A new type of cigarette venture

Jamaicans for decades have bought cigarettes by the stick and by the carton at corners shops, from streetside sellers, and a multiplicity of businesses that make money off a habit that is hard to kick.

What has been absent up to now is a dedicated retail channel focused solely on smokers, and selling cigarettes alone. That changed in July when the first U-Roll’em shop was opened in Kingston by a Jamaican couple resident in Florida.

A customer weighs his tobacco at the U-Roll'em store

A customer weighs his tobacco at the U-Roll'em store

It gets better. Customers get to hand-roll their own sticks – customise their own products – in an extension of the ‘grabba’ market, which offers the same options but in a more informal way. It’s not unusual for some smokers, for example, to season their grabba packets with marijuana.

The two Jamaicans behind the cigarette retail shop venture, Damian and Susan McKenzie, have a more sophisticated operation than the grabba trade, however. The husband and wife team owns 51 per cent and 49 per cent of the business, respectively.

The McKenzies are principals in the Palm Beach, Florida-based Tobacco Central LLC, which has set a target of 29 Caribbean countries to roll out their network of RYO – roll your own – retail outlets stocked with tobacco filling-station machines under a distributorship arrangement with owners of the RYO technology, Ohio-based RYO Filling Station Machine LLC. The American company also supplies the tobacco through a network of international sources.

The McKenzies, who migrated from Jamaica two decades ago, say that they have been pursuing different ventures for 20 years – putting them in a group dubbed ‘serial entrepreneurs’ – and are also owners of Total Sign Solutions and CNC Inc in Palm Beach.

They set up their first U-Roll’em Jamaica store on July 2 at The Domes Plaza on Hagley Park Road in Kingston, operated by their local subsidiary RYO Jamaica Limited. The tobacco is supplied by RYO from international sources.

“U-Roll’em is a personalised space for consumers. Smoking is very personal,” said general manager of U-Roll’em Jamaica Limited David McCallum.

U-Roll’em’s filling machine users who buy at least one carton, or 200 sticks, pay J$18 per stick inside the Hagley Park Road store, compared to the J$30-J$35 per manufactured stick sold on the local market.

The minimum purchase per customer is 10 sticks, which costs J$250, including tobacco, tubes, and machine use.”

“We have divided Jamaica into 24 territories each with the potential of five or six machine locations. We are seeking operators for the other 23 zones in Jamaica and hope to build out the network within three years,” said Susan McKenzie.

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