Tobacco Franchise Rolls OutÂ
Franchise Times Magazine, August 2006
Mark Tucci was talking to a prospective franchisee in the back room of his 7 Valleys Custom Blends Farm Fresh Tobacco store when the man signaled him to be quiet so he could hear the sales pitch going on out front. When the sale had been rung up, the prospect turned to Tucci and asked who the man doing such a good job of selling roll-your-own tobacco was, since he had only seen a saleswoman working.
â€œI told him it was one of our customers,â€ Tucci says, puffing out his chest with pride. The only thing better than a customer selling your product for you is a customer looking to open a retail store just like yours. Tucci has both, which is why he has started offering franchises.
According to the Office on Smoking and Health, more than 44 million adults in the U.S. smokeâ€”almost one in fourâ€”even though the health industry is spending millions trying to get people to quit.
Seven Valleyâ€™s motto is: â€œIf you donâ€™t smoke, donâ€™t start. If you do smoke, smoke smart.â€ â€œSmoking smartâ€ means rolling your own cigarettes with farm-fresh tobacco that doesnâ€™t contain the addictive chemicals and additives traditional cigarettes do, Tucci claims.
â€œWhat weâ€™ve seen from our 12,000 customers is they cough less and (have) no swelling and side affects from cigarettes,â€ Tucci says, admitting itâ€™s not a scientific study, just the observations from their customers.
In addition to tasting betterâ€”7 Valleys carries 49 custom blends from menthol to hazelnut to peachâ€”the cigarettes also burn longer, which means people smoke fewer, Tucci points out. And since bulk tobacco isnâ€™t privy to the same laws and taxes as the brands that come rolled 20 to a pack, theyâ€™re cheaper (about $1.20 a pack versus $3.90 or more). The only equipment needed is a small machine that injects tobacco into tubes that look like the real thing.
Tucci, who opened his first store in York, PA., in 1973, came up with the idea when he was stationed with the Army in Germany during the early â€˜80s. Cigarettes were expensive and he discovered a huge market of products not available in the U.S. When he finished his tour, he continued rolling his own cigarettes, despite the stigma associated with the habit. â€œIâ€™d go into a store to buy papers and people concluded I was doing drugs,â€ he says. Plus, the available tobacco blends were limited and unimaginative.
â€œWe decided to take it to the next level,â€ he says. In addition to the bulk tobacco and accessories, he also sells coffee blends that are paired with all 47 tobacco flavors.
The next level also includes a surveillance system that allows Tucci to monitor his Pennsylvania stores from his home in Hilton Head, S.C.The stores are profitable, but they take the right kind of person to man them. â€œYou need someone who loves people,â€ he says. The job is â€œalmost like a bartender. People become connected to youâ€”same time, same place.â€
Tucci isnâ€™t just blowing smoke. He admits this isnâ€™t a franchise for everyone. Everything has to be â€œtidy and above boardâ€ he says. â€œYou canâ€™t have someone claiming this is good for you.â€ The cigarettes, that is, not the economics of the business.