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Winter, 2008

Cologne’s Peter Heinrich
By Evan Dashevsky
The German entrepreneur shows how he built his kingdom appealing to taste and sophistication.

Everybody seems to know Peter Heinrich and his three shops (and pipe museum) in the Cologne, Germany metro area. Even when facing a language barrier with a Turkish cab driver enroute for my visit with Peter, who upon giving a name and street address, surprised me with a “to the ‘pipe shop’, yes?”

Peter Heinrich is a true entrepreneur with a hand in two millennia. He owns three successful outlets throughout Germany, while at the same time, runs one of the premiere outlets for pipes, cigars, and specialty items on the web. But “success” wasn’t the term used to describe him early in his career. Rather, Peter says he was considered “the black sheep” of his family when he opened his own Peter Heinrich’s tobacco shop at the age of 17. Not that his family had anything against being a tobacconist - quite the opposite - it was that he was going into business competing against his father’s shop. “My daddy owned Pfeifen Heinrich’s, which is a very old shop - next year it will be 100 years old. Then when I was 16 years old, I went and started my shop.” Five years ago, the former Black Sheep bought the shop from his cousin and reunited the Heinrich shops under one umbrella.

Peter Heinrich’s store in Cologne has become a sort of smoky Mecca for pipe enthusiasts. Unlike many tobacconist shops, which relegate small portions of their floor space and time to the “niche specialty” of pipes, whole walls of Peter Heinrich’s shop are dedicated to pipes. When asked if he prefers cigars or pipes, he responds “Today, I’m a pipe smoker. I don’t have the time to smoke a cigar. You must have time on your hands for a cigar. A pipe you can stop, and then go and smoke later. Of course, cigars are more popular. In Germany we don’t even consider pipes and cigar smokers to be ‘smokers’ - they’re puffers. They’re tasters. Connoisseurs.”

And to be sure, Peter Heinrich has become the go-to source for the true pipe connoisseur, who as it turns out, can be very, very enthusiastic about their passion. Peter claims he has sold a pipe for ?15,000. But in addition to dealing with the high-rolling pipe aesthetes, Peter claims to have sold several ?30,000 Cohiba “Behike” humidors, ?375 Cuban cigars, and most amazingly a ?25,000 diamond-studded Dupont lighter. “Today I had one customer. He was a pipe collector. He bought pipes for five and six-thousand Euro. That is normal. The same is when I get a call from Los Angeles and a collector says ‘Peter, do you have this and that and that?’ I mail them the pictures, and then they tell me to send them.”

While multi-thousand euro pipe purchases may be the exception rather than the rule, Peter of course, also caters to tobacco enthusiasts of more modest spending habits. Aside from pipes, the shop specializes a wide array of Cuban cigars. Peter lays claim to being the “biggest Cuban seller in Europe,” and he has about a third of his shop dedicated to the Caribbean specialties to back it up. He also owns a La Casa Del Habano, a line of retail stores dedicated to Cuban cigars, which currently includes three locations in Germany and a web business (available at www.la-casa-del-habano.com).

Downstairs in his main location, Peter offers a bar/lounge which gives smokers a place to lay and partake in a smoke in addition to a selection of coffee and rum, or as he puts it with a smile: “for the Cuban cigars - it is the best.” As of 2008, smoking has become prohibited in restaurants and public places in Germany, but as his location is considered a cigar shop, he is allowed to offer an oasis for the thirsty smoker. “Yes, you can smoke here all the time - and you’ll be able to smoke here for years to come, even when it is forbidden in the restaurants.” While most western markets (and increasingly eastern) have had to face different degrees of smoking regulation, those who have been able to build atop their cigar shop smoke-friendly oasis have done so to their benefit.

A big part of Peter’s Business is mail order, which can be accessed through the shop’s web site: www.pfeife.de. “We do mail-order business all over the world. The States has been a big customer, where we have been doing business since 1984. We’ve sold a lot of pipes and a lot of tobacco. In Germany, we have maybe 800,000 pipe smokers. In the States you have a lot more of pipe smokers collectors. Whenever anybody wants any special items they come to me. I have 90,000 pipes in my stock - the biggest collection world-wide. And we have old stock too. I sell Charatan pipes from Italy from 1970. Very crazy. I sell a lot of used pipes and pre-smoked pipes.”

Under his name, Peter also sells a line of pipe-tobacco cigarettes that come in a variety of flavors. They are light and airy smokes and have reportedly become some of his most important merchandise. “That is one of our most important items. We sold 175 mn pieces in Germany. It’s all pipe tobacco. Vanilla, cappuccino, cherry, and whiskey. We’re the only ones. We make them in Belgium.” He goes on to describe them with a boastful grin as “The best cigarettes world wide.”

In addition to his various locations and web business, Peter also maintains a pipe museum which displays pipes from throughout history and all different facets of the globe. They have “Stalin’s pipes. We have pipes from German peoples from the war. We have 2,000 year old clay pipes. We have pipes from the Popes. We have a lot of old ones from the States. We have old Indian pipes. We have pipes from 1700. All sorts of collectors’ items.”

While the big international manufacturers compete to get out as much output as fast as possible with a taste that will appeal to as broad a puffing base as possible, Peter shows how one local entrepreneur can make an impact by appealing to the refined taste of the connoisseur.

Tobacco Products International - Winter, 2008
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