Pipestud’s Latest Blog 10-17-2017

 

No Pipe Club in Your Community? Why Not Start Your Own?

If there is no pipe club in your community, why not start one? It is not difficult to do, and the benefits of being involved on a regular basis with other pipe hobbyists in your neck of the woods are numerous. I started the Central Texas Pipe Club (Waco, Texas–population 115,000) 20 years ago. We had six people show up at that first meeting and have progressed to where 15 to 25 of our 37 total members attend each month. I have been asked by many pipe enthusiasts all over the country how Waco, Texas can have such a large club when there are many cities much larger in size that either have a very small club or no club at all. I don’t pretend to know all the answers. All I can do is tell you what we do in central Texas that seems to keep our club thriving and growing.
       The first thing I did when deciding to start a club in my community was head for my city’s local pipe shop, The Humidor & Coffee Beans. As you might gather from the name of the establishment, it is not strictly a pipe shop. In fact, the selling of pipes, tobaccos and smoking accessories is a small part of their business. The owner of the shop is a very friendly lady by the name of Carol Harwell. I told her that I was starting a local pipe club and would like to leave a stack of flyers with her to hand out with each pipe-related sale she made. I had a friend who is good with computer-generated literature and illustrations put together the flyer, which stated when, where and what time the first meeting would take place. (We held our first meeting on the back patio of the Texas Sports Hall of Fame Museum, where I worked as the facility’s executive director.) I explained to Carol that an active pipe club in town would enhance her own business in a variety of ways. She agreed and began handing out the flyers touting the Central Texas Pipe Club’s first meeting with each subsequent pipe-related sale she made.
       As I mentioned, six individuals, including myself, showed up at the Museum for that first meeting. We sat on the back patio of the facility, getting acquainted and puffing on our pipes. We had soft drink machines on the patio, and, at future meetings, some of the guys decided to bring ice chests loaded with some “stouter” fare. We began the get together on the last Tuesday of each month at 7:00 p.m. so that everyone would have time for dinner before coming to the meetings. After the third monthly get together, I decided to try a raffle. I bought a brand-new, in-the-box Stanwell pipe and a couple of tins of tobacco (total cost, around $85) for that first raffle. I charged $5 per raffle ticket or three tickets for $10. That turned out to be a big hit. That first raffle saw me spend $85, and there were $125 worth of raffle tickets sold. I used the money to buy another pipe and more tobacco the next month. And now, twenty years later, we average about $225-$250 in raffle ticket sales each month. I use the money to buy pipes, tobaccos, lighters, etc, for the raffle as well as a few tins of tobacco for our “tobacco bar.” Many of the members now bring their own blends to share with the group. And, as you might expect, with more raffle money coming in each month, we have really nice pipes and tobaccos to give away!
       Another neat thing about our tobacco bar is the fact that, following each monthly raffle, we also raffle off all of the tobaccos that everyone had been trying out.
       Another thing that I believe has helped the club grow is the fact that we are an informal group. There are no monthly or annual dues to pay. A pipe smoker can come to one of our meetings any time he/she wants to and enjoy the get together without any obligations. In addition, I put out a monthly online WPC newsletter called “The Reamer.” I use it to announce the winners of each month’s raffle and what they won; some of the exotic tobaccos smoked at the tobacco bar; and, of course, a little good- natured ribbing of some of our members whenever warranted!
       Our first-ever meeting on the back patio of the Texas Sports Hall of Fame was held in May of 1999. By the time August rolled around, we decided that, while the monthly meetings were fun, we were tired of being hot and sweaty. Texas summer nights are in the high 80s and low 90s until the sun starts going down. So I determined to find a venue more suitable for everyone. We wound up getting the smoking room of an area restaurant. We were not charged, because we brought a lot of business to the establishment. Later, we moved to a very large venue named Tobacco Junction in McGregor (just outside of Waco), which truly is as fine as any pipe and cigar lounge in the country. The have a very large selection of cigars, pipes and tobaccos, and there are several diners and fast food restaurants in the area, so, a lot of the members bring their meals with them. And, Tobacco Junction also has a large bar where adult beverages can be purchased and consumed while we smoke. Our meetings now start at 6:00 p.m., as many of the members bring in their dinner so that they can start enjoying their evening of puffing and fellowship.
       We have taken trips to other pipe shops in other Texas cities, and we have an annual slow-smoking contest. We use the same rules as the International Pipe Smoking Contest rules, with just a few variations. My club members really look forward to this annual event. Not only have I never won it, I am always finishing in the middle of the pack. Fortunately, I’ve never been first out but I’ve been closer than I care to admit.
         By trial and error, I have discovered that the clubs with the most success are clubs that meet weekday evenings rather than Saturday mornings. Additionally, I don’t think it’s wise to meet more than once a month. In order to keep the flow going and each meeting “fresh,” don’t burn out the membership by offering a monthly Tuesday night meeting and monthly or weekly Saturday morning get-together, for instance. What winds up happening is that some will only show up on a Saturday, some will show up only on a weeknight, and a few will show up at each. You’ve split your membership into groups and diluted the camaraderie by doing so. I believe it’s true that sometimes you can have too much of a good thing.
      In the twenty years the Waco Pipe Club has been active, many wonderful and lifelong friendships have been made among members. And where else can you get such a diverse group of people to come together in fellowship where everyone feels equal and at ease with each other? As an example, the Central Texas Pipe Club membership includes monthly regulars who love sitting together and talking about life and pipes while having very diverse occupations and backgrounds. Our membership includes a brain surgeon, a bank president, an insurance salesman, a postal clerk, a bottled water driver, a state district judge, a Wal-Mart sales clerk, a hair stylist, three college students, a tobacco website proprietor (gee, wonder who that is?) etc. Each month we come together as one to enjoy our love of pipe and weed!
      In closing, if any of you would like to start a pipe club in your own home town and would like more tips on getting one started, please feel free to either call me at 254-744-9159 or email me directly at pipestud@aol.com. I don’t pretend to be an expert on starting or growing an existing pipe club, but I can at least tell you what has worked for ours, and if it helps you start or grow your own club, then mission accomplished!

Happy puffing to all!

Steve