“The cigars you smoke when you’re in a combat zone you’re going to remember the rest of your life.”— Storm Boen, Operation: Cigars for Warriors (CFW)
Sometimes a cigar is more than just a good smoke. For troops serving in combat zones, a cigar care package can be a lifesaver—a bond that transcends active duty, an excuse to drop rank for an hour and so on. Spend an inspirational cigar hour with Storm Boen, Chairman of the Board and CEO of Operation: Cigars for Warriors and Box Press Host Rob Gagner. The nonprofit organization collects then ships premium cigars, cigar accessories, coffee and more to active service members throughout the world. Boveda donates humidity control to CFW, so every cigar care package is protected against fluctuating moisture, which affects a cigar’s flavor and burn.
Hear how CFW spurred Army, Navy, NATO and mixed forces cigar clubs. Learn where to nab a limited-edition CFW cigar from a brick-and-mortar near you. And find out how to donate smokes, coffee and more to active military members via this cigar charity.
Rob Gagner (RG): There’s a story inside every smoke shop with every cigar and with every person. Come be a part of the cigar lifestyle of Boveda. This is Box Press.
RG: Hi, welcome to another episode of Box Press. I’m your host, Rob Gagner, and today, I’m at TPE sitting down with Storm Boen of Cigars for Warriors. Stone… Stone, hey, just change his name. Storm, thanks.
Storm Boen (SB): It’s not the first time.
RG: … Storm, thanks for joining me. This is a pleasure having you here.
SB: Oh, it’s my honor to be with you guys. Y’all have done so much for us over the years, so I’m excited to do it.
RG: Absolutely. I’m sure a lot of us out there know what Cigars for Warriors is because we see this in our smoke shops. There’s oftentimes areas where we can donate cigars, give them to the Cigars for Warriors program. What you’re doing is you’re getting those cigars packaged with Boveda, shipped across the continent into the other… wherever the troops are and you’re getting them distributed to them so that they can have a little bit of rest and relaxation in between combat.
SB: Yeah. I mean, we did a three-year survey and found out that cigars are the number one requested item. Now, there’s a little bit of bias since a lot of the places we went to were in the cigar community, but we went to a lot of military groups and websites and got a lot of feedback. Guys requesting boxes and we put a nice list on it and they sent it back that cigars are number one.
SB: Interesting the number two and three flip-flopped depending on where they were and what year it was. It was either coffee or video games, so we’ve been sending a lot of coffee, a little bit of video games as we give, but not a whole lot. We haven’t really tapped into that market.
RG: Yeah, yeah, yeah, right, right, right-
RG: … that’s awesome, though. It’s cigars, coffee, and video games are the number one things to entertain them over there?
SB: Exactly. I never had a Nintendo or anything like that when I was deployed, but I don’t drink coffee, so cigars were definitely my number one thing.
RG: Can you imagine playing the Nintendo and all of a sudden you’re like, “Yo, we got to go,” and you’re like, “All right, pause?”
SB: I had one of my guys, I say my guys, a Navy Seal guy, he was texting me, which was weird, too, because when I got out, you weren’t texting across… He was in Syria of all places. He’s like, “Can you get us some cigars?” I said, “I can’t get them to Syria.” He goes, “No, no, I’ll give you our APO.”
SB: I sent them the cigars all the way into Syria, but getting a text message was…
RG: That’s unbelievable.
SB: … just… wow.
RG: When did you start in your military career?
SB: I started in ’96 and I got …
RG: What were you doing?
SB: I finished off in Civil Affairs, and it’s not PAO, it’s not Public Affairs, it’s Civil Affairs, which is nation rebuilding. It’s the smallest special operations community in the Army. I think in all of the branches it’s the smallest special operations unit, but the whole point of it is to work with civilians. A lot of it’s good. The humanitarian stuff’s fun, but there’s some darker issues with it, especially during war time, but all of the great things you get to do, building things, growing things, and I was usually charged like in Iraq help put the Ministry of Justice back together.
SB: I did all of the training as far as Mosul of the Iraqis, from prisons to correction officers to firefighters, which I don’t know anything about firefighting, but I found a lieutenant who did, so we put in a fire tower. Built a big ass training facility. We built the prisons out there.
RG: What is the program for? To bring veterans back into civilization and get them …
SB: Well, it was designed …
RG: … jobs and training?
