From the Humidor, Cigar Life
By Mr. Walrus
What is a cigar? We’ve seen them in popular culture, smoked by the violent gangster, the self assured investor, the hard-boiled lawman. The corrupt, the strong, the powerful and the bold all hide in a cloud of smoke. Or so goes the perception. But like most things, reality is vastly different than the perceived.
A cigar is a work of art no different from that of wine. A labor of love from seed to smoke, it requires a keen pallet, an attention to detail and a craftsman’s hands to construct this seemingly simple stick of tobacco.
I have been working in the cigar industry for the last 4 years, experiencing the industry from both a retailer and manufacturer position. Through this unique view I have discovered a unique culture that encompasses a range of ages, creeds classes and experiences all unified by the great equalizer that is a premium cigar.
The purpose of Through The Smoke is not to merely rate cigars or review product but to expose the beauty, depth and intriguing world that is so often overlooked and written off as a habit akin to cigarettes. We will look into the industry and the artisans behind it, the craftsmen who build it, the businesses that run it and the brothers and sisters who love it. We will focus on the people behind the tobacco, the faces through the smoke.
Please feel free to get involved in the conversation by sending us an email with any questions you may have with the industry or requests for future articles.
Smoke and Mirrors: Where to Start Your Cigar Journey
Everyone’s cigar story is different. Ask anyone in a cigar lounge what their first cigar was and you will get a unique story. Some people inherit the culture through relatives while others fall into it unexpectedly. And whether you are a casual smoker or a true brother of the leaf, you will be able to expand your knowledge and appreciation in one of the many smoking lounges located across the country. The heart of the cigar industry lies in the blenders, the body exists in the business but the true soul resides in the cigar lounge and the enthusiasts who frequent them.
The right cigar lounge is a place of knowledge, acceptance and discussion where the uninitiated can expand their understanding of the unique world of cigars. It is also a place of ball-busting, sarcasm and twisted senses of humor, so be prepared and make sure your skin is thick enough to handle it. The right lounge will challenge your beliefs, where you will interact with people from upbringings and experiences vastly different from your own. In a lounge you may discover parts of yourself you have never known; stay long enough and you may find a family growing around you, starting from the simple seed of tobacco.
The IPCPR (Which stands for the International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers) is an event and trade show that took place over the weekend of July 18th to July 21st . The convention, held in New Orleans at the Ernest N. Morial convention center, was the 83rd annual and hosts the vast majority of vendors in the industry, ranging from cigar creators to accessory manufacturers.
If you have ever been to any kind of trade show or convention you may have an idea of what toe expect. Extravagant booths, each designed to catch the eye and stand out yet somehow all looking the same. Beautiful women enticing consumers to cross the threshold into the sales area, salesmen fishing the isles trying to hook the biggest catch. Strange promotions, loud music and cigars. Cigars just everywhere.
Working as a vendor did not offer me the opportunity to explore as much as I would have liked, but there are a few key points I did notice during my stay:
1. For Some People, Marketing is All They Have
For the sake of fairness and anonymity I wont be mentioning any brands by name, but suffice it to say there are some brands that exist purely due to clever marketing. This may seem obvious to some but it is never more apparent than at a trade show. They pull customers in based purely on the size of their booth, the volume of their music and the hipness of their product. And despite how often a client or retailer may say to me “So in so is just repackaging and calling it new” they still continue to buy at these shows and events, and in vast numbers. Do theses products sell on the retail circuit? Certainly and I can’t blame a retailer for bringing into their store a product that sells, but it cheapens the industry as a whole.
2. You Can Gauge the Wealth of a Company by the Size of Their Booth.
Each individual booth at the show costs vendors approximately $1,600 for the show. The vendor I work for had purchased over 10 of those booths while many other had well over 20 booths at their disposal. Companies I had never heard of had more space than some I was intimately familiar with. And while some may chalk this up to poor business decisions or over spending (which it certainly can be), vendors go into this knowing how much they will spend and that their return on investment needs to meet that. For examples, lets say a vendor purchases 14 booths at around $10k dollars. Factor in travel expenses, booth shipping, booth materials, employee costs and promotional materials and that ten grand can very easily double if not triple or quadruple. A company should be making at least 150% of what they invest. Realistically, that company would need to do more than $30,000 in sales to make a decent profit at the lowest end. In four days. For the larger companies that can and is achievable, but for those smaller ones it is a risky venture.
3. Companies are Catering More Towards the Middle
Cigars are often seen as a luxury item, one made exclusively for the wealthy with an abundance of time, but more and more we are seeing an increase in consumers who fall outside that category. Cigars that are priced between $6 and $10 tend to move the best and manufacturers are beginning to take notice. Padron cigars, known for being the highest quality with a price point to match, have been showing up to the show in full regalia, expensive suits and promoting an image of exclusivity for some time. However, in what feels to be an appeal toward consumers with less funds, the Padron family came dressed down this year, giving out hats and other promotional materials; a far cry from the attitude of shows past. While this is only one example of this change, it was echoed throughout the show by both the vendors and the retailers, many sporting long beards and hair, jeans and t-shirts. It was an everymans show, a theme that companies would be fools to ignore.
4. Partying is a Mandatory Job Duty
At one point in time I called my girlfriend to tell her of my experiences at the show. When I explained how many events and parties I had attended there was an element of jealousy in her voice that said “You get paid to do what”? Little did she know that going to a party with this job, while fun, is exhausting. Each night, for four days you are expected to entertain clients or other vendors, drinking and smoking into the early morning hours. Then the show floor opens and you are wondering how you are going to make it through the day after merely 5 hours of sleep. And the next day you may only have 4 hours. And so on. It compounds, and each night you attend an event you are adding more and more to your sleep debt. It is exhausting, but it is here that relationships are built between vendor and retailer. And is the reason that many of us will be sleeping our way through the 24 hours after the show ends.