Sometimes it’s the little things that make the biggest impact. Take rolling papers — they don’t cost a lot or take up much shelf space, but they’re one of those products that neither smoke shops or their customers can do without.
According to one market survey, roll-your-own products are ready to grow by $16.18 billion during 2019-2023. The rising popularity is driven by the innovations in paper design and shifts in consumer taste to eco-friendly papers.
It’s likely, some of your best-selling papers come from Republic Tobacco. They understand smoke shops too, having started as one themselves in Chicago in 1969. Today, the company has earned its place as one of the nation’s largest distributor of roll-your-own and make-your-own tobacco products and accessories that include such brands as JOB, TOP, and OCB.
Recently, we caught up with Republic Tobacco’s V.P. of Sales Andrew Panagoplos to learn what has made the company an established success and to get some valuable insights into the market.
The mantra on the Republic Tobacco website reads: A PERFECT BLEND OF TECHNOLOGY AND TRADITION. How has that approach shaped the success of Republic Tobacco and its brand family?
We continually strive to be innovative and while keeping long standing traditions and craftsmanship alive and well. As technology advances in the manufacturing process, we implement these advancements for efficiency but not at the risk of quality. Our rolling paper factory in France runs on 100% renewable power and the production environment is continually monitored and systematically controlled for temperature and humidity. This ensures the best possible conditions for the consistent production of our various paper products.
We attach great importance to the continual training and development of our employees, ensuring that they master the latest manufacturing processes and methods and are trained and experienced on the most up-to-date equipment and machinery. We are committed to the development of our employees and encourage internal promotion through tailored development plans.
What are your top performing brands and why?
JOB, TOP, and OCB are our top brands. The JOB brand has something for every adult smoker. Our JOB Orange is the #1 selling paper in the US. Our 1.5, 1.25, and 1.0 Gold is our bestselling premium line, and JOB Organic Hemp, and JOB Virgin unbleached is for the adult consumer looking for an alternative to traditional rolling papers. TOP has a very loyal following and has been the bestselling flat booklet value brand for decades. OCB is our largest selling brand in Europe if not the world which was introduced in the US about 10 years ago. Since its introduction, OCB has seen tremendous growth in a short period of time and has especially appealed to the newer generation of adult consumers with OCB’s Virgin Unbleached and Organic Hemp being the best sellers.
What drives sales in the RYO category?
With so many SKUs, does price make the sale? In certain markets and certain channels price typically has been and remains the main driver. More recently however, we have seen that while price remains important, the more and more adult consumers are looking at other features and benefits such as sustainability, thinner paper while maintaining a high tensile strength, and eco-conscious alternatives such as Organic Hemp and Unbleached rolling paper.
How loyal are consumers to specific brands?
It depends, as we see many adult consumers that have their “go to” brand when it comes to rolling papers, and certainly we have some long-standing brands that remain the “go to” brand for these consumers. However, in recent years we have found that the newer adult consumer and even some long-time consumers are looking for alternatives. Because we are a small family owned business, we have been able to adapt to these changes and give these consumers alternative products that appeal to them but that still maintain the high quality and tradition that our products have always been known for.
Who is the core demographic for MYO/RYO? Has that customer base stayed consistent or changed over time?
The core demographic in MYO has remained the fairly consistent as the adult consumer looking for a value alternative to traditional factory-made cigarettes. The RYO category is always evolving and it would be difficult to put it into a single demographic bucket as it spans many different adult age ranges, socioeconomic backgrounds and product preferences.
What misconceptions do consumers have about MYO/RYO products?
For MYO I would say that misconception would be that it is “cheap.” Yes, there are very inexpensive alternatives to factory made cigarettes, but our tubes, rolling machines, and cigarette tobacco are high quality products that are manufactured in state-of-the-art facilities using the latest technologies. For rolling papers, the misconception would be that they are all the same — this couldn’t be further from the truth. We manufacture in small “boutique’ batches, so we can ensure that the quality is unmatched. We go through great length and expense in our quality control to ensure the product is manufactured at the same specs in every sheet of paper we produce. We use a proprietary method so that all of our leaves have the exact same glue line so it will always stick. Our factory in France has been making high quality rolling paper for almost 200 years and they take enormous pride in the quality, consistency, and innovation of the products.
What challenges does the category face?
The biggest challenge is counterfeit products. We have been very aggressive working with local law enforcement to stop this. We have had some big wins as far as raids and confiscations. We will continue to be vigilant to protect our trademarks and to ensure the adult consumers is getting authentic products that comply with applicable health and safety regulations.
How has state legalization of cannabis affected the RYO category?
There has definitely been an increase in sales in the RYO category, with most of the growth coming from unbleached paper, organic hemp papers, and premium thin papers. With all the different ways legal cannabis is consumed these days rolling paper is amongst the most popular.
What is the most important thing for retailers to know about Republic Tobacco?
Republic Tobacco has always been a small family owned business that started from a smoke shop in Chicago. This means we are not focused on the bottom line, and are not trying to appease a board of directors or shareholders at the expense of our adult consumers At Republic Tobacco we focus on producing and selling the highest quality products through innovation and high manufacturing standards that have spanned for almost two centuries. We work with our wholesale and retail partners, to get the right products out to the market for the adult consumer.