Hello, my name is Claire Green, I am the Managing Director of Greens Holdings UK Limited and the founder of www.smoke-king.co.uk, Yorkshire's independent family-run traditional tobacconist.
My family, The Greens have a long history of providing you with a treasure trove of tobaccos, cigars, snuffs and smokers accessories. A smokers paradise that delivers speedy friendly service.
(Image: Me, enjoying one of my favourite smokes)
1980s - A Family Business is Born
So, let’s go back to the start, my love for working with people began before I could even reach a till! In the late 80s, my Parents Paul & Christine were newsagents in Cookridge, Leeds, West Yorkshire, England. Our shop was at the end of a parade along with a butcher, hairdressers, greengrocers and an off-license.
After school, I would sit on the countertop where I would be "in charge" of the till/register pressing the buttons and talking to our customers. My payment would be choosing a selection of sweets and taking them back upstairs to where we lived. I remember the days fondly.
(Image: Me in Dad's newsagents, Cookridge, Leeds, circa 1980)
2001 - Going My Own Way
I have not always worked in the tobacco trade; my first love was nails and in 2001 newly qualified I worked at Leeds Bradford Airport in the manicure lounge. Then at the tender age of 21, I opened my first business, a little nail bar based in a tranquil suburb of Leeds called Horsforth.
I soon realised that I was a victim of my own success and I was literally working my fingers to the bone for little reward and decided to sell the business a few years later.
(Image: Inside Little Miracles nail bar, Horsforth)
2008 - Rolling the Dice... An Opportunity To Change My Life
Shortly after selling my nail bar in 2008 my father invited me into the award-winning family business. My parents by this point owned a quintessential tobacconist (Greens Of Leeds) in the centre of Leeds. My father was keen to venture into the relatively new world at that time of E-commerce. His vision was to deliver smoking happiness to the world.
He asked me if I thought I could build a website and reach out to the world! My reply was, "I'll give it a go". Further wanting to broaden my cigar knowledge in 2009 I attended cigar school run by Hunters and Frankau the UK's leading independent cigar importer. One of my favourite experiences was rolling my very own cigar and all these years later, it is in my father's humidor looking and feeling as good as the day I made it.
(Image: Dad (Paul) outside his humidor in Greens of Leeds with Juan Martinez)
2010 - The Snowball
On the 10th December 2010 after a long hard year working solidly on our new smoke-king website, it was time to launch! No way was I ready enough to go live but as they say, "time is money" and my father had been paying my wages for a whole year and seen nothing in return. I was amazed to see our first order drop in almost instantly.
I remember clearly what the first product I sold online was, a Chacom Carbon Clair briar pipe and I soon got to grips with our returns policy as unfortunately, this pipe suffered a burnout. Our online sales gathered pace quickly, we were doubling our turnover each month as our products reached all corners of the world.
(Image: Mum, Christine (left), Me (middle), Dad, Paul (right))
2014 - Keeping It In The Family
In 2014 as a family we decided to split the one business into two. My mother Christine and I bought the online side of the tobacconist from my father and turned smoke-king into a partnership and employed Anna our first member of staff. I returned to night school and studied photoshop and photography.
All product images are now taken by myself in the smoke-king photo studio which contains an old paste table, two basic lights from Ikea and white cloth and a sheet of cardboard wrapped in tinfoil that I use as a light deflector. Shhhh, don't tell anyone as people think I have spent thousands as the pictures are admired (and stolen) by many.
(Image: The Smoke-Queens Mum (left), Anna (middle), Me (right))
2017 - Became a Proper Company
A big year for smoke-king was 2017. We had reached a point where it was time to turn our little family project into a limited company. I had now listed just over 3,000 products on the website, my knowledge on everything pipe smoking and cigars had gone from zero to hero.
As a family, we decided our new name would be "Greens Holdings UK Limited" and we gave ourselves a new posh PO Box address. At this point, only girls worked in the smoke kingdom so we decided to name ourselves the smoke-queens. Later that year we had another queen join the team and a couple of kings!
(Image: Celebrating with a glass! Kirsty (far left), Mum Christine, Trevor (back), Dad Paul, Anna, Me (far right))
2018 - The Future is Bright
Right now, running a business whilst raising a young family is a challenge, no doubt about it. I have a son and a daughter and they can be demanding, unpredictable and all-consuming. Come to think of it, so can a business.
I am blessed to have my own mother and father (Hi, Mum & Dad!) as my business partner and a very passionate team behind me committed to keeping the heritage of the tobacco trade alive.
(Image: Me, Mum, Dad and son Jake outside Greens of Leeds)
My enthusiasm for briar pipes has developed over the years as my perception of a pipe smoker has changed (yes, I did once think all pipe smokers were male and over the age of 80). I have social media to thank for opening my eyes. There were pipe smokers the same age as me!
There were ladies who smoked pipes! and wow the pipes they were posting pictures of actually looked modern. I soon found myself giving this "pipe smoking" thing ago. The first pipe I bought was a Chacom Opera and my favourite pipe is my Nording compass. I have made some great friends in the world of pipe makers and was lucky enough to have known the late Bill Taylor (Ashton Pipes). In the late 90s, Bill would visit us and spend a couple of days in my father's shop displaying his latest range of freehand pipes. Bill was a broad spoken Londoner and his cockney slang rhyming would perplex me... "sausage and mash — cash" "jam-jar — car" "Ruby Murray — curry"
(Image: Me with the owner of Chacom)
Again, thanking the world wide web, I recently connected with Chris Morgan based in the US, California. He is best known for his Morgan "bones pipes" along with the amazing patented "briar cigar pipe". We were extremely pleased when Chris offered us UK distribution and very surprised and pleased how quickly our first batch of 100 bones pipes sold out.
I was also contacted by Chris Kelly in 2017 (based on our homeland in the UK), he is the founder of Eldritch pipes and for anyone who has not seen an Eldritch pipe, I can only describe them as marmite and encourage you to take a look at his creations. Limitations do not exist in his world of pipe making.
(Image: Me with Erik Nording)
2019 - Smoke-King v3 Launches
After months of hard work, we've been preparing Smoke-King v3, our brand new website. We've made finding your perfect smoke and smoking accessories even easier to find. We even managed to squeeze in a Go-Karting session to celebrate (well, I did anyway!..)
(Image: The web team celebrating their wins (and losses!))