A Smoking Success

YORK, PA | Sunday, July 08, 2007

Local tobacco seller on a roll

If you don't smoke, don't start. If you do smoke, smoke smart.

The motto might seem a bit strange coming from a businessman who makes his living selling cigarette products.

But Mark Tucci and his wife of 26 years, Frances, built a successful and growing company on the simple message.

York Township-based Custom Blends offers a variety of cigarette products, including 50 blends of tobacco from Ecuador, Brazil, California, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

Tucci started the business about 14 years ago.

"I used to be in the Army in Germany . . . I saw a lot of people rolling their own," Mark Tucci said.

The hand-rolled cigarettes were cheaper and a better quality, he said.

"I just thought it was so interesting - how there was such a big market in Europe but no market in the U.S.," he said.

And although the habit of smoking has come under fire with the state Senate's recent approval of a wide-ranging smoking ban, Custom -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Advertisement -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Blends continues to thrive. In fact, the Tuccis, who live in Hilton Head, S.C., have franchised the company.

The first new business opened in Camp Hill in August. Another franchise is set to open in Shrewsbury in about six months.

They hope more will follow.

"We're just really taking off nationwide," Mark Tucci said. "We couldn't have succeeded without the people in York. . . . York is a great town." Mark and his wife monitor the business from South Carolina using the latest in technology. Mark's brother, Chris Tucci, of Dover Township, works as the information technologist for the company.

"Mark can sit anywhere in the country . . . and see everything," Chris Tucci said of using cameras, computers and high speed Internet.

Custom Blends has customers from around the world who order products from the company's Web site. Diane Tucci fills Web and phone orders.

Mark Tucci said his customers appreciate the natural products the company sells.

"We don't use reconstituted tobacco," he said. "Tobacco is a natural product. We thought that customers would appreciate a natural tobacco." The company also sells natural cigarettes, he said.

"They burn for so much longer," he said of hand-rolled and natural cigarettes. There are chemicals in some manufactured cigarettes that aren't permitted in a landfill, he said.

"People are just so much more satisfied. . . . Our products help people cut down on smoking. . . . That's really a good thing." Customers who were in the Queen Street store on Tuesday said they prefer chemical-free cigarettes over manufactured ones.

"You can taste a difference. I don't think I'd ever go back," Hopewell Township resident Karen Testani said.

"Since I started making my own, I don't cough," Red Lion resident Wera Buccheri said. "I used to sound like a frog." Mark Tucci, who smokes two to three cigarettes a day, said he and his family are living the American dream.

"We started this company with a $5,000 credit card," he said. "It really started and fulfilled itself in York County." Hank Mills of York Township is the district manager for Custom Blends.

"I started rolling my own cigarettes about 17 years ago simply because of the cost," he said.

Then he heard a radio ad for Custom Blends, became a customer 13 years ago, and worked on and off for the business, he said.

"Mark made me an offer to invest in the company. . . . I knew the potential was there for the company to grow," Mills said. "Now, we are legal in all 50 states and most of Canada."

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