SB: … originally in Vietnam of having reservists, because I’d gotten in the Reserve system at this time, to use their civilian jobs to assist in a military mission. If you were a school teacher, then you would help rebuild the school program, the educational system. If you were an engineer, of course, you would be involved in a lot of the buildings and redesigning and stuff, but that didn’t always happen since we were just destroyed because of the high op tempo. We were being home three months and being shipped back out again …
SB: … because there just wasn’t enough. It got to a point where they were cutting battalions in half, sending squads only, which you can imagine, you’re out there by yourself attached to a unit who doesn’t know you.
SB: A lot of them, they didn’t even know what you did except for the commanders because they wanted all of the nice little OIC bullets saying what a great they did because of the mission we did.
SB: It was fun. It was interesting. I have a lot of good memories from it.
RG: Sure, absolutely. How did you decide to build Cigars for Warriors? How did that come about?
SB: Do you want the long story or the short?
RG: I want the long story.
SB: All right. I’m not getting to all of the details, but it started out with me and our original treasurer, which you knew, Ben Edmundson. I had just started C.A.T.S. We had blown up like crazy. It was only supposed to be five of us on C.A.T.S.
RG: I think C.A.T.S. is basically just a …
SB: It started out as the first cigar trade and sales group period, and then it was the first group that, on Facebook at least, that wasn’t a fanboy but individual manufacturer or a retailer. We were basically open community, which no one had ever done that. Plus, we wanted women smokers on our community as well, which in those days 2012, 2011, wasn’t very kosher …
SB: … which I thought was insane. I mean, women smokers typically have better palates than men anyway.
SB: I mean, they got 29 million olfactory senses we don’t.
RG: Down in the DR, those women that are rolling your cigars …
SB: Oh yeah.
RG: … are smoking them, too.
SB: I had no idea why that was such a bad thing. Plus, end of the day, you don’t want to be in a room full of 13,000 guys.
SB: … so
RG: You were in the military once. You don’t need to go back, right?
SB: Exactly, right. C.A.T.S. was just supposed to be… Actually, I kept getting my ass chewed out on different social media. I was trying to learn so I’d ask questions, but it was always in the wrong groups. Like, “If you don’t know, get the hell out of here.” That’s usually not what they said. It got a lot worse. Like, “How do you season the humidor, guys?” “Oh, if you don’t know how to do that, you’re in the wrong place.” Just crazy stuff.
RG: Nobody wanted to teach you?
SB: No. Well, people did, but it wasn’t in these groups I was getting my ass chewed out in.
RG: Oh, so like basically forums?
SB: Yes, cigar forums-
RG: … not finding any help from brotherhood.
SB: … whether it was on Facebook, whether it was like at cigar.com …
RG: That’s so interesting.
SB: It was crazy. I didn’t know all of the unspoken rules. The worst mistake I ever did was I liked Acid, so I was real excited. I went to this online store. I didn’t know anything about online.
SB: I said, “I found a five-pack for 20 bucks,” and I posted thinking, “I want to be a cool dude.”
SB: Holy shit, 500 comments later.
RG: You got lit up.
SB: … oh, it was bad. “What are you doing not supporting a brick-and-mortar?”
SB: Well, my whole mentality was if you’re online, typically you have bought somewhere online.
SB: Why hide it? I think online cigars have saved the industry in my opinion, which I’ve gotten a lot of heat for saying that. It’s gotten more people to introduce more cigars that they never would have tried before.
RG: That’s an interesting take.
SB: It’s made more quality cigars and there’s been more cigar shops open because they did get hooked to it. I got 12 different volunteers who started buying cigars in the middle of nowhere and now own their own cigar shop.
RG: See, now, that’s the one part is if there’s not a brick-and-mortar near you, online might be the only way to go or to call a brick-and-mortar that’s near you that will ship, but not all of them ship.
SB: Not all of them want to put your products that you may want. You may go to buy a Caldwell cigar that just blew your socks off, but he or she may not want them in their store.
SB: What was you doing to do?
RG: You’re subject to their inventory … but online you’re not because you …
… I never understood this …
RG: … can find anywhere.
SB: … whole you’re an evil person buying… I bought just as many cigars at brick-and-mortars if not more. You know, sometimes you don’t have a choice and you’re saving money, so …
RG: Yeah, there’s a savings there, cost savings.
SB: … I looked at it and this is the way I described it online is it’s just like buying beer or going to the bar. You go to …
RG: Good point.
