Monthly Archives: September 2015

Reveal?

stephanie harris

If you followed yesterday’s post, I was meeting with a cigar manufacturer that I am seriously considering repping her brand.

Well, the owner’s name is Stephanie Harris and the brand is the Black Label Trading Company.

Six delectable blends ranging from one wrapped in corojo called Royalty to the most full-bodied offering Last Rites a Nicaraguan, Honduran, Ecuadorian mix that’ll please hard-core smokers (and tinged with scads of flavor). The other four are Benediction, Salvation, Redemption, and Lawless.

bltc

Question is, to paraphrase an old commercial, “Will he or won’t he.”  Tomorrow is decision day.

Chicago – it’s inevitable.

marlene

I have a cigar manufacturer coming in tomorrow, or in case you read this later 9.29.15.  I will put in a full day and then meet her at a pre-designated shop to meet, talk and get to know her and of course try the cigar again.  Why?  I may pick it up.  It’s a damn good stick with an unusual profile in more ways than one.

One. it’s owned by a woman.  Few cigar companies are.  Two, the owner is sophisticated and has been around business enough to know the ups and downs of commerce.  Three, she’s not doing this on a lark. This is how she makes her living.  And, like other cigar manufacturers, she’s expanding into the Midwest.  A must.

Now whether or not the cigar makes it is a roll of the dice.  Marketing has been minimal.  Yet reviews have been stellar citing great construction, fruity flavors mingling with tinges of spice and a hint of old mother earth.  Most reviews add that there are a variety of changes on the palate thus making this a very complex cigar.  Praise is good.

Plus, I don’t mind that she’s flying in for a couple of days.  That’s the perfect amount of time any manufacturer ought to stick around.  Never wear out your welcome.

So let’s see what happens.  I won’t reveal its name or hers until I give the cigar another test run.  I’ve had a few already – ergo the trip.  It looks promising.  Indeed, this broker’s job isn’t easy, but it sure can be fun.

Give a little bit…Give a lot!

piles of goldA cigar manufacturer finally comes out with what he or she believes is one of the best smokes on the planet.  (Or why come out with the stick in the first place.)  It’s a new brand, an unknown brand. Maybe the bloggers got ahold of one and have already reviewed it.  Maybe two, maybe three. Maybe a whole slew of bloggers are wetting their pants from  the excitement.  And oftimes, that method works like a charm.  The cigar does take hold on those criterion alone.  Other times, giving a cigar to a blogger is the the death knell of years (I would hope) of planning, testing, investing, and praying. And it flops.

But let’s say we’re on the positive side of the market and it IS a good cigar.  It has a unique flavor, the construction is next to perfect, the years of planning, testing, investing and praying begins to create a buzz.  The manufacturer can distribute the cigar in a variety of ways to get the brand into eager hands.  The easiest way to go about this is to offer it to Cigar International, or Famous, or Thompson, or some other online cigar source to further boost its growing reputation.  Maybe the cigar is reviewed by one of the magazines like Cigar Press, Cigar Snob, or (gush) Cigar Aficionado. And the ratings are respectable. So those folks who read those aforementioned reviews revs up the brand and the buzz gets louder – all due to the bloggers, and magazines (who often get the cigars for free) Hey, it appears that the new brand is on its way into the stratosphere of the cigar firmament of popularity.

Problem is, some manufacturers have a dislike to selling their cigars on the internet.  So how does a new cigar brand get in the market place if it chooses to use a broker – like me?  Now there’s the rub.  Time vs. instant reaction.  Because even though the brand has had some exposure, the majority of the smokers still haven’t heard of it.  I know this for a fact.  I walk into a shop, show the new boutique brand, and what’s the line I hear the most?  “Never heard of it.”  “Never heard of it!”  I’m agast!  Why, it got a 93 in CA, top billing in Cigar Press, even Cigar Snob wrote that it’s the next best thing to Padron.

It doesn’t matter.  The cigar smokers have to try it.  They have to put it through the test.  They have to smoke it.  Now if the manufacturer really knew how the system worked, they’d give us boxes of the new brand to pass out to the regulars.  Leave a box at the store so the owner can say to the customer after I’m long gone, “Say, I have a stick you might like.”   But no, the manufacturers (not all of ’em) hold back. They ration out the samples. They put restrictions on how many facings the shop owner has to purchase.   Hey, I almost worked with a guy who said give out one cigar per store and I guarantee you they will fall in love with my cigar and buy it. That type of thinking is delusional and it just does not work.  What works is getting the cigar in as many cigar smoker’s hands as possible so THEY can make up their minds.  So they can be the judges.  That’s how you sell a cigar.  And if the comments are positive, the giving away of multiple samples is worth its weight in gold ( a cliche, I know.)

