Despite public health campaigns and legislation against tobacco products, the demand for cigars remains strong. In fact, the limits placed on where people can smoke may actually be helping cigar shops. Where allowed, cigar shops sometimes double as smoking lounges and are one of the few places at which people can still enjoy a smoking product.
According to IBISWorld, cigar lounges in the United States have grown at 2.7 percent annually in recent years and have an annual revenue of $903 million. With just 930 businesses in the industry, there’s lots of opportunity for newcomers to open cigar shops.
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Learn how to start your own Cigar Shop and whether it is the right fit for you.
Start a cigar shop by following these 10 steps:
- Plan your Cigar Shop
- Form your Cigar Shop into a Legal Entity
- Register your Cigar Shop for Taxes
- Open a Business Bank Account & Credit Card
- Set up Accounting for your Cigar Shop
- Get the Necessary Permits & Licenses for your Cigar Shop
- Get Cigar Shop Insurance
- Define your Cigar Shop Brand
- Create your Cigar Shop Website
- Set up your Business Phone System
There is more to starting a business than just registering it with the state. We have put together this simple guide to starting your cigar shop. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.
Exploring your options? Check out other small business ideas.
STEP 1: Plan your business
A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:
- What are the startup and ongoing costs?
- Who is your target market?
- How much can you charge customers?
- What will you name your business?
Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.
What are the costs involved in opening a cigar shop?
The startup costs involved in opening a cigar shop business are significant. Lionel Melendi, who owns a cigar shop in Brooklyn, recommends that business owners have at least $500,000 in funding. Savvy business owners, however, might be able to open a shop for a little less up front.
Some of the biggest expenses incurred when opening a cigar shop include:
- securing a location for the business
- building out the location
- purchasing inventory to sell
- acquiring a humidor for storing cigars
- buying cutters and lighters (if also serving as a lounge)
In addition to these, there are legal and insurance costs.
Business owners who have limited funds can save by selecting a smaller location that’s still in a high-traffic area. If only selling cigars (and not serving as a lounge), something as small as a mall kiosk could work. Alternatively, a little storefront at a significant intersection could be excellent. Cigars don’t require a large place to display or store, which is why total space isn’t all that important.
To reduce overall inventory costs, business owners can order a variety of cigars but not too many of any one cigar. Cigars are small and light, so they can be shipped in one or two days if necessary. While regularly overnighting orders isn’t a wise long-term plan, it does let business owners get started without tying too much capital up in inventory -- which can take months to sell.
The one expense business owners shouldn’t skimp on is the humidor. A good humidor can cost $20,000 but is absolutely necessary. It’s the humidor that keeps the cigars in stable conditions so they don’t spoil. Without a high-quality humidor, a shop’s entire stock could be ruined.
What are the ongoing expenses for a cigar shop?
The ongoing expenses for a cigar shop are manageable. They include employees’ wages, lease and utility payments, and inventory expenses.
Who is the target market?
The cigar-smoking population is traditionally thought of as older men. This remains generally true, but trends among cigar smokers are changing. The target market for a cigar shop business is:
- 98 percent male, but growing among women
- mostly between 40 and 60 years old, but growing among young adults
- Well-educated about cigars, regardless of gender or age
How does a cigar shop make money?
A cigar shop business makes money by selling cigars. Cigars are normally sold by the stick or the box.
How much can you charge customers?
Holt’s Clubhouse notes that cigars typically start between $5 and $8, and can go up to between $40 and $50. In a few cases, sought-after cigars may be priced even higher.
How much profit can a cigar shop make?
A successful cigar shop business can bring in a significant revenue. Mike’s Cigars in Miami currently sells 1.5 million cigars each year. Just from cigar sales, Mike’s Cigars has an annual revenue in the tens of millions.
How can you make your business more profitable?
Cigar shop businesses have several ways to increase profits. Shops may sell lottery tickets, beverages and food items, along with other smoking items. Some shops sell smoking accessories, tobacco, hookah, and vapes. Alternatively, shops can create their own white label cigar brands to sell.
What will you name your business?
Choosing the right name is important and challenging. If you don’t already have a name in mind, visit our How to Name a Business guide or get help brainstorming a name with our Cigar Shop Name Generator
When registering a business name, we recommend researching your business name by checking:
- Your state's business records
- Federal and state trademark records
- Social media platforms
- Web domain availability.