SB: … your cigar shop, it’s like going to the bar. A little bit more expensive, but you’re paying for the social aspect of it.
RG: I like that.
SB: You stay at home and buy your beer, not as much, but you don’t get the social aspect. You buy your cigars on …
SB: … so that’s how I equate it.
RG: That’s a great way of explaining it.
SB: Just because I’ve been chewed out for every other way of explaining it.
RG: Yeah, yeah. You had to come up with something, right?
SB: I mean, it’s still controversial what I’ve said over the years, but I’ve left it in the back of C.A.T.S. rules. There’s no defamation of any shops or any stores, whether it’s online or not. This is a free community to speak how you want on that. It blew up. Again, it was only supposed to be five of my buddies, but one of the guys opened it up, and I said, “Well, we might as well run with it.”
RG: Open the can and boy.
SB: I was talking to Ben one day, going to the original question how we started, and we were just talking about experiences of what a cigar was in a combat zone. We were two totally different generations. He was in the Korean War in a submarine.
RG: Oh, wow.
SB: I was in basically Clinton days, Obama days and Bush days. Multiple different deployments everywhere, but definitely different generations.
SB: … and our experiences were so similar it was almost spooky and …
SB: … after talking to other veterans and hearing the same story, what it meant, I thought my experiences were unique. I thought I was a unique, smart leader.
SB: … and so after bad days in Iraq, this was what I was telling him, I would make my guys, now, that’s not so kosher, but I would make my guys smoke a cigar. What we did is I would take my blouse off, which basically essentially took your rank off, and they knew for the next two hours they could say anything they wanted to. It was no rank involved. Now, given a lot of it was four-letter words directed toward me, but it gave them a sense of relief, it gave them a feeling like at home.
SB: … so we’d have that cigars and one of the few things that’d make you truly feel like almost normal again. It’s just two hours of feeling normal. Sometimes that’s all it takes to actually keep your sanity and …
RG: That’s so important that you say that because as soon as you… Well, one, you clearly said that the cigar brought a common denominator between the two of you, so you took your rank off and now we’re just two guys or a group of guys smoking cigars, enjoying each other’s company. The second thing is the reprieve. You gave them the opportunity to take two hours out of their day and not think about where they’re at, what they’re having to do to fight for their country, and just sit down and enjoy each other’s company and a good cigar.
SB: Man, you said that perfectly. You want to come work for me?
RG: Yeah, man.
SB: I’ll pay you twice as much as I get paid.
RG: Yeah, which is volunteer work, which is another cool thing about Cigars for Warriors. It’s all volunteer work. There is no administrative costs. There are no salaries being collected.
SB: Now, being full transparency, we do have three people I give a small stipend to, basically a way to say thank you for your 20, 30 hours a week you put in and you can buy a steak once a month. It’s not very much, but it’s… I mean, I wish I could pay them full salaries is how well these people work, and there’s other people who do even more hours, but they refuse to take even a thank you stipend.
RG: Oh, wow.
SB: … so I try to be very transparent about that just because that’s what we do.
SB: It’s definitely not remotely like a salary, and we sometimes, depending on our funds, the travel committee will give us a small per diem when we travel, especially like Vegas where it’s so expensive. It usually pays about 30, 40% of our travel.
SB: … so those are the only real two transparent issues we ever have about money, but everything …
RG: You’re being very wise with the money so that you can actually do the work that you want to do.
SB: Exactly. We slowly built our marketing program, as you’ve seen. It’s …
SB: … every year it gets a little bit better as we sell the swag. That usually goes into marketing. Then, everything else goes literally into buying postage. That’s our biggest expense. Then, as you know, there’s all of the little nickel and dime like websites and third-party programs and net program.
RG: The postage?
SB: Is the biggest …
RG: …. charges is the biggest expense.
SB:… by probably 80%. I’m just guessing at that number.
RG: That’s one like if people donate their dollars, you’re really turning that into like, “Hey, let’s use this to pay for the postage because, yes, we need cigars to be donated. We, Boveda, go in there, which we donate on our end, but really what we can do with our funds is also help provide the postage to the APO that gets it out there for them.”
SB: We have warehouses. We have three… Well, I say warehouses. I think we have three storage units.
SB:I say warehouses, I think they’re 10 x 10, so just tell you how big are big warehouses …
RG: It’s amazing.
SB: … but it works great for us for different donations, for keeping… I never thought we’d have enough money to have one storage unit.
