When I started working at Smokingpipes in the Shipping Department in 2017 I knew virtually nothing about pipes and their importance to people around the world. Sure, I'd dabbled with pipesmoking during my undergraduate studies in college and had seen countless representations depicted in television shows and movies like Hatfields & McCoys and Sergio Leone's Spaghetti Westerns. I gradually became intrigued and wanted to see for myself if I'd reap any enjoyment from pipes, so one day I went to a local brick and mortar, bought a corn cob and a couple ounces of house blend tobacco and off I went to explore the world of pipesmoking.
Unfortunately, no one among my family or friends had smoked a pipe and I struggled to find a definitive guide, so the inevitable complications and frustrations of undertaking any new hobby were overwhelming and I lost interest. Constant relighting, tongue bite, difficulty finding a rhythm to my puffing cadence, packing bowls too tightly or loosely, and struggling to find a favorite blend plagued me throughout my initial trial runs. I chucked my cob in that miscellaneous drawer of junk that everyone has but no one can justify, never expecting to attempt pipesmoking again.
Nearly a decade later, I was searching for a job after receiving my master's degree from Coastal Carolina University. Granted, everyone tells you that obtaining a diploma from an institution of higher education makes you more desirable in today's job market, but landing interviews and successfully finding something you'd actually enjoy doing for years as a career is easier said than done. During my search I stumbled upon an online ad for Laudisi Enterprises for a copywriting position, more specifically an opening for Smokingpipes. I figured, why not submit my application and resume, the worst they can say is no or completely ignore me. After all, I had some perceived prior experience with pipes and could finally put my degrees in communication and journalism to good use. While I was at it, I also submitted an application for a spot as a Shipping Associate, not only to double my chances of getting a response but also because I desperately needed a job, and one that would hopefully be fun.
Constant relighting, tongue bite, difficulty finding a rhythm to my puffing cadence, packing bowls too tightly or loosely, and struggling to find a favorite blend plagued me throughout my initial trial runs.
Within a day or two I received an email requesting an interview, so I wasted no time responding and eagerly awaited interview day. Taking no risks, and knowing that first impressions matter, I wore a suit and tie, had extra copies of my resume and cover letter, and a detailed mental map of potential interview scenarios and questions.
I was nervous, of course, and barely remember the interview. Unfortunately, the copywriting spot wasn't viable at the time, possibly due to my utter lack of pipe knowledge and inability to spontaneously name any pipe shape or maker (which thankfully wasn't one of the questions), but the Shipping position was still feasible. The next day I received a follow-up email asking if I could come back for a second interview with some of the Shipping supervisors and possibly take a tour of the entire warehouse. "That's certainly promising," I thought to myself, and within the next few days I found myself back at the office in a conference room.
The interview was structured and incredibly organized, but the questions weren't the same old tired inquiries such as asked at other interviews seemingly read from a script. Suddenly, I found myself being asked what my hobbies and interests are, what my favorite movie of all-time is, what music I listen to, and what my dream job would be — questions that I'd never been asked in a formal interview. For the first time, it seemed like an employer was actually interested in me as a person and didn't simply view me as someone who could fill a position. After being shown around the entire facility and seeing each department in action, I was astounded at how thriving this industry is and how it's not exactly a small, niche hobby like most people believe. I went home feeling confident about my interview and was trying to gather my thoughts when I received a phone call from the office offering me the Shipping position.
For the first time, it seemed like an employer was actually interested in me as a person and didn't simply view me as someone who could fill a position.
I officially started working the week after, initially learning where all of the various products were, how to weigh and pack bulk tobacco, how to pull orders, and pick pipes that were to be shipped out. And with the holidays approaching, I made sure to learn what I could quickly so we could get packages out the door and fulfill as many orders as possible each day. I must admit, even during the most hectic days where orders seem like they're endlessly coming through during promotions, sales, special releases, and holidays, the Smokingpipes Shipping crew is an unstoppable force taking great pride in what they do each day. It was during this wild time that I received a crash course in pipes and tobacco, constantly being exposed to many new brands and companies and asking questions of my more experienced coworkers to gain a deeper understanding.
