Diversification and Family Values: The Evolution of Smoker Friendly

New Trends

Since its inception in 1997 by Bartley’s father, Steve Norman, Smoker Friendly has diversified its offerings quite a bit. The company added liquor to a few locations, rebranding some of them as Smoker Friendly Liquor Plus. The company capitalized on the growing popularity of the e-cigarette and vape trends and added more glass pipes for customers to get their supplies as more states legalize marijuana.

“I try to stay on top of what’s going on in other industries, not just our industry, so I end up doing a lot of things that are outside of the box when it comes to tobacco outlets,” Bartley explains. “We went big on the vape because it’s huge and evolves very quickly, as far as devices and juice go. Customers come to us for juices because we have a different selection, we don’t have handmade or homemade ones, like some stores. Our juices are all regulated by well-known companies that have put in the research to be safe products for the customers. I hope to see our sales grow since we’ll be a safer place to come for that type of product.”

Additionally, Smoker Friendly added growler stations to two of its locations to get into the growing popularity of craft beer. Customers can come in and buy a growler, which is a refillable container for draft beer, and fill it up with a locally brewed beer or other craft beer. The company’s growlers are made of a dark amber glass to protect the beer inside from damaging ultraviolet rays.

“We’re going to be expanding the growlers in stores because we think it will succeed,” Bartley says. “There’s been education involved on our side and for customers about what it is since it’s something completely different than what we normally do. I think that, as the craft beer industry expands, more people will know what it is. Plus, how we pour the growlers is very efficient. There’s less airflow, so less foam and less waste, which saves money. It’s been fun working with the beer companies and finding out which ones are coming in.”

Family Culture

While joining the family business wasn’t Bartley’s initial career goal, she joined Smoker Friendly to help her dad with marketing the business and job recruitment when he had only 12 stores. Fifteen years later, she’s part owner, as is her brother Ryan, who is also operations manager, and her mom, Peggy, is the company’s treasurer and silent partner. The family culture trickles down throughout all the locations and creates a welcoming environment for employees and customers.

Every employee has the opportunity to make the store his or her own with guidance from the owners. Smoker Friendly also has a profit-sharing program and frequently gives bonuses and raises.  “They create the environment and it gives them the feeling of it being their own, which helps when they have accountability and ownership in what they’re doing,” Bartley says. “ We’re very laid back, and it’s a really cool environment to work in. People are happy to be a part of it, help to create it and watch it grow.”

Smoker Friendly’s goal is to have at least 50 stores and nine more liquor stores in the next five years. “I want to continue to build what we’ve done over the last 20 years and provide more jobs in West Virginia,” Bartley says. “I’m proud of the direction the company has gone in since my dad started the business. I do have a college degree but I think I’ve learned more in the last 15 years working with my father and being hands-on in the stores with the people. I’m really proud of the relationships we’ve instilled and grown with our employees and customers.”