SB: We have some serious bylaws where we have to have certain funds always within the bank …
SB: … and that gives us… Basically, it’s designed to give us an 18-month cushion if something really bad happens. We’re very, very tight on that, and after that, we can do special projects like websites, marketing. You know, our future [crosstalk 00:13:23] looks better this year than it’s ever really looked.
RG: People get involved mainly through retail shops and/or local chapter leaders that will say, “Hey, I’m doing a Cigars for Warrior collection, anything you can give as far as cigars and money,” and then they get it to you.
SB: Right. We’ll have event coordinators. They’re formal volunteers. The volunteer process is still like getting a job. You have to do an application, you have to do an interview. “Now, you guys, we got to make sure we get good people because it takes one bad apple to ruin a charity.” Then, the other thing, we have a lot of people who want to… We call it title honors. They just want that title on their resume, which-
… I don’t have a personal problem with as long as they’re going to do the work.
RG: Well, that’s just it. You don’t want to have a volunteer that doesn’t do the work because you have a true mission and true target goals just like any other business. This is like a business, it just doesn’t have a profit stream for you to tap into like a business.
SB: Yeah. I mean, we are a corporation. We got our 501(c)(3) after I got our LLC. Article of associations, did a whole NP. Our nonprofit is actually out of Florida.
SB: That’s where Ben lived. Ben and me were talking about… I was telling him what it meant. He’s basically saying almost the same thing. They would have four or five days under the water and they’d come up and they’d all smoke a cigar on top of the submarine. He was saying the same feelings and he said, “There’s a guy on Facebook that’s running around giving cigars to the troops. It’s called Cigars for Troops.”
SB: I found him and I brought him into my world and we started helping him and I brought in six more people. We were going good. We worked with this guy for about eight weeks, six weeks, eight weeks, I don’t remember exactly. He claimed he was a Navy Seal Commander that was injured in OIF. Well, come to find out, he wasn’t even in the military-
RG: Oh, man.
SB: … and we only know of one person out of the probably 30 packages that we sent that got anything. We can’t say a hundred percent they didn’t, but knowing history of what we got from our troops, we’re pretty good at comeback with emails saying, “Thank you.”
SB: Only one package getting to one person, so we know he’s a fraud, so …
RG: A little bit of a fraud there. That’s a bummer.
SB: I’ve got this fly. He really likes me.
RG: Yeah, he’s digging you.
SB: We… To say the least, I was done. I’m …
RG: You were done with it.
SB: Yeah, I bought into it. I was still in the military. I was on medical, so that was kind of a little scary because now I got this shady guy that could tie it to my name and before I retire.
SB: I was done. Well, Alaine DiBenedetto, who is last co-founder with me that’s still on the board, she calls me and gives me an earful and says, “The one thing that’s always stuck out in my mind is we need to still do this. It’s a quote. ‘It’s a beautiful mission.'” For whatever reason …
SB: … that just really clicked in my head. Then, my wife’s over there saying, “You need to do it. This is the first time I’ve seen you excited since you got hurt.” We did, but I called him and I said, “Okay, I got three conditions. One, I don’t want to run anything. Two, we had to go hard and fast. Three, we do everything by the books. We do our bylaws, our associations, NPO status, 501(c)(3), all of it.” I said, “I’ll do all of that and I have experience doing it, but we all go hard and fast.”
SB: I got two out of three of my wishes, and I guess I understand why they wanted me to do the CEO because I was retired-
SB: … or about to be retired, so I had a little bit more free time. I had no regrets taking it over. I enjoyed it. I’m kind of glad at the end of the day I did because I’m one of those guys who’s always wanting to push farther in doing, and if I’m always having to ask the one above me to do it, I would go insane, so-
RG: Yeah, just do it yourself.
SB: It was probably God’s intervention …
RG: Yeah, yeah. You asked that you didn’t want to run it, but guess what? God had a better plan and said, “Hey, you’re the right guy to run it.”
SB: You know, the best part about it, people just always assume that we started out with this big master plan. We always assumed this was going to be a two-to-three-hour hobby a month.
SB: We never imagined, so just to give you a little bit of a clearer explanation of that, our first Board of Director meetings after we did the voting for positions, which is when I found out that I wasn’t going to be the Secretary or something, I said, “Well, okay, we need a first-year almost impossible goal or impossible goal of what we want to set out.” We’re on Google Hangouts because we’re all over the country. In fact, we had one guy in Afghanistan and one guy on a ship …
RG: Oh, wow.
