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Monday, January 16, 2006

PipeChats, with IMP Meerschaum

I had not expected to be posting this so quickly! I emailed Mustafa Akkas of IMP Meerschaum today to ask about doing a short interview and question & answer session, and he answered all of my initial questions within hours. I hope to send some more questions soon, when I have the time to think of them and write them down (Suggestions are welcomed!).

Now, a short history and disclaimer. I am not at this time a dealer in IMP meers, though I have been in the past. Like many briar fans, I had a very low opinion of meerschaums for years, largely down to what I perceived as their poor smoking qualities - gurgles and clunky stems. By chance, I discovered IMP back in 2002 and tried the first meer that ever impressed me. They had interesting shapes (more classical and Danish than "big carved heads") and more importantly, they smoked excellently - possibly due to their briar-like stem & mortise construction, instead of the usual teflon screw-in fittings that curse so many meers. In short order, I went from owning zero meers to owning eight, and now I have something like fifteen - all IMPs. I liked them so much that I stocked them for resale in our old retail shop, but I stopped being a retailer when we closed down that portion of our business to sell 100% our own pipes. Today, if one wants an IMP, an excellent source is SmokingPipes.com, but they are sold in a side variety of online and retail tobacconists'. I should also point out that I don't receive any kickbacks or payment for doing these interviews, and have no vested interest in promoting anyone in particular - I simply pick those industry folks that I know personally, and can write or call for some quick comments.

Please keep in mind that Mustafa is not a native English speaker, though he does a heck of a lot better en anglais than I do in French! Without further preamble, here is the first part of my chat with Mustafa Akkas of IMP:

Trever: To get this interview started, tell me what your role is in IMP pipes, and a little bit about the carver(s)?

Mustafa: I have been working for IMP since 2000 but officially 2002 as a trade & project manager but that might be changing in the near future after my uncle’s (Owner of IMP Pipes) death. We currently have two carvers and one secretary in our workshop. My youngest uncle called Mr. Mustafa Albayrak is the main carver in our workshop now. We are also looking for another quality carver instead of my uncle.

Trever: When did IMP pipes get started as a business?

Mustafa: We have been running this family business since 2000.

Trever: Do you have a goal for IMP, or any kind of "identity" that you feel makes your pipes unique among other meerschaum brands? Do your carver(s) work towards any particular style in designs, or any special thinking in engineering? I've noticed that many of the original IMP designs looked very Danish, for instance - more like Danish briars than the usual meerschaum carved heads and such.

Mustafa: Yes, we do have a goal as a company. Our main goal is “giving a better reputation to meerschaum”. As we all know meerschaum used to be “tourist souvenir” in Turkey and there was not so much quality and detail in past meerschaums at all. We have been trying so hard to change meerschaum’s bad reputation, this is why we called our meerschaums “new generation meerschaums”. I do create some new designs as well as Danish and Italian Designs. We also try to create some marginal designs when we have time to spend on it. I think this is the difference between us and other meerschaum suppliers.

Trever: Is there anything about the public image of meerschaum pipes that you dislike ? Any "popular opinion" of meerschaums that you would like to change ?

Mustafa: Yes, as I mentioned before we really would like to give a new vision to our pipes. I personally do not like typical meerschaums cause they look so cheap and ordinary. We also aim to be competitive with briar companies, not with other meerschaum suppliers. We hopefully will be reached our aims as long as we produce well-balanced and well-engineered pipes in the future.

Trever: I think that IMPs are an exceptional value for the money in their price range . Do you have any plans to expand either upwards or downwards in price - either by introducing a cheaper line or perhaps introducing some very high-end meers?

Mustafa: As you know, we used to produce just standard pipes when we start this business but since 2004 we also have started to produce B-Class Meerschaum pipes for Canadian Market which are cheaper than standard pipes. We have also been producing some exceptional High-Grade Meerschaum Pipes since last year such 18K Golden Edition and Limited Edition Pipes for US Market.

Trever: The pipe business today is wrestling a lot with traditional business models - creators/distributors/retailers versus direct sales. What's your preference, and why?


Mustafa: I actually prefer to deal directly with retailers but that depends on the market that might change, especially European Market and US Market. We also have been selling our products directly from our website but we are not expecting a great deal of financial income with this. This would not be more than a hobby or making a good reputation.

Trever: On another topic, like me, you are a foreigner in a strange country. People often ask me what I like the most, or least, about France, and I find this really hard to answer because there is too much to sum up in one or two quick statements. But, just at random, tell me some things
you really like about living in the UK , and some things you really don't like .

Mustafa: It is very usual question for me (I bet for you as well). I do meet lots of people every day and most of them ask this question to me after asking my name -)))). I really do not know what to say. I have been living here since 2002 and I really like it here. The weather might be really annoying sometimes in UK and UK is a lot more expensive than Turkey if I compare. I do miss my family and Turkish foods, except that I have been happy in UK so far but I do say “I wish I was in Turkey ” sometimes or I also say “It’s a good job I am in UK ”. I am just struggling between two cultures most of the time.

(I know the feeling......)

And that's all for now - Look for more PipeChats in future!