Scotland may be better known for its whiskies, but thanks to entrepreneur Keir Sword, Edinburgh now boasts a specialist cigar shop that's attracting cigar aficionados from around the world.
Sword became director of Royal Mile Whiskies in 1997, but found that customers were also interested in the cigars on offer in his Edinburgh shop. 'They would ask us where to find more cigars, so we'd send them to the tobacconist's around the corner. But they'd return, saying our selection was better.' Sword launched sister company The Cigar Box in 1999. Nearly two years on, The Cigar Box is Scotland's largest Cuban cigar specialist. Annual turnover has increased by 25% to more than pounds 1 million - largely due to the launch of www.thecigar.co.uk in November 2000. Since going online, average orders of cigars and whisky have doubled. Says Sword: 'By next year 10% of turnover will be down to the web site.'
Sword likes to turn customers into experts. His site offers information about cigar production, including a feature on the Havana mansion where some of the world's finest cigars are produced. Users can fire questions at the site's resident experts.
Sword believes the net has increased customer loyalty. 'The beauty of the web site,' he enthuses, 'is that we can keep in contact with our traditional customer, the tourist, all year round.'