''Get-Rich-Quick" Book Helps Des Moines
Men Sell Mail-order Pipe Tobacco.
[ You Can Build a Life of Financial Independence . . . and I Can Prove It! ]
[ OG Mandino Reviews: How to Get Rich in Mail Order ]
By STEVE BALLARD
Register Business Writer
In just one year, two Des Moines men have parlayed $1,200 in cash and advice from a book called "How to Get Rich in Mail Order" into a business that sells pipe tobacco to thousands of smokers across the nation and to 80 retail outlets in central Iowa.
"I've done everything it says in that book except advertising," said co-owner Chuck Foote. "But I don't want to get rich, I just want to be happy."
The business, Tobacco Outlet, 3814 Douglas Ave., is owned by Foote and Dallas Fisher, who decided Foote's unique skill at blending tobacco was too good to keep quiet. Foote, who placed sixth in a world pipe-smoking contest eight years ago, ran smoke shops for Younkers department stores here and in Omaha for 12 years before retiring last year.
"I thought I'd retire and take it easy," said Foote, 61.
But taking it easy isn't what sold 6,000 pounds of tobacco in the last year or what will thrust his business into the range of $50,000 in gross receipts this year.
Drawing upon loyal customers from his days at Younkers, Foote compiled a list last June of 4,000 smokers in 47 states who savored the taste and aroma of his most popular brand, "Chuck Foote's Favorite Blend," which he sold at Younkers under a different name.
Taking instructions from "How to Get Rich in Mail Order," by Melvin Powers, Foote tapped into loyal customers from his days at Younkers. He mailed a letter saying he had left the department store, and included a pamphlet and order form to begin the venture.
The letter and pamphlet effort are the only advertising Tobacco Outlet has done, a violation of the how-to book, which implores its disciples to take out ad space in local newspapers and magazines, Foote said.
Foote gets his tobacco from North Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia, mixes it, and places it in plastic pouches. A custom-printed label is attached to the bags and the product is ready for sale.
The blend and Tobacco Outlet's 29 other offerings are sold in 1-ounce, 2-ounce, 8-ounce, and 16-ounce packages, for 80 cents, $1.54, $5.15 and $9.60 respectively. Walk-in customers pay the same as those who order through the mail, Foote said, eyeing a desk-top sized cardboard box lid brimming with orders.
A marketplace fence-sitter, Foote sells "Hawkeye" and "Cyclone" blends, with packages carrying sketches of Herky and Cy puffing on pipes.
As rock stars have groupies, Chuck Foote has dozens of letters from customers lauding his blends, and he supplied a member of the US Embassy in Athens, Greece with smoke before the man ended his tour. Each month, Foote ships 25 customers a 30-day allotment of tobacco.
Foote won't disclose the contents and proportions of his blends, but he does humbly admit their popularity.
"It's just like cooking I guessnot too many people can do it well," he said. "I've been in it so many years, I just know how to blend it."
When Foote and Fisher opened their mail-order business, still Tobacco Outlet's staple, they didn't imagine that a year later they would be displaying their wares on the counters of Hy-Vee and Super Valu food stores, Drug Towns, and Sun Drugs in Des Moines, Perry, Chariton, Newton, Ames, and Johnston.
But, following a section of the mail-order primer, the entrepreneurs tackled the wholesale tobacco market.
"I didn't plan a market like that, I just planned on selling a few by mail and it just mushroomed," Foote said.
He attributed Tobacco Outlet's growth to the "romanticism" associated with pipe smoking, and the nationwide decline in cigarette smoking among males in the United States. The store also sells, "Down Home Iowa Chew," a chewing tobacco.
The only other employee at Tobacco Outlet, Dennis Stecker, is the company's sales representative. Last month, he trekked to Waterloo and Cedar Falls to peddle tobacco, and he makes weekly visits to stores that carry Foote's blends. His plans are to have Foote's blends on store shelves in every Iowa county.
"We just saw wholesaling as an ideal source of income in these small towns where you can't find good fresh tobacco," Stecker said. "Other store tobacco is dry."
"We're going to cover the state with retail outlets," Foote said.
Pipe tobacco, while not an item of great excitement to most store managers, can be found in most supermarkets and drug stores, so why not give a local product a shot, several managers wondered?
"It's not a big product any way you look at it," said Mike McKinley, assistant manager at Hy-Vee Harding Hills, 3330 Harding Road. "But if you can put a local product in, that's always a good deal for everybody concerned."
Foote entered the wholesale business last August through his partner, Fisher, who is a shift manager at the Hy-Vee at 2559 E. Euclid Ave., and has since distributed 7,000 2-ounce pouches of tobacco through 25 of the chain's stores. Tobacco Outlet is currently talking with a 524-unit convenience store chain in Iowa about stocking its stores with Foote's tobacco.
In addition to blending tobaccos, Tobacco Outlet sells pipes, lighters, and pouches from a New York wholesaler to its mail-order customers, and the company is working on a blender Foote invented to market to other smoke shops.
"It's a simple idea, but nobody ever thought of it," Stecker said.
Foote has applied for a patent for his machines, which are made of Lucite by Central Iowa Plastics, and said he thinks he can sell 1,500 of them for $300 each.
Rich or not, Foote's business has nearly outgrown its present location. The company rents about 100 square feet in the front part of Tools 'N Things, which sells construction tools. Behind a counter, bulk bags of brown and black leaf from the South are stacked on shelves, a row of decanters lines the waist-level wall that separates Foote's store from the tool shop. Tools 'N Things will close this month and Tobacco Outlet will take over the whole shop.
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