Niche Marketing Success Story–Selling a Product Everyone Hates

How Created a Mutlimillion Dollar Business Selling Tobacco Products in Today’s Health-Conscious Society

It’s counterintuitive to think you can make a living (let alone a killing) selling a product that everyone is supposed to hate but that’s exactly what Sykes Wilford has done. The owner of Landis Enterprises (operator of has used smart marketing, excellent customer service, and a strong brand identity to carve out $13.2 million for his company in an industry that’s as competitive as it is detested. And what’s even stranger? Sykes did it by selling artisan pipes that retail for thousands of dollars per unit.

I came across this story in an Inc. Magazine profile piece and was amazed at just how much people were willing to pay for seemingly simple smoking appliances. At first, I couldn’t understand how anyone could get a prospect to part with $1,200 for a Adam Davidson Smooth Bent Dublin pipe even if it featured “killer grain” and “Danish sensibility.” Clearly I was missing something.

Selling Pipes for $$$ Niche Marketing at it's best

A sampling of the Artisanal Smoking Pipes for Sale on Sykes’ Website

As I read on, I learned that it was Sykes unique niche marketing approach that has made his company such a success. In an industry that often caters to the lowest common denominator, Sykes decided very early on that if he were to make a profit, he had to up the ante. “People told me I was crazy,” he said to Jennifer Alsever when she asked him about the birth of his business. But he knew that by crafting an image of luxury–even artfulness–about these seemingly simple creations that he could demand the sort of prices that would allow him to profit significantly in the long run. Sykes accomplished this through selling only high-end artisanal pipes crafted by some of the most gifted woodworkers in the industry. He also added an element of urgency by offering exclusives and one-offs, telling customers “if you want it, you have to buy it now, because there won’t be another next week.”

But how do you find the people who are willing to part with $4,000 for a Jess Chonowitsch Smooth Dublin pipe? The answer is good old-fashioned customer service combined with a little marketing genius.

Sykes automated the majority of his online sales through his newsletter and digital storefront. However, he kept careful watch on what exactly his customers were buying. Armed with that data he was then able to pinpoint prospects that were willing to part with a little more (or a lot more as the case may be) cash for the finer things he offered. But instead of relying on impersonal email and static sales pages Sykes uses real live salespeople to call potentially interested individuals to drive the final nail in the coffin. Afterall, it’s much easier for a trained individual to eliminate obstacles to a sale than it is for even the most well-crafted sales page.

Applying the Sykes Philosophy to Your Business

You don’t have to be selling something with a strong social stigma to put Sykes’ techniques to use. You simply need to be ready and willing to do the legwork and go the extra mile–a simple thing really, if your dedicated heart and soul to the products you’re selling.

  • Identify (and Segment) Your Audience — Learn what you can sell to who
  • Focus On Profit — While small sales are your “bread and butter” high profit margin sales are what will propel your business into the future
  • Don’t Drop Your Customers’ Hands — Whenever possible you should strive to the highest level of customer service before, during, and after the sale
  • Don’t Be Afraid of the Road Less Travelled — You don’t have to do what everyone else is doing to make money (sometimes different is way better)
  • Persevere — If you know it will work, make it do so

How Blogging Can Help You Build Your Business

Sykes uses the SmokingPipes Blog as a multifaceted resource for customers and prospects alike. The blog has tutorials, highlights special events, spotlights certain craftspeople and their products, and acts as a method of engagement that gets prospects involved in the pipe smoking community. While much of the blog content doesn’t lead directly to sales, it does help create a brand and build a loyal audience. It also functions a sort of gentle guide into this mysterious ethos that Sykes has created around artisanal smoking products.

Your blog can (and should) do all of those things. You want people to see you and your business as an expert in whatever field you’re in. A blog is a great way to accomplish that. By giving a little (or a lot) away for free, you’re showing your customers that you care about more than just the dollar signs.

But blog content also has a social aspect (or it should). It should be fun, informative, and worthy of the reader’s attention. Great blog content goes even further and convinces that reader to share it socially with their friends and followers. That’s free inbound marketing for you all for the cost of a little copywriting!

So don’t be afraid to dig into niche marketing and really get the most out of your community.

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