For the 52 weeks ended Dec. 31, 2012, lighter sales in U.S. convenience stores increased 3.18% to $520 million, according to SymphonyIRI. Unit sales decreased slightly 0.33% to 366 million. The average price of a lighter in c-stores was $1.42.
The news wasn’t as good for other accessories, such as rolling papers and pipes. These smoking accessories saw sales decline a modest 0.57% to $254 million, according to SymphonyIRI.
One of the trends driving lighter sales is product diversity. All lighters are not created equal, and c-store operators who get that can reap some major benefits. By deftly matching shoppers’ needs with price points and a host of styles and features retailers can create a nice source of repeat sales.
The hottest-selling item for Andrew Kerstein, president and owner of five Smoker’s Haven locations in Matawan, N.J., is his own line of proprietary lighters.
“We have lighters made up for us that are similar to a Scripto- or Calico-type lighter. We have our name and locations on it,” he said. “They are an impulse item we place on the front counter and they are our second-highest selling lighter.”
Even with the success of the Smoker’s Haven-branded lighters, most of the company’s business comes from its BIC and Zippo lines. “We have a lot of the sports team lighters—Jets, Giants, Yankees, Mets—that are with BIC, and they are very popular all year round,” Kerstein said.
While most lighters tend to be impulse items, consumers often come looking for Zippo models that reflect their own interests and personalities, Kerstein said.
While Kerstein is uncertain about the possibility of building his lighter business, he maintained he is quite pleased with it. “I’m very happy with the lighter business that we have right now, and I think we will be able to continue doing above average sales over the next 12 months,” he said.
Lighters aside, another emerging trend worth noting in tobacco accessories is hookahs. The Middle Eastern custom has become extremely trendy in the U.S. The hookah devices allow users to smoke flavored tobacco filtered through a liquid, usually water. As such, there is an opportunity for convenience stores to sell hookah tobacco and accessories, which carry a higher price point and a higher margin.
Interesting for retailers to note, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), retailers could be responsible for unsafe products sold at their stores and they need to be aware that these lighters may end up in the hands of children with disastrous results.
BIC identified some best business practices for c-store retailers to follow for managing and avoiding liability:
• Buy lighters and other products from reputable companies that stand behind their products.
• Make sure vendors have substantial insurance coverage.
• Ask vendors to provide coverage under their insurance policy.
• Expect vendors to show documentation that their products are compliant with state and federal laws.