How old are you dear reader? Were you born 40 years ago? 60 years ago? Think for a moment about your life, however long it is & now consider the thought of two people being in a business, dedicated to pipes for 50 consecutive years. Starting back in 1963, (insert mental historical reference for that time period) and now fly forward, passing all the history that has happened over that time to 2013. This is the span of time that Bisgaard Pipes has been in business.
If you have never met Margit & Aage it may be difficult to convey the thought of who they are & what type of philosophy they hold. Essentially though you should imagine the thought of walking into their small business in the coastal community of Ebelhoft, Denmark in 1963 & being greeted by a friendly smile, obtaining the best customer service possible with absolutely no ego involved at any point of the transaction. Calm, pleasant, there for the customer & truly having the customer’s best interest at heart. This sums up the Bisgaards both back then and today. While the world has changed and they have embraced those changes whole-heartedly. They have remained true to the essence of what it means to be a proud ‘Mom and Pop’ shop.
When they began back in 1963, Margit was 18 and Aage (pronounced Oo-ve) was 24. The young couple rented out a small retail space inside a building to serve their small local community of Ebeltoft, Denmark. The offering was a type of ‘All-Goods’ store. They sold everything from wine to chocolates to newspapers, cigars, tobacco & pipes. They provided the small things to customers that made the day or night go by better.
They honed their customer service skills and quickly proved that they were very adept business-people as well. After five short years since they opened their rented space, they bought the entire building. Not even out of the 60’s decade yet & the Bisgaard’s had already expanded their business several hundred percent times over.
Buying pipes back in 1963 was as you can imagine, a different process from what it is today. Sales-men from factory brands like Stanwell & Dunhill would come by with large suit-cases full of pipes & the Bisgaards would select the ones they liked and up on the pipe wall they would go. The average price of a pipe back then was between $5 to $10. When I asked Margit & Aage if we were still in the 1960’s, if they could imagine some day when pipes could sell for over $1,000, their mutual response: “Absolutely impossible!” The times have definitely changed and myself I wonder what we will be saying on the same subject 50 years forward from today.
Over the next 30 years one of the major changes in the pipe industry that the Bisgaards got to directly experience was the birth of the individual crafts-men pipe-maker. Although a different discussion for a different time, this birth of the crafts-men selling his work under his own name, in large part took place in the Bisgaards Danish back-yard. The well-known names of Knudsen, Nielsen, Former and so on, were all at one point or another working in Danish factories. As these crafts-men took their work under their own names, the Bisgaards retail arm was well positioned to work with this new trend.
Many retailers today struggle to compete with other retailers, other sources of money & other factors which make it hard to get access to pipes from world-class pipe-makers. The Bisgaards however do not have this problem. Aside from their prime location which gave them access to the now well-known term of Danish Masters, the Bisgaards personal demeanor fostered a relationship with these carvers which went well beyond business. They are truly friends with the pipe-makers whose work they sell. There is a strong loyalty that they have developed with the pipe-makers which a new business quite simply does not have access to. You can see this loyalty for yourself by simply visiting the Bisgaards website. World-class name after world-class name is offered on their site, day in and day out. Combine this world-class pipe selection with their excellent customer service that truly caters to personal tastes & the Bisgaards business easily stands out.
The Bisgaards ran their business very successfully and the next major milestones for them occurred in 1999. The internet was beginning to take shape and their good friend and consultant, Lars Kiel, advised about the need to create an online presence for the store in order to sell & cater to the world. To alter their focus from a small, relatively local community and change the perspective to a global one is no easy feat at all. When the first pipe order came in however, from Turkey of all places, the light-bulb slowly began to turn on and the Bisgaard’s Internet footprint was born.
Bisgaard-Pipes.com focuses on a wide range of pipe offerings. I cannot define their approach to buying pipes other than to say that they do their best to cater to their clients. What I can however say is that Bisgaard Pipes embraces change. While many retailers have taken their time to accept some of the more unique & varied pipe styles, the Bisgaards have always been open to explore something new and place it on their internet shelf. Pipe-makers have known this for some time and the Bisgaards have been open to working with artisans who have a fresh take on pipe design. The most recent example is the work of Gian Mario Gamboni. The Bisgaards were the first retailer to work with him & now his work can be seen in many other retailers as well. The point is that the Bisgaards have been pioneers in setting the ‘retail standard’ to search out pipes that were not 100% classics.
I asked the Bisgaards what number of pipes they have sold through their store over the past 50 years of their business. Unfortunately they could not provide an exact answer since some of their orders number in the range of 25 & up, all the way down to the single pipe sale. Cataloguing the exact number would take some time. Margit however was able to sum up the question very well by saying: “We have sold enough pipes to keep everybody happy!”.
Customer service is one of the areas that the Bisgaards excel in. The high number of very loyal & global customers they have attest to that. The natural harmony of their customer service skills combining with their close relationships with many world-class pipe-makers, allows them to offer their clients exceptionally detailed service. It is relatively easy for the Bisgaards to take a customers request of for example, 5 Anne Julie pipes and to take that request to the pipe-maker and help their clients obtain those types of extremely hard to get pipes. Once again the strong & loyal relationships that they have fostered with many world-class carvers, afford them the access to make such requests on behalf of their clients.
The Bisgaards and I discussed the changes that have occurred in the pipe industry over the past 50 years and the general concensus on the greatest new trend that they can clearly see, is essentially the decline of the factory pipe & the rise of the individual pipe-carver. 50 years ago, there were few to none individual pipe-carvers selling their work under their own name. Today we see the exact opposite. 10 years from now it will be even more stark of a contrast.
The Bisgaards are celebrating their 50th anniversary by creating a simple but very special pipe from their good friend Former. A straight Apple. Sandblasted. Coming in two finishes. Of interest about this pipe is the fact that it is a sitter. The first batch sold out almost immediately so check their website over the coming days & sign up for their news-letter, if you want a chance to get your hands on one of these likely great smokers.
Congratulations to the Biggest & Best ‘Mom & Pop’ shop on the internet for reaching this incredible milestone. Fifty years in the business and still making strong waves. Margit & Aage will be in Chicago this coming year so when you see them, please be sure to congratulate them on their amazing feat. We wish them continued success.
An enormous and very large Thank You to Mr. Lars Kiel for assisting tremendously on this piece. Lars is not only a fountain of knowledge about anything & everything related to the pipe industry but also a very good friend of the Bisgaards. Thank you Sir!
To visit the Bisgaard’s website & sign up for their news-letter, please click here Bisgaard-Pipes.com
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