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 Waco Pipe Club (Waco, Texas--population 115,000) six years ago. We had eight people show up at that first meeting and have progressed to where 17 to 25 of our 29 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 the Waco Pipe 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 work 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 Waco Pipe Club's first meeting with each subsequent pipe-related sale she made.
As I mentioned, eight 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, six 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. In addition, one lucky raffle winner each month gets his dinner paid for (excluding liquor) by the Waco Pipe Club.
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 WPC 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 are not charged, because we bring a lot of business to the establishment. Our meetings now start at 6:00 p.m., and most of the members order dinner and, of course, beverages of various strengths while enjoying their evening of puffing and fellowship.
Our 6th Annual WPC meeting was held this past May. Twenty-five of our members attended, and we gave away a terrific unsmoked Castello in the raffle. We also now have an annual slow-smoking contest. Our fifth one is scheduled for July, 2005. A couple of the local television stations send reporters out to cover the event, as does the local newspaper. I send out a media release about two weeks prior to the event and then follow-up with a phone call to determine whether they'll be coming out. The local TV stations love it because watching 20 or so pipe smokers lighting up at once makes for good video. 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.
Instead of including flyers with each pipe-related purchase, The Humidor and Coffee Beans now includes a hard copy of “The Reamer” with each sale. That way, the prospective member can read how much fun we are having while being alerted to the when/where/time of the next meeting. Word of mouth has also increased our membership.
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-togethers, 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 fewwill 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 six 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 WPC 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, etc. Each month we come together as one to enjoy our love of pipe and weed!
In closing, if any of you NASPC members 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 my office (800-5679561) or email me directly at email@example.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!
(Reprinted with author’s permission.This article was originally published in the North American Society of Pipe Collectors newsletter, 2005.)