So listen cigar manufacturer hopefuls, you may think your brand is the second coming of cigars, but the only way to know is to test it, give a little bit – give a lot, and if it holds up to the scrutiny of the guys more business will come your way.  That’s a guarantee.  But that’s the only way to know for sure.  Am I getting through here?

From this mess…

deskI’m a private person.  Putting stuff on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn etc. is traumatic enough, but when it comes to my life outside the business?  That’s my business.  So with trepidation, I have decided to give you a glimpse into the inner sanctum.  My desk.

I’m at it quite often, scheduling calls, fixing problems, making calls, writing letters, working on the computer, etc.  So why now?  Who cares anyway?  The condition of my desk may be as interesting to some as scrolling through Facebook looking at what lunch someone was served, what cigar started so ans so’s day, or blowing smoke into the camera.  Can’t say.

But here’s my reason today – I’m not always as organized as I would like to be.  Expectations are hard acts to follow.  It’s the ability to take a chaotic situation and make it calm, away from the action. Maybe my desk looks like it does because it’s where I can relax.  Throw the pen down, fling the paper, or ignore the business card.  It’s my haven.  My heaven.  It’s where I can chill and not worry a whit about what anybody thinks, if they think about things like this at all.

Enough.  Back to my privacy.

A Breaking Sale!

cherries

I was in Michigan this week.  The weather was stupendous.  Bright.  Sunny.  Blue skies.  Absolutely ideal.  This is the kind of weather cigar shops like.  And I love it because it makes for more sales. Lots of sales.

All the sales this week were good.  But the one that stood out was today’s in East Lansing.  There’s an old cigar shop on MAC (Michigan Agricultural College) Ave called Campbell’s – The shop with the red door.  It was my last stop before I headed home.

As I walked in, I noticed that his pipe selection was a bit on the thin side.  So even though I concentrate on cigars, I suggested we take a look at the pipes I offer.  Josh, the pipe buyer, sat down with me and we went through my offerings.  He liked just about every one I had.  Especially an introduction assortment dozen.  All briar.  All classic.  All different with select shapes, sizes and shades.  And after a bit of the usual haggling, he bought the 12 pipes. And he really must have liked them because he just bought several dozen from his usual supplier, an old-timer who had, get that, had the territory locked up.   In short, Josh didn’t need my pipes, but he was smitten.

So I end up showing him cigars and he goes with a couple brands and the day ends on a good note.  I hop in my car and head for home.  It just so happened that my pipe supplier called me to see how the day went and lo – I didn’t know it but I broke my “pymen” with this sale.  “You are no longer a pipe virgin,” says my supplier.  Why?  Because I was able to get pipes into a store that my supplier has been trying to get into for some time but his competition – the veteran, always beat him to it.  I must say I was pleased.  I got my foot in the door and it didn’t even hurt.

Don’t judge. Wait.

coconuts

I tried a new cigar today.  Not new to the world, but certainly to me.  I have to keep its name a secret because there’s a possibility that I’ll rep it.  But what I found to be disturbing was at the very beginning of the smoke, I was swayed to put it out.  It had a dull, no flavor lilt to it that really had me heading into the negative column.  I was at a shop testing it out, so I thought I had the time to concentrate on it while I waited for the owner to show up. How much time was the question.

Luckily the guy was late.  Really late   So I did have adequate time to smoke it.  And as I did it kept getting better and better and better.  Great construction, fabulous flavor, delightful aroma.  As I continued to enjoy the cigar, I was shocked, in retrospect, that I was so quick to judge.  I often criticize one owner who lights up a new cigar and before the butane has left the foot he says whether or not he gives it a thumbs up or thumbs down.  I roll my eyes when he does that (I do often wonder if he notices?)  Why?  Because to have an opinion about a cigar that fast is patently absurd.  But here I was – doing the same dumb thing.

So I went through the meeting (still smoking the cigar) but after I left I held on to my quick reaction I had about the taste of the cigar.  Could it be it was late in the day and I was just a bit tired of another cigar?  Could it be I really had a bad one?  Could it be I was becoming jaded?  I don’t know, but I did know to keep smoking it.  To give it a chance.  Had I not, its future would have been sealed – at least as far as I was concerned.

So again, experience trumped emotion and I’m damn glad it did.