It's very important to secure your domain name before someone else does.
STEP 2: Form a legal entity
Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC or corporation protects you from being held personally liable if your cigar shop is sued.
Form Your LLC
Read our Guide to Form Your Own LLC
Recommended: You will need to elect a registered agent for your LLC. LLC formation packages usually include a free year of registered agent services. You can choose to hire a registered agent or act as your own.
STEP 3: Register for taxes
You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It's really easy and free!
You can acquire your EIN for free through the IRS website, via fax, or by mail. If you would like to learn more about EINs and how they can benefit your LLC, read our article, What is an EIN?.
Small Business Taxes
Depending on which business structure you choose, you might have different options for how your business will be taxed. For example, some LLCs could benefit from being taxed as an S corporation (S corp).
You can learn more about small business taxes in these guides:
- LLC Taxes
- Sole Proprietorship vs LLC
- LLC vs Corporation
- LLC vs S Corp
- How to Start an S Corp
- S Corp vs C Corp
There are specific state taxes that might apply to your business. Learn more about state sales tax and franchise taxes in our state sales tax guides.
STEP 4: Open a business bank account & credit card
Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Additionally, learning how to build business credit can help you get credit cards and other financing in your business's name (instead of yours), better interest rates, higher lines of credit, and more.
Open a business bank account
Besides being a requirement when applying for business loans, opening a business bank account:
- Separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- Makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Recommended: Read our Best Banks for Small Business review to find the best national bank or credit union.
Open net 30 accounts
Net 30 accounts are used to establish and build business credit as well as increase business cash flow. With a net 30 account, businesses buy goods and repay the full balance within a 30-day term.
NetMany net 30 credit vendors report to the major business credit bureaus (Dun & Bradstreet, Experian Business, and Equifax Business Credit). This is how businesses build business credit so they can qualify for credit cards and other lines of credit.
Recommended: Read our best net 30 vendors, guide and start building business credit.
Get a business credit card
Getting a business credit card helps you:
- Separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- Build your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money later on.
Recommended: Apply for an easy approval business credit card from Divvy and build your business credit quickly.
STEP 5: Set up business accounting
Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
Make LLC accounting easy with our LLC Expenses Cheat Sheet.
STEP 6: Obtain necessary permits and licenses
Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
Federal Business Licensing Requirements
The sale of tobacco products is regulated by the federal government's Food and Drug Administration. Review this FDA page regarding tobacco retail laws.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a cigar shop business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
For information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
Certificate of Occupancy
A cigar shop business is generally run out of a storefront or stand-alone building. Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO). A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.
- If you plan to lease a location:
- It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
- Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to a cigar shop business.
- After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
- If you plan to purchase or build a location:
- You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
- Review all building codes and zoning requirements for your business’ location to ensure your cigar shop business will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.
STEP 7: Get business insurance
Just as with licenses and permits, your business needs insurance in order to operate safely and lawfully. Business Insurance protects your company’s financial wellbeing in the event of a covered loss.
There are several types of insurance policies created for different types of businesses with different risks. If you’re unsure of the types of risks that your business may face, begin with General Liability Insurance. This is the most common coverage that small businesses need, so it’s a great place to start for your business.
Learn more about General Liability Insurance.
Another notable insurance policy that many businesses need is Workers’ Compensation Insurance. If your business will have employees, it’s a good chance that your state will require you to carry Workers' Compensation Coverage.
STEP 8: Define your brand
Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
If you aren't feeling confident about designing your small business logo, then check out our Design Guides for Beginners, we'll give you helpful tips and advice for creating the best unique logo for your business.
If you already have a logo, you can also add it to a QR code with our Free QR Code Generator. Choose from 13 QR code types to create a code for your business cards and publications, or to help spread awareness for your new website.
How to promote & market a cigar shop
A cigar shop business’ marketing should be focused on attracting cigar smokers in the area. Storefront signage, along with local advertisements are effective tools to use. Ads may be placed in newspapers, on the radio, and in nearby bars.
In addition to marketing to individual customers, cigar shops might also have success marketing to businesses or putting machines up in area bars or clubs. These are less-certain, as businesses may shy away from tobacco products and cigar-selling machines aren’t legal everywhere. If possible, though, either of these can provide a significant sales boost.
