One crisp autumn day in 1999, Sykes Wilford was walking from his campus housing to his part-time job at the
local tobacconist and he had this slightly wild idea to
sell pipes on the internet.
Long ago in the 20th century (it was the fall of 1999, but that counts), Sykes Wilford was a history major at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, where he also had a part-time job at a local tobacconist. That job convinced him that pipes were serious, artistic objects that could be better understood through the language of art criticism and appreciation. He also understood that the internet was a viable marketplace for pipes, though at the time many argued that it was impossible to sell pipes online because enthusiasts needed to see and hold a pipe before purchasing it. Sykes was convinced that it could be done, however, with detailed textual descriptions accompanied by precise measurements and vivid photography. He decided it was time for the pipe industry to modernize and launched Smokingpipes.com and its parent company, Laudisi Enterprises.
The name Laudisi comes from Luigi Pirandello's play, Cosi e, se vi pare (Right You Are, If You Think You Are) and questions the interpretation of reality, which is different for different individuals. One character, Lamberto Laudisi, insists that reality is as perceived and that whatever is true for an individual is indeed the truth, at least for that person, and despite what anyone else thinks, when more information is made available, understanding will follow. That sounds awfully similar to the way people enjoy pipes.
That literary philosophy may seem a little odd for a corporation to build its name upon, but for the pipe and pipe tobacco industries, it’s fitting. Laudisi is staffed by pipe enthusiasts serving other pipe enthusiasts. Each individual possesses a unique metabolism, unique chemical makeup, and unique experiences, all of which drive individual tastes. One pipe smoker’s perception of the way a tobacco blend tastes will be different from another’s; one type of pipe or brand of pipe may be best suited for some people, but a failure for others. Laudisi not only accepts that fact, but embraces and celebrates it. Individualism is a key characteristic of pipe smokers; regardless of a smoker's individual tastes, they are valid. Laudisi serves every pipe smoker's reality and every predisposition.
Sykes denies that he thought that through when he named the company; he says he had recently read the play and simply enjoyed the character. He is not convincing, though. Sykes’ mind works in unusual ways, and he subconsciously absorbs details that most of us have to work to understand. He knew the Laudisi name carried a message harmonious to the pipe community, and whether anyone understood the obscure reference or not, it fits the company philosophy.
After an enormous expenditure of time and effort, Smokingpipes.com started to take off. In 2005, Low Country Pipe and Cigar, the company’s brick and mortar store, was opened in Little River, SC. In 2012, Savinelli, the largest premium pipe manufacturer in Italy, asked Laudisi Enterprises to become its exclusive distributor in the United States, and Laudisi Distribution Group was created to serve as a platform for distribution to other retailers.
In January, 2014, Cornell & Diehl, a boutique North Carolina-based pipe tobacco manufacturer, previously owned by Sykes' late friend Craig Tarler, merged with Laudisi Enterprises, Inc. and moved to South Carolina, where it is now housed in a 30,000 sq. ft. facility just a couple of miles from Laudisi’s main office. C&D in its present incarnation was founded in 1990, but the company's roots and heritage began in the 1880s in New York as the Atlas Blending Co. From the very beginning, the company challenged convention, just like Laudisi. And so naturally it’s been a successful fit.
Other expansions include gaining representation in Japan, opening an office in China, and the launch of Smokingpipes.eu — a website designed to serve the European pipe community. This meant opening a new office in Dublin, Ireland, to provide the same level of care and commitment in Europe as in the US. Laudisi also purchased the Peterson pipe company in Ireland. Peterson is a company with rich heritage stretching back to 1865, maintaining its popularity in the pipe world with its unparalleled silverwork, innovative system engineering, proprietary manufacturing techniques, and a company culture steeped in the deep Irish history of the brand. At the same time, LDG became the US distributor for Peterson pipes, which has continued to fuel growth.
Today Smokingpipes.com is the largest retailer of premium pipes and pipe tobacco in the world. Laudisi Enterprises continues to experience growth, moving to new and larger buildings on a regular basis and adding employees at a pace that some might consider dizzying. Pipe smokers are out there, they’re enthusiastic, and Laudisi continues to be better and better every year, acting as a dependable conduit for pipe consumers to achieve their goals.