter fluid and pre-filled lighters. 

You should also consider whether you want your smoke shop to become a smokers' cafe. There is always a risk of an accident occurring if your customers smoke your products inside or outside your property.

7. Choose Your Point of Sale

Think of your POS system as your co-pilot. It helps keep your operations smooth and efficient. But you’ll need to pick the right one — they’re not all made the same!

Pick a POS system that’s specifically designed for tobacco and smoke shops. A specialized system caters to the unique requirements of your industry. For example, you need to manage inventory well to keep track of what’s selling, what’s not, and when it’s time to reorder.

A significant feature that would come in handy here is carton-pack inventory tracking. Instead of counting individual cigars and cigarette packs, some POS systems automatically record the status of cartons, packs, and boxes when individual units are sold.

Look for a POS system that lets you:

  • Build custom kits for your customers that you can easily program as a bundle
  • Print custom labels
  • Track discounts from manufacturers and produce scan data reports
  • Easily verify the age of your customers
  • Implement customer loyalty programs out of the box

Cigars POS is the perfect partner for smoke shop owners. Our system is designed specifically for tobacco shops. Schedule a demo to see exactly how we can streamline your store and help you smoke the competition.

8. Hire Your Team

Determine your staffing needs. Will you need a full-time manager, part-time sales associates, or maybe an in-house marketing guru? Maybe you plan on doing it all yourself. Regardless, you’ll need to factor staffing schedules and salaries into your financial plan.

Take steps to:

  • Develop job descriptions
  • Create a robust hiring process
  • Screen and interview potential candidates

Once you have your team, factor in training costs and employee processes. The right POS system can help track employee hours and manage schedules, track performance, train staff, and provide a layer of security, controlling what each employee can access or change in your system.

9. Create Your Marketing Plan

You’re ready to launch your smoke shop and open your doors to the public! But how can you reach them? Effective marketing is crucial. Start by defining your brand. Who are you, what do you stand for, and why should your potential customers choose you? Create a distinct image that helps you stand out.

Next, develop a marketing strategy. It doesn’t need to be complicated, but you will need to be consistent. Social media is a good play, email marketing can help deliver personalized offers to new and existing customers, and in-store promotions will entice people in.

Related Read: Marketing Resources for New Business Owners

Don’t forget to establish a budget for your marketing efforts and track your return on investment (ROI). You can use analytics and reports from your POS system to see what’s working and what’s not.

10. Launch Your Smoke Shop

It’s go time! Schedule a grand opening event to introduce your smoke shop to the community. Offer special promotions, invite local influencers, or even host a live music event. It's all about creating a buzz and making a memorable first impression.

Before the big day, ensure your systems are set up and running smoothly. You should know what’s in stock and be ready to answer questions about your products. People want to buy tobacco products from someone they trust who has knowledge of the different flavors and blends. You can build customer loyalty by becoming the go-to tobacconist in your neighborhood.

Lastly, listen closely to customer feedback. Use the feedback to make any necessary adjustments to your products, services, or operations. Taking a customer-centric approach can help set you apart from other local smoke shops.

Start Your Smoke Shop With Confidence

Starting a smoke shop can be a challenging but rewarding experience. With the right preparation and tools, you can turn your dream into a successful reality. A POS system is the best tool you can invest in to get off on the right foot.

Cigars POS offers a comprehensive POS solution specifically designed for smoke shops, making it easier for you to manage inventory, track analytics, verify ages, and more. Don't wait to start your smoke shop journey! Schedule a demo with Cigars POS today and see firsthand how our system can benefit your business.

Remember, success is within reach if you follow the steps outlined in this guide and stay dedicated to your goals. Best of luck on your journey!

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Spence Hoffman
Spence Hoffman Spence Hoffman has 15 years of experience in the point of sale industry. Currently, he serves as the VP of Product at POS Nation. He holds an MBA from Appalachian State University and has three children. Outside of work, Spence is passionate about playing the guitar and enjoys traveling with his family.

About Cigars POS

Cigars POS offers the ideal solution for tobacco, cigar, and pipe shop owners.No complex integrations, no contracts, no waiting on hold to talk to service reps who can't help you.

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