BLOG — Interview with a smoking octopus
- Published: August 26, 2015
I was walking down the street recently and saw Sarah sitting on the patio in front of The Smoking Octopus. It is a smoke shop, and I wondered about the difficulty of opening a store like that. My curiosity got the best of me, as it often does, and I walked back towards the store prepared to ask some questions about working there. It turned out she owned the shop, which allowed me to question her in even more detail. She was friendly and casual, a mix of someone relaxing on a patio on a sunny day and the nonchalant seriousness of an experienced business owner:
I started out working for a smoke shop in Fairborn about four years ago. I was into hookahs – that’s what interested me about working there.
It was fun to go to work – I didn’t see it like a job anymore and thought it would be fun to do [professionally]. I worked my way up and ended up managing that shop for about three years. My manager there actually offered me a position running his hookah bar. I managed the hookah bar wanted to open a hookah bar in Yellow Springs. But due to zoning issues I couldn’t, with the building being so close to a church and a school. So I took the information I learned managing a smoke shop and said, ‘I’m going to do that instead.’ I’ve been here for a year and a half. I just turned 23 this month.
I love the town, I love the people, the building my shop is in is amazing. I’ve grown up around here and this was always my favorite building in town. It took me about half a year to find a spot. Thankfully my parents have been very supportive. Without them, I wouldn’t be here right now. I went to my parents’ house for Christmas and one of the last gifts they handed me was this little box. I opened it up and there was a picture of this building. Best Christmas present ever.
Opening the shop went pretty smooth. The only thing you have to do [unique to a store like this] is apply for your tobacco and vendor’s license. That’s through the State. It takes a while for them to process your application, but once you have that, it’s legal for you to sell tobacco products in your store.
Getting the tobacco license wasn’t too difficult for me. I used a lot of advice from my boss at the old place, because I told him I had interest in opening a smoke shop. I asked him what he did and he helped guide me through. Without that advice, it probably would have been a lot more difficult because I wouldn’t have known who to go to and how to talk to them about opening it.
There is a lot of legal terminology you have to learn to work in a smoke shop. You have to come in here knowing what to say to the workers here. It’s not a ‘bong,’ it’s a ‘water pipe.’ If someone came in here right now and used a street word for something, I legally have to tell them to leave my store. It’s that serious. (Laughs) People like to joke about having signs everywhere that say ‘for tobacco use only’ – you have to have those in front of everything, especially the glass and the papers. Some shops are really strict – you say one wrong thing and they’ll kick you out. And IDs: you have to respect the ID policy. I have signs everywhere – if you don’t have one, I won’t sell anything to you.
Every now and then you’ll get your troublemakers. The weekends are a little more difficult because you have your out-of-town crowd. You have your groups – you have your disrespectful patrons and you have your patrons that know what it’s all about, get what they need, and leave. It’s usually the kids that have just turned 18 that are the hardest to deal with. They think that because you work in smoke shop that you’re going to be cool with them acting naive.
You will get undercovers that come in every now and then. Usually you can pick them out if they ask a lot of questions but don’t really show interest in buying anything or ask you to get anything out. They try to catch you on your terminology, mainly, and they ask you about things that are difficult to describe to try to test you.
But one experience I really enjoyed involved these five older ladies that came in after eating in the restaurant next store and asked me what a hookah was. I explained it to them and asked if they wanted to try it. They said, yeah, I think so. It took them about ten minutes to pick out a flavor. I prepared the hookah for them and they sat out front and smoked it. They wanted me to take pictures of them to send to their grandkids, like “Look what I’m doing!” (Laughs) They bought shirts from the shop that say “Put that in your pipe and smoke it” on the back.
I was surprised, being in a small town, at how close I’ve gotten with the people I’ve met in the shop. I have a lot of regulars that I’ve become really good friends with. Where I worked before, I would recognize people’s faces but I’ve really gotten to build some great friendships out of running the store here. I’ve made a lot of good connections with people, like glass blowers. I travel around to a lot of music festivals too and that’s where I get a lot of my local glass connections.
The weekends are a little hectic, as they are more touristy times. It get can pretty busy in there. We always have two people working in there. The street fairs are insane. We have to have at least four or five people here. But I enjoy the busy days. It makes the time go by quicker. Parking’s kind of limited right now with the hotel construction, but business has been good!
I’ve been really into business ever since I started managing the old shop. I’m currently attending Arizona State University majoring in Organizational Leadership and Business.
The hand pipes are some of our best sellers, as well as the shishas and hookah tobacco. We also have a cigar humidor in there too, and cigar sales are really great. We’re actually about to expand the humidor and install another one because we’ve had so many requests for new cigars. My shelves are stocked completely full. That’s been nice – people who live in town say they don’t want to drive all the way to Fairborn to get their cigars. I have a list of requests that people can add to, that way I can stock cigars for them. Every day in the smoke-shop world there’s something new, something new out on the market. It’s a learning process of figuring out all the new things that are coming out. So that keeps it interesting, there’s always something new to learn.
As far as all the local artists, they’ll come here with product briefcases when you call them. I get to pick and choose what I want. Having the vendor’s license is what allows you to buy everything in bulk. You can’t go through a wholesaler without your vendor’s license. I go through maybe four different distributors because there’s never just one that has everything you need.
I’m very open about cutting deals with people. I’ll definitely help you out. I know a lot of smoke shops can be overpriced. I don’t want to be that person that rips you off. I do package deals and give ten percent off with any student or military ID. I’ll run sales through the weekend and things like that every now and then.
I take off about one day a week. Other than that I enjoy being here. My fiancée and I run it together, and the lady that just left is my mom. She works for me in the mornings. When I’m away from it for too long, I feel weird. I just got back from a week and a half-long vacation so I was eager to get back here. If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. Finding that niche makes it a lot easier to have a job. I worked guest services at a mall for four years and then I worked at Bath and Body Works. Having had bad experiences working for someone, I wanted to be my own boss. I’ve never had one I liked. I wanted to do everything the opposite of how they did. I treat my employees the way I wanted to be treated in my past jobs.