SB: … so we had one who was a contractor, he was our first Vice Chair, and then our first Military Liaison was a captain on a ship. He was able to get on the …
SB: … social media stuff. We’re all on Google Hangouts and everybody’s looking at each other like, “I don’t know.” I just randomly said, “How about we send about 800 cigars to our troops?” Immediately it was like, “Who are we going to send them to? How are we going to find those numbers? How are we going to pay for it? Who’s going to be doing the sending?” You know, all of the questions. I was like, “Oh, that’s why it’s an impossible goal.”
RG: “I have no idea how to do this, but we’ll figure it out.”
SB: For the first month that we shipped out 860 cigars.
RG: The first month?
SB: The first month we broke it.
RG: You crushed your goal.
SB: In the first year, we sent out a little over 92,000. What a lot of people don’t know is that Boveda was onboard with us before we were even Cigars for Warriors.
SB: We weren’t even an entity. Well, that’s not true. I own the name Cigars for Troops. That way, no one can ever use it. I do know there’s some Mom and Pop programs that are still left and that’s fine, but we didn’t want this guy to ever try to rehash it out there. He didn’t even have it bought. He didn’t have the name trademarked …
RG: You trademarked Cigars for Troops.
SB: Cigars for Troops.
RG: … and Cigars for Warriors.
SB: … and Cigars for Warriors and a few other things.
SB: CFW OPS, CFW, all of that.
SB: Now I got distracted. When …
RG: Well, you were saying Boveda stepped in to try to help …
SB: Oh yeah.
RG: … you preserve the cigars for when you ship them over.
SB: Exactly. Even more importantly is because of Boveda, in the different humidity packs, we even have a system of rehab because people don’t always know how to take care of their cigars. They turn around and donate very dry or the shop owner doesn’t keep the humidifier filled up, so sometimes we get some very dry cigars. Now, if they’re damaged, they get tossed. I mean, I’m not going to send a soldier …
RG: Right, and that’s not worth it.
SB: We’re not talking about a cracked foot, we’re talking about shit falling apart.
SB: Without Boveda, we wouldn’t be able to do this rehab system, so that’s also extremely important and people don’t realize, and because of Boveda, we can guarantee when someone donates those cigars, they’re going to come in healthy to the troops.
RG: That’s good.
SB: Whether it’s through an estate or whether it’s Joe Schmo off the street that’s donated a cigar, he or she wants to know that that cigar’s been taken care of.
SB: There’s another thing, not being cherry-picked.
SB: Over the years, we’ve had a couple of people who’ve tried to start rumors like, “Oh, they cherry-pick all of the cigars.” We were getting in… At one time, we were shipping 50,000 cigars a month. There’s no way my senior logistics guy is cherry-picking cigars.
SB: Not to mention he worked at his own cigar shop, so I never understood where that came from or how it came about, but every once in a while I hear it. Those are the types I’ll kind of get non-politically correct on the …
RG: Right, right, right, right, right.
SB: That’s pretty much the beginning. There were six of us, including I also consider Jonathan Drew as a founder because he basically pushed getting everything done the right way. Before, he had a ton of different charities they were supporting that he wanted to turn around. He didn’t really understand if they were all real charities, if the stuff they were giving to guys are doing raffles or were getting to the right places …
SB: … so he wanted to put all of his eggs in one basket, but before that he wanted to see the bylaws, he wanted to see the part of the associations, he wanted to see …
RG: He combed through your data?
SB: Oh, big time. He loved through a lot of it. He wanted to meet all of the Board of Directors before, and …
SB: … once he did.
RG: … he is really thorough when he invests into something.
SB: … but when he did, he went through it. I can’t say thank you enough to both Boveda and Drew Estate to have the guts enough to get behind us. Since you got to mention that, you got to mention the first cigar shop, which was Smokers Haven out of Lubbock, Texas.
RG: Oh, sure.
SB: John Curtis didn’t really blink an eye. He said, “Yeah, I want to do it.”
RG: What was his role in it? Was he shipping the cigars out? Or providing the cigars?
SB: No, he was the donation, our first donation, meaning that there’s a humidor in the store, people donate cigars, and then he turns around and mails them to us.
RG: Oh yeah, because you guys have humidors with your logo on it that says, “Hey, donate to this humidor and we’ll get them taken care of.” He put the first Cigars for Warriors humidor in his store?