Of course there was plenty of fun to be had in Shipping as we'd constantly show each other incredibly expensive artisan pipes, historical pieces that were 100 years old or more, intricately carved meerschaums, and pipes we loved simply for their color or shaping. Back then, I never could quite contextualize and coherently explain to someone else what I liked about a particular pipe, but the more of them I got to study and inspect, the clearer it became. I'd go home after work and undertake some extracurricular research on our website by reading descriptions, blog posts, interviews, studying pipe shapes and distinguishing between the dozens of carvers, workshops, and marques we feature.
Within two months, a company-wide announcement was made to notify everyone that a position for a Data Entry Specialist was available in Merchandising due to the sheer number of pipes we constantly receive from vendors, artisan pipemakers, and from our customers as estate pipes being traded in. Essentially the job would involve unpacking estate pipes and getting them ready for evaluation as well as titling, pricing, and weighing and measuring every single new pipe that came through our doors, and getting pipes picked and ready for our weekly updates. I absolutely loved working in Shipping, but I decided to apply and test the waters, hoping to advance in the company and at the very least let my eager interest in pipes be known. Plus, there would be the added benefit of gaining extensive pipe knowledge through familiarizing myself with many of the brands we carry, and talking to coworkers who are essentially walking encyclopedias with an endless knowledge and passion when it comes to pipesmoking.
I never could have imagined how closely knit the pipesmoking community is and how this mutual interest unites people around the world.
Much to my delighted surprise, I was offered the Merchandising position and started in January 2018, focusing much of my time assisting in entering the data for estate pipes that needed to be cleaned and eventually posted on our site. It was a crucial, transformative experience for me that rekindled my interest in pipesmoking and exposed me to literally thousands of pipes. From unknown makers to high grade artisans and legendary marques, I got to handle them all and studied them extensively, learning more than I ever thought was possible and developing a deep respect for the passion and creativity that goes into the craft. It's easy to take such a role for granted as I must have seen more Dunhills than even the most devoted collector, handled unfathomably rare pieces from masters like Lars Ivarsson and Jorn Micke, and could readily access any pipe in our extensive inventory, (which is typically around 14,000 pipes). Every day was unlike the last — I had no clue what to expect or what pipes would come through our doors. The random unpredictability of each day as well as the staggering amount of collective knowledge make Smokingpipes an endlessly fascinating environment.
These days, I find myself as a Copywriter, the job I first applied for, and I'm still amazed at the strange, enjoyable path that led me here. I never could have imagined how closely knit the pipesmoking community is and how this mutual interest unites people around the world. All of the enriching experience of working in different roles has allowed me to see the inherent beauty of each pipe, what draws people into the craft, and how our customers support us and make it possible for us to do what we love each day. During my time here I've come to formulate my own opinion that pipes, in essence, are functional pieces of art that should not only faithfully deliver in their roles as smoking instruments but should also be aesthetically pleasing and a point of pride for their owners.
I'm also happy to report that I'm currently a regular pipesmoker and have fortunately conquered the various troubles that I experienced in my early days. I certainly benefited from being able to explore a wide-range of pipes across a variety of shapes, finishes, and sizes, and was able to find out what I liked and what I would like to try one day. It simultaneously allowed me to expand my developing collection and afforded me the opportunity to expose myself to brands and makers I'd never have explored if I didn't work here. The generosity and support of my coworkers helped tremendously, graciously allowing me to sample blends I've never tried before from their personal cellars and thoroughly, thoughtfully answering any questions along the way. For now, my main focus is overcoming my strong case of pipe acquisition disorder and finding a way to manage my chaotic cellar.
It feels good to be here at last, and to at least superficially understand pipesmoking. I have much more to learn and look forward to a lifetime pursuing pipe knowledge. How did your pipesmoking journey begin? What tips or tricks did you use early on or continue to use? Feel free to comment below and share your thoughts to help out your fellow smokers.