Corner Brook -
When a part of his customer service went up in smoke, a local businessman decided to get innovative.
With legislation coming down the tubes to ban the tobacco power walls from retail stores last year, Marc Bennett began considering the impact this would have on his customers. With no product visible, he was faced with no way to advertise product and prices - something he felt would be missed by customers.
He immediately began looking into what it would take for him to set up a tobacco shop in the three Marc's Confectionary stores in Corner Brook. He said it took some time, a lot of effort and work, as well as quite a financial investment, but he has acquired the licences for what he said are the only three tobacco shops in this province.
While tobacco retailers have to keep all tobacco products hidden, Marc's Tobacco Shop is a separate room where everything is displayed. It has been open at the Humber Road location for a couple of weeks. The Country Road location will open soon to be followed by one at the Elizabeth Street store.
"The biggest reason I went this route is for my customers," Bennett said. "Everybody has the same product, but we are known for our quality and our good prices. This was just something that wasn't available to anyone, so I thought it would be a good idea to pursue it."
The tobacco shop is a 19-plus store, where 100 per cent of sales have to be tobacco-related products. It has to have a separate entrance and a separate licence and identity.
"I think it is important for the customers to come in and view the different prices and view the different brands, the different kinds of cigarettes, cartons, pouches, tubes, cigars, cigarillos, all the different kinds," he said. "They need to see what's available, so they can make their choice on what they want."
That's especially true for the "occasion smoker" or those looking to price shop, he said.
He said some customers have voiced their concerns over whether they feel the legislation is necessary or appropriate, but he personally believes it is a positive measure.
"I think it is going to have an impact," he said. "It will achieve the goal of the legislation - to decrease the visibility to minors, which I fully agree with. They should definitely not be exposed to cigarettes when they are going in to buy ice cream. But, there definitely should be something for adults."
Bennett also said the legislation placed a higher demand and pressure on employees, who have to be much more knowledgeable about tobacco products because they are hidden. A retailer is not allowed to show the product before the sale.
A person can also continue to go to Marc's Confectionary and purchase their cigarettes the same as before.
As for whether it will be a wise business investment, only time will tell.
"My main goal is to offer customer service, I try to do that in all my stores," he said. "This was an area that, with the new regulations, where customer service was basically eliminated or lacking ...
"Of course, there is an initial investment, a cost and all that stuff. Hopefully, eventually, that will all be recuperated through some increased sales. I don't expect this to cause any big spike in sales or anything like that, it is for the customers. But, if you have a choice, wouldn't you go here where you can look or go somewhere where you can't?"