SB: Correct. Now, they’re not exactly Cigars for Warriors humidors. It’s their humidor.
RG: I’ve seen the Cigar for Warriors stickers …
SB: Some people have
RG: … on humidors. Yeah, the shop can dress them up …
SB: Some shops have gone and …
RG: … and provide attention.
SB: … bought really neat ones that are etched to glass with our logo on it. Some have got wooden ones engraving, but for everybody’s information, it belongs to the store. We don’t produce those. We could never affordably …
SB: … now, we are working
RG: … the store provides it.
SB: … on a program. We’re hoping to do something like that, but maybe that’s about a year down the road.
SB: They were the first one. Now, we have 415. Those numbers, just like volunteers, go up and down.
RG: Well, you let me know if you need any Boveda humidors. We’ll put them in shops with your logo on them.
SB: Let’s do it.
SB: That’s a great product.
RG: We got some ideas right here, folks.
SB: No, that’s a really good idea.
RG: Other than obviously the Cigars for Troops guy being a total fraud, were there certain things or moments that happened in the beginning that you thought, “This isn’t going to work?”
SB: Oh yeah. First six months I would say almost every day.
SB: We had a lot of ideas. Ben Edmundson and me pretty much fought every day. The benefit of it was we always came up with a better idea.
RG: What were you guys fighting about?
SB: Well, I see things right, I sees things left. I see things left, he’d see things right, but we always caught the hopes. Some of these bigger programs, it’s all about checks and balances. We do our best, even though there’s a lot more red tape involved, to have very secure checks and balances, some that we’re very proud of. It’s what got us Platinum Status on guidestar.org is that transparency and the fact that we have so many checks and balances in place.
RG: That’s awesome.
SB: You know, it just takes one bad thing to destroy a whole charity.
RG: Right, one cherry-picking or one weird thing that the money didn’t go to the right spot.
SB: Right, and then you have people who just love to be the person that brought down a charity. Not because they don’t like them, just because they want that viral video.
SB: … so …
SB: … we’re very conscious about that. We also know we’re very non-politically correct, but we’re very proud of being one of the most transparent charities in the United States.
SB: … and we know that because of Guidestar being told where .05% ever make it to the Platinum Status, so.
RG: Amazing. Other than you guys fighting, were there times where you went to Ben and said, “Hey, we got to shut it down, I don’t think this is going to work?”
SB: Yeah, I was hitting a lot of 12, 18, 16-hour days of just seven days a week and you get burned out very quickly. What started helping me was when I started doing events and meeting recipients coming back.
RG: That re-energizes you.
SB: Oh, big time. Every time I met a… It sounds almost polished what I’m saying, but it’s not. Every time I meet the guys or gals, it would really re-energize me. It got me fired up again.
RG: The troops that are receiving these cigars would come back to you and would be so grateful that that would give you the feel to be like, “All right, I’m on the right track, I’m ready to go again?”
SB: Yeah, we’re doing something right.
SB: The stories went so much beyond… Really what our first mission was basically saying, “Thank you.”
RG: The mission was just to say, “Thank you for your service.”
SB: Just thank you so much for being out there.
RG: What did it turn into when you heard those stories?
SB: It’s just turned into something… It’s crazy that something as simple as a cigar has turned into something that meant so much to these guys. It gave them a camaraderie they never had, even though in the military you already have a really tight bond, that allowed cigar clubs in the military to pop up. There really wasn’t any before we started this. Now, there’s hundreds of them. There are cigar clubs with hundreds of chapters. You have clubs that are just all Army, you got clubs that are all Navy. You got clubs that are mixed U.S. Forces. You got clubs that are mixed all Forces, whether it’s NATO, UN. We got clubs that have your contractors.
SB: Now, once we send you those cigar, sergeant, you can give them to whoever you want, so you’ll see a lot of pictures with the contractors smoking cigars or an Albanian wearing his uniform smoking a cigar. People are like…
RG: It’s going into other militaries in other countries when they’re working together. They say, “Hey, let’s work together, and more importantly, let’s share a cigar. We just did a great mission.”
SB: We got a guy in Canada and we got a guy in England right now who are trying to do the same thing. We’re giving as much advice as we can.
RG: That’s awesome.
SB: … and even talking about potential once they get grown up of linking together.
RG: Was there one story that shocked you when you first heard it? You were like, “Wow, I’d have never thought.
