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Ben Chaney – Smoker Friendly

Smoker Friendly’s smoker friendly approach to its business

As long as there have been people in America, there has been tobacco. In fact, tobacco started growing in North America about 8,000 years ago. But as the years have passed, more and more regulations have been enacted to cut back on the use of tobacco and tobacco products—most notably cigarettes.

Ben Chaney says his family business was started in 1989 to cater to people who want to enjoy tobacco. And since Smoker Friendly’s inception, the company has grown from one Smoker Friendly retail location to nearly 300 stores in 13 states.

Ben Chaney | Chief Financial Officer | Smoker Friendly

Ben Chaney | Chief Financial Officer | Smoker Friendly

“We also license our name to approximately another 700 locations across the U.S. as authorized dealers—not as a franchise,” says Chaney, the company’s chief financial officer. “We collect a royalty and ensure our products are available across the country.”

Within its retail locations, which are typically in strip centers, the company also has free-standing buildings, and combo tobacco liquor stores and gas stations. Smoker Friendly sells all the major tobacco brands as well as products ranging from cigarettes and cigars to smokeless tobacco and premium pipe tobacco under its own SF brand. Overall, there are nearly 100 different products sold with SF branding.

Expansion and innovation

As the company continues down the path of expansion—it added 100 more locations in 2022 via acquisition—Chaney and others on the executive team are making technological and operational improvements to support employees around the country.

Chaney is most excited about implementing a new point-of-sale system that will provide data in almost real-time—he helped develop a process that integrates the point-of-sale to the general ledger.

Ben Chaney | Chief Financial Officer | Smoker Friendly

“When we transitioned from a gasoline convenience company to become more tobacco focused, we needed a POS system that was more robust and offered things a retail tobacco operation needed to function,” he says. “As we bring on new locations and acquisitions, it is an easy transition to our POS system.”

Features of the system include line-item perpetual inventory, automated ordering, age verification, customer loyalty program and suggestive sales just to name a few. Overall, Chaney says the new system saves the company hundreds of hours, and thousands of dollars each month by integrating so many tasks under one platform.

Partnership and prosperity

As chief financial officer, Chaney is responsible for maintaining banking relationships, capital forecasting and budgeting, and oversees human resources and information systems. He also works with the senior leadership team to identify and develop other opportunities in the marketplace.

To support the company’s growth, Smoker Friendly brought on a partner—Main Street Capital Corporation in Houston—that Chaney says has given the company further ability to grow the business.

“They have been great partners, and they have been eager to help and eager to watch us grow,” he says.

Ben Chaney | Chief Financial Officer | Smoker Friendly

Since the relationship commenced in December of 2020, Smoker Friendly has added 130 locations and restructured some of its existing debt. With Main Street Capital’s support, Chaney says Smoker Friendly will continue to look at acquisition targets throughout the year. There is an extensive due diligence process that Chaney is involved with that includes internal audits and quality of earning studies.

Smoker Friendly is headquartered in Colorado, one of the first states to legalize recreational marijuana. Chaney says his company has looked at the marijuana industry, but because marijuana is still against the law federally, that industry isn’t something Smoker Friendly can get involved in.

“Our banking relationships wouldn’t exist, and because of our size, no matter the administration or political climate, we could’ve been made an example of,” he says.

A family business

Chaney was born and raised in Colorado, and after graduating with a finance degree from Arizona State University, he spent three years as a consultant for Andersen Consulting in its Phoenix office. He then worked for a year as a senior analyst for McDonnell Douglas and then for three years as a partner for Pinnacle Computer Solutions; he also did some consulting for Smoker Friendly while running his own consulting business.

When his business partner started to pursue other interests, Smoker Friendly’s president and Chaney’s cousin Terry Gallagher, Jr., approached him about working for the family business.

“It was the right time for me,” Chaney says. “I became the CFO in the late 1990s. We probably had around 40 stores then, mostly gas stations.”

Ben Chaney | Chief Financial Officer | Smoker Friendly

At the beginning of his Smoker Friendly career, Chaney did a lot of information systems work and didn’t necessarily foresee becoming the chief financial officer for the company. However, with his extensive accounting and finance background and computer systems experience it benefited the company for him to be elevated to CFO.

Chaney says that working with family—Terry Gallagher’s brother Dan is chief operating officer, and their sister Mary Szarmach is senior vice president of government and external relations—has been great, and everyone in the group gets along well. Each person on the leadership team has their own area of expertise, and the company’s family atmosphere has led to a lot of employees working for Smoker Friendly for more than 15 years.

“We have some 25-year employees, and these people staying and growing with us is a testament to the way everyone at Smoker Friendly is treated,” Chaney says.

With his 59th birthday in June 2023, Chaney and his relatives have started talking about what comes next.

“We’ve reached that age range where we’re discussing the transition to a younger generation,” he says. “We have very capable people, so Smoker Friendly will be in good hands.”

View this feature in the Vol. II 2023 Edition here.

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