Tour through the mega 30,000-square-foot warehouse that Laudisi Enterprises calls home in Longs, S.C., and you’ll breathe in the sweet, earthy scent of pipe tobacco. You’ll also get a good look at sweet success.
It’s a success story that only continues to grow since Laudisi Enterprises, and president and founder Sykes Wilford, first moved from Nashville to set up shop in Horry County in 2003. Back then, the headquarters was a much smaller 1,200-square-foot workshop with minimal heating (and minimal rent) that they outgrew – more than six-fold – in two years.
Nashville was thick with tobacco pipe shops. Myrtle Beach was not. Plus, Wilford was in his twenties, so living and making a living at the beach was the perfect business plan. That, and taxes here are at a business-friendly low.
In January 2005, the company opened doors in bigger digs on three floors just down the highway. It’s also where the company’s Low Country Pipe & Cigar shop was grounded and Smokingpipes.com, Laudisi’s online retail channel, took the reins via the web. The next six years only meant more growth for Laudisi Enterprises, with the company gaining ground in numbers – an increase of 12.5 to 25 percent per annum and from 13 to 40 employees – and in acquisitions. Laudisi, once known as a boutique that specialized in high-grade Japanese and Danish pipes, was quickly becoming a name to contend with in the premium pipe and tobacco industry overall in the U.S.
For instance, in 2012, Laudisi Enterprises expanded into Laudisi Distribution Group, after Savinelli pipes asked them to take over as their U.S. distributor. And in 2014, Laudisi Enterprises merged with Cornell & Diehl, a hand-blended pipe tobacco manufacturer based in Morganton, N.C., with roots in New York as far back as the 1880s.
2014 was also the monumental year that Laudisi Enterprises, now a vertically integrated company that combines tobacco manufacturing, online retail and distribution under one roof, moved into its current 30,000-square-foot facility in Longs.
Outside the brick and mortar locale, Smokingpipes.com is the largest online pipe and pipe tobacco retailer in the world, in terms of total revenue and total products sold annually.
With every leg of the company’s growth spurts, one thing that remain unchanged for Laudisi Enterprises is its home base of Horry County.
“When we were talking about expanding again in 2014, we looked elsewhere, but we knew we wanted to stay in the Carolinas and even talked to an EDC in North Carolina about incentives,” says Ted Swearingen, COO. “But the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation showed us a lot of incentives we weren’t taking advantage of, like we needed to leverage our community connection and the chamber … They were missed opportunities that we started taking, because we always want to put our money back into the company, grow and hire more employees.”
And so, for the last decade-plus, Laudisi Enterprises has been quite pleased with its home base in Horry County, with the help and support of MBREDC, as they only continue to grow. The company has even grown globally, with an office in Japan, where business is booming.
“We’ve had a very close relationship with pipe smokers, artisan pipe makers – and there are many – pipe manufacturers and distributors in Japan for 15 years,” says Swearingen. So, four years ago, when an opportunity presented itself, we decided to offer customer service in that market in addition to making available a Japanese version of our website. In the last couple of years, we saw a similar opportunity present itself in China, so last September, after nearly a year of planning and preparing, we opened our representative office in Chongqing, and likewise have made available a Chinese rendition of Smokingpipes.com.
“Bottom line, I think what also helps our growth,” continues Swearingen, “is that there’s a real interest in this hobby and we help to facilitate that.”
Pipes and tobacco live within this resurgence and organic interest from men of artisanal hobbies that are tangible and real, he explains. “They’re the same guys that have a passion and interest in fishing, guns, craft beers – even collecting fountain pens. It all goes under one category,” he says.
And Laudisi Enterprises is perfectly juxtaposed between the passivity of art appreciation and the fast-pace of the dot.com industry. That’s what Wilford recognized when he first fell for the world of pipe tobacco in the 1990s: the slow pace of this business was in desperate need of a pick-me-up in technology.
“That’s what we are,” says Swearingen. “We’re more of a dot.com company than anything else – very tech-savvy.”
All software here is homegrown, with three full-time programmers on staff. From the shipping and logistics processes to the manufacturing, to the retail and merchandising that run the site, to the tools they use to track and report sales numbers – all software and websites are built, designed, monitored and receive continued improvement onsite. Laudisi Enterprises also takes care of all marketing in-house, whether it’s print ad designs, banners or flyers for trade shows, labels for tobacco tins, or merchandising odds and ends for distribution.
“We also develop product photos and copy for the 400 products on average that we add to the site each week,” says Swearingen. “We publish two to five newsletters weekly for our various divisions, each of which is put together by our marketing team, comprised of photographers, videographers, graphic designers, social media folks and copywriters.”
With all of this compacted under one roof, the culture and corporate ethos is a very simple one. “There’s no rule book, but really only one rule to follow: Do right by each other and our customers.”
And that’s a rule that, when followed, has led Laudisi Enterprises in countless directions worldwide.