Bill Kleppinger brings the happy, hippie vibe to his friendly smoke shop 632 Main
Bill Kleppinger never really intended to open a smoke shop. It just kind of happened.
One day he was a landlord renting out a building on 632 Main St. in Toledo, Ohio. Not too long later, he was in business there himself, running a shop that would eventually be called 632 Main.
When he was the landlord, Kleppinger says his tenants never seemed to “make a go of it” — even though the rest was reasonable. So he started to operate his own business out of the building. He was selling used goods at first. But then he started buying boxes of rolling papers for some friends, giving them a better deal than the other local smoke shops would. That’s what changed things
“Doing a friend a favor, is what I thought I was doing,” Kleppinger says. “More and more people just wanted me to get them things — that’s how I fell into it. I just started getting people what they needed at a really good price because I was trying to help out friends.”
A connected man is a man who can find business. But in Kleppinger’s case, a connected man and a friendly man is one who stays in business for a long time — 14 years so far in the case of 632 Main.
You’d only need to talk to Kleppinger for a few minutes to know what kind of guy he is — he’s the happy hippie we all know, a guy who calls things “groovy” and has a jolly demeanor. He describes the vibe inside 632 Main as “more honest than superficial.”
“I would say everybody thinks that I’m their friend,” says Kleppinger, 53.
He also would say he’s a bit of a pack rat.
“It’s a pretty small store,” he says. “But we have things packed in there. Every inch of the store is packed with different items.”
That includes typical smoke shop items such as glass pipes, posters and clothes, in addition to things like comic books, tapestries and Zippo lighters. Ask him how many items total and he stops for a moment and calculates in his head. At least 300, he decides.
One way he’s devised to get some off the shelves? Sell grab bags.
It’s something he adapted from a friend, but the basic concept should be familiar to most people: You sell a variety of products as a bagged bundle for a flat cost. His cost $10, $20, $35 and $50.
“You have to make each grab bag super awesome where people have to tell their friends,” Kleppinger says.
His grab bags became so popular at 632 Main that other shops in his area started copying him when customers came in asking to get grab bags. That’s when you know you have a product that’s in-demand.
“Every store within a 50-mile radius has copied that,” Kleppinger says.
That’s not the only reminder Kleppinger has about keeping things fresh. When he started his shop in 1998, it was in the era where glass pipes were very high in demand. Today, not as much. Now everybody has glass pipes and not as many people want them.
Point being: Kleppinger has seen the trends come and go — be they pipes, incense or whatever else. So flexibility goes a long way, he says, as does being the guy who can get people things they want.
“Even though the products change, people still need something,” Kleppinger says. “If you’re able to talk to those people on a legitimate person-to-person basis, you can find out what that is and be able to sell them something.
“It just gets back to treating your customer like a friend.”
WORDS OF WISDOM
632 Main’s Bill Kleppinger offers three tips for other smoke shops owners out there
Be Flexible: “To make it long-term you have to flexible with what you’re selling. Things that sold a lot one day aren’t going to necessarily be selling a lot tomorrow.”
Try grab bags: “It’s a very good way, as a store owner, to get some of your merchandise out into the community rather than having that merchandise sit on the shelf. It’s no haggle, bottom-line price for some of your merchandise.”
Believe in yourself: “Be true to yourself and believe what you’re doing is the right thing. When you face challenges or when times are tight financially, you’ll keep making it through.”