How to keep customers coming back
Because only a certain segment of the population smokes cigars, cigar shop businesses must keep regulars returning. Treating regular customers well, constantly getting new cigars in stock, and holding special events all encourage repeat visits.
Still unsure about what kind of business you want to start? Check out the latest Small Business Trends to help inspire you.
STEP 9: Create your business website
After defining your brand and creating your logo the next step is to create a website for your business.
While creating a website is an essential step, some may fear that it’s out of their reach because they don’t have any website-building experience. While this may have been a reasonable fear back in 2015, web technology has seen huge advancements in the past few years that makes the lives of small business owners much simpler.
Here are the main reasons why you shouldn’t delay building your website:
- All legitimate businesses have websites - full stop. The size or industry of your business does not matter when it comes to getting your business online.
- Social media accounts like Facebook pages or LinkedIn business profiles are not a replacement for a business website that you own.
- Website builder tools like the GoDaddy Website Builder have made creating a basic website extremely simple. You don’t need to hire a web developer or designer to create a website that you can be proud of.
Using our website building guides, the process will be simple and painless and shouldn’t take you any longer than 2-3 hours to complete.
STEP 10: Set up your business phone system
Getting a phone set up for your business is one of the best ways to help keep your personal life and business life separate and private. That’s not the only benefit; it also helps you make your business more automated, gives your business legitimacy, and makes it easier for potential customers to find and contact you.
There are many services available to entrepreneurs who want to set up a business phone system. We’ve reviewed the top companies and rated them based on price, features, and ease of use. Check out our review of the Best Business Phone Systems 2023 to find the best phone service for your small business.
Recommended Business Phone Service: Phone.com
Phone.com is our top choice for small business phone numbers because of all the features it offers for small businesses and it's fair pricing.
Start a Cigar Shop in your State
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
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Is this Business Right For You?
Anyone who enjoys cigars may like running a cigar shop business. Having a passion for the product helps business owners connect with and give advice to customers.
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Take our Entrepreneurship Quiz to find out!
What happens during a typical day at a cigar shop?
A typical day at a cigar shop involves a variety of activities. Businesses owners:
- check inventory and humidor settings
- welcome customers and recommend cigars
- cut and light cigars (at shops that double as lounges)
- order more inventory as necessary
- sell other products (see “make your business more profitable”)
Similar to a bar setting, business owners might also spend time talking with customers. Some customers will want to have lengthy discussions on almost any topic, while others will simply want to buy a cigar or visit with their friends.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful cigar shop?
In order to successfully run a cigar shop, business owners must be familiar with both cigars and running a retail business.
Business owners can learn about cigars through:
- Smoke and Cigar Aficionado
- The Cigar: An Illustrated History of Fine Smoking
- Cigar Association of America, Inc.
For business owners who don’t already have retail experience, and preferably retail experience within the tobacco industry, there are several resources that might help. Working in an existing cigar shop business will provide firsthand experience, and business owners in other areas may be willing to serve as mentors. Online courses in general retail can also be helpful. Coursera and EdX both offer such courses.
What is the growth potential for a cigar shop?
A cigar store may be a small operation with just one location, or it can grow to be a multi-site business. Cheap Smokes & Cigars is an example of a franchised business in Alberta, Canada. Ithaca Cigars and Sheik’s are two examples of local cigar shops in Upstate New York.
Take the Next Step
Find a business mentor
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
Learn from other business owners
Want to learn more about starting a business from entrepreneurs themselves? Visit Startup Savant’s startup founder series to gain entrepreneurial insights, lessons, and advice from founders themselves.
Resources to Help Women in Business
There are many resources out there specifically for women entrepreneurs. We’ve gathered necessary and useful information to help you succeed both professionally and personally:
If you’re a woman looking for some guidance in entrepreneurship, check out this great new series Women in Business created by the women of our partner Startup Savant.
What are some insider tips for jump starting a cigar shop?
A cigar shop business must have a knowledgeable staff and captivating atmosphere. Business owners should never stop reading about cigars, including everything from the science of storing them to interesting anecdotes about their history. Moreover, a cigar shop should have a relaxed vibe that encourages customers to linger and enjoy their time at the shop.
Ultimately, it’s these two factors -- knowledge and atmosphere -- that will convince customers to purchase cigars in person rather than online.
How and when to build a team
As a retail business, a cigar shop must have a small team of employees from the outset. Multiple employees are needed to maintain the retail hours customers expect.