So many innovative business products are born to solve a specific problem. The product offered by Dennis Sheaffer's employer is no exception. The problem: People who associate cigars with a good time increasingly aren't allowed to light up in bars, restaurants, sporting events or even their own homes. The solution: a retrofitted 21-foot Airstream trailer called the Mobile Cigar Lounge. Owned by former Tampa Bay Lightning players Dave Andreychuk and Stan Neckar, the lounge has served as a getaway for stogie smokers at events like the Outback Pro Am golf tournament, Lightning games and private get-togethers for four years. Sheaffer signed on as national sales consultant a year ago. The former Altel regional vice president recently talked with the St. Petersburg Times about why people and groups rent the lounge, ideas for the future and what requests they turn down.
Some stories on the business say Andreychuk and Neckar thought up the lounge after they couldn't smoke in bars as they celebrated the team's 2004 Stanley Cup championship. True?
No. Juan Guillen, a cigar aficionado who comes from a family of tobacco growers, mentioned it to Stan, and he ran with it. Stan wanted a classic lounge with an old-school feel. He worked on it on and off while he was playing.
How is the lounge decked out?
There's cherrywood cabinets, hardwood floors, ostrich leather seating. There are five flat-screen TVs, each with its own separate satellite feed so you can watch five different games. You can do a PowerPoint presentation, run a loop CD to showcase products and watch shows. There's a dual ventilation system so nonsmokers can go inside and not be bothered by cigar smoke.
How much does it cost?
General public rates are anywhere from $450 an hour to $550 an hour, with a three-hour minimum. We also have packages for events.
The Bucs package for 12 people runs $900, or $75 per person, for three hours (tickets aren't included). You get four cases of beers — or eight per person — which cost $9 apiece or $72 total in the stadium. And you get 25 cigars, two per person.
All the packages include a "cigarista," a hostess with knowledge of different kinds of cigars. We carry 30 premium brands and our own Dominican brand. She serves cigars, from cutting to lighting.
What's the most common kind of rental?
Most of what we do is charity events. The Outback Pro Am is the biggest one so far. They host sponsors or sell packages. We let them auction off three hours of use for the charity. The high bidder has a year to use it.
What other things do people rent the lounge for?
Typically, we'll do private parties that revolve around an event — sports events like the Masters or an employee recognition event. Now we're getting bookings for a lot of April and May weddings. It's usually a guy thing, but we had two recent brides-to-be giving a place for the guys to go out and smoke cigars.
This one guy wanted to do an event at the Capital Grille at International Plaza. Security there parked us in front of the Cheesecake Factory. The most difficult part was keeping the public out.
Do people ask if they can rent the lounge to ride to some event?
We get that all the time. We tell them, "No, it's a trailer and that's illegal."
Is there anywhere the lounge isn't welcome?
Not at Rays games. They put a ban on tobacco.