Several times a year, I get individuals wanting to join UPCA because they don’t have a pipe club in their area. I always suggest that they consider forming their own club. Pipe clubs are best enjoyed on the local, not national, level. Getting together with fellow pipe smokers to talk about pipes and tobaccos, and just shooting the bull, is what it’s all about.
But starting a new club, what with the prevalent anti-smoking laws, is not a walk in the park. Especially when many parks now ban smoking outdoors. (Grrr!) So, what’s a guy (or gal) to do?
To research the issue, I turned to our member clubs and asked them how they got started, and what they would do now if they had to start one from scratch. I was surprised at how each club had a similar experience.
Starting a club turns out to be pretty simple. Find two other pipe smokers that think it’s a good idea and call yourself a club. It turns out that all of the major pipe clubs started that way. Feel free to post on the UPCA Facebook group that you want to start a club in your area.
Decide on a club name, and if you have a talented member, design a logo. I recommend that your club name should reflect your locale. For example, Seattle Pipe Club chose its name, not because it met it Seattle (ony 2 years out of 19) but for the general locale it was in.
Getting past that point is much harder, but not impossible. First off, you’ll need a place to meet. I’ve talked about this in detail in my post "Location, Location, Location". Start off in a private home, if you need to. Pipe shops, fraternal organizations, or cigar lounges are great, but even well established clubs have a hard time finding a permanent location these days.
Speaking of time, set a time and date for your regular meetings and stick with it. Changing times and locations can only lead to lower attendance. Set up an email list to remind your members of the next meeting.
The next thing to work on is getting the word out to local pipe smokers. Your best friend for this is your neighborhood smoke shop. Take time to get to know the owner. Explain what you are doing and work with him. There is no better way to get the word out. Joe Fabian talks about this in his post, "Pipe Shops for the Pipe Clubs". Perhaps the shop owner would be willing to hand out flyers to interested customers.
Charles Atkins of the Arizona Pipe Club made a very relevant point: “We need to be cognizant of the fact that a brick and mortar shop does not need people bringing in tons of tobaccos and pipes that are unavailable in his shop to dump on the tables and conduct a swap meet in the air conditioned comfort that he is footing the bill for. There needs to be an understanding between the pipe club members about what is acceptable and what is not…different venues call for different protocols, if a pipe club meets in a cigar shop that has no desire to stock pipe related products, they may be fine with selling the members drinks. It is important to use discernment in this area, one person takes the lead and has conversations with the proprietor, and communicates to the rest of the club on what is acceptable.”
Once you make it past your first few meetings, and want to draw in members, consider posting info about your club on Facebook and Twitter. If you find that this is working for you, set up your own Facebook group. Here’s Charles Atkins again: “Engaging with social media by constructing a Facebook page and building a website has helped us triple our attendance. As much as I do not like Facebook, it has been invaluable in making connections.”
After you are established, you might want to set up your own website. But don’t start off with one. It takes time, money, and computer skills to run a website. (See my post "Who Needs a Website when Facebook is Free?")
Of course, consider joining the UPCA. (Plug) UPCA’s purpose is to support its member clubs. We provide each club with its own web page, where you can promote your club and its activities.
Charging dues will eventually come up in any club. It all comes down to expenses. If you have to pay a fee for your venue, then it’s a no-brainer. But what about other expenses? If you plan special events, the cost will need to be shared somehow. Some clubs go without dues, others make it voluntary.
Some clubs elect club officers, others don’t. It all depends on what you want to accomplish as a club. I suggest giving it a year before deciding. Start off informal and see how it goes.
One final point from Mr. Atkins, “Try to avoid politics....if some members break off into quiet side discussions on politics, fine but
do not make it a theme of the pipe club...politics seem to dominate so much of society, and a pipe club meeting is a nice respite from it all...do not rob yourself of a great time, or alienating others.”
Thanks go to the following clubs for their input into this article. To learn more about how existing pipe clubs got started, click on the following links.