RG:… “Cigars for Warriors could provide that to somebody.”
SB: … it was the very first CIGARfest I went to, and we had a booth out and we had about four volunteers in those days. Several stories came out that year. Some of them if I said it or wrote it down would just sound absolute BS. It would sound like I’m trying to sell you the charity, so I don’t really ever put it out there because I always feel like it’s not our place to do it.
SB: We had four guys to show up, three guys to show up, excuse me, and four of them met in Iraq. It was all because of the cigars we were sending to one of the cigar clubs and they would smoke every Friday night together. They became such good friends and they found that when they came back the Cigars for Warriors were going to be at CIGARfest, they all decided to go, from different parts of the country.
SB: Well, one of them on the way had a heart attack and died.
RG: Oh my God.
SB: … but they wanted to keep going because they knew the guy would want that.
SB: … and …
RG: “Don’t stop the trip on my behalf.”
SB: … they wanted to do a Purple Heart video and I did all of that with them. They started telling me and they’re just bawling, what it meant to them, how it brought them together, the fact that they just lost one of their comrades and what it meant to them. They still wanted to keep coming, so that really impacted me the way I thought of it.
SB: We had another gentleman and, again, this sounds way not true, but the guy came up and said to me, “I don’t know why, I’m the Sergeant Major. The day your box showed up, the night before that day I was considering pulling the trigger.” He said, “I can’t tell you why. I don’t have any suicidal issues, but the stress and whatever it was …
SB: … “that day that box showed up literally changed the way I was thinking that day.”
RG: That’s amazing.
SB: Again, if I wrote that down, most people …
SB: … would look at you going, “That’s absolute BS.”
RG: It gave me chills.
SB: There’s been other great stories, it’s just meeting the men and women is great, and I keep saying women because a lot of people don’t realize… Well, I’ve had this question. “What do you send to the women?” Cigars.
SB: They request them. We don’t send them randomly. That’s something very, very important is when we get them, we actually have the ability to vet them because we’ve always had active duty people come back as volunteers.
RG: You’re sending them to troops that are asking for cigars as care packages?
RG: It’s not just, “Hey, here’s a care package. I hope you …
RG: … “you guys like cigars.”
SB: No. They come in.
RG: That is so cool.
SB: … they specifically are requesting our care packages. We hope there’s coffee in there. So one of our goals is to have coffee.
RG: Coffee and cigars are the two main things that you want.
RG: … to send over there?
SB: That’s cigar cutters, lighters. We like those.
RG: Oh, that’s right. You also accept cutters and lighters to send over there so that they can actually do… I mean, otherwise the cigar’s kind of just pointless.
… so they need to be able to cut and light it and… I forgot about that.
SB: Yeah, that’s a big one. We used to get a lot of them from Xikar. When they were doing the lifetime warranty, they would turn around and refurbish the lighters and cutters and they would send them all to us.
SB: … was a pretty neat deal because they were shipping to different little organizations, all of them refurbished, so they just decided, again, like J.D. did, put all of his eggs in one basket. That was great because we were sending out thousands of lighters and cutters, and then other people were donating out of their own collections, so that helps, too.
RG: Is Quality Importers still doing that?
SB: They sent us a big package right before the COVID.
SB: … so I don’t know their policies anymore, if they’re still doing refurbished or not. I know we still work with them, so I have …
SB: … no issues.
RG: You can donate cigars, money, lighters and cutters. Those are the top things that they need, and you also have a program. What we’re smoking right now is the Cigar for Warriors by Hiram & Solomon and it’s the Live2Serve. A hundred percent of the proceeds from this cigar go to your foundation.
SB: Correct, so Abe out of PDR made this for us and Hiram & Solomon. Eddie, the owner of Hiram & Solomon, came to us wanting to do this project, and I’d already built a program years ago, but I never thought it was the right time or I didn’t think there would be much success. We built the Synergy Program. Basically, synergy, for those that don’t know, is you putting two elements and coming up with a greater element than you would have had originally, so I’d say one plus one is three.
RG: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
SB: … so not only helping us, but helping them and we’re helping the troops. It’s a nice win-win for everybody. You can only get these limited cigars in donation centers. Only donation centers can have them in their store.
RG: Okay, so you have to go to a donation center to get it?
SB: It’s limited. We have our second company, which will be Caldwell on July 4th gets released. It’s going to be Long Live the King it’s plural, and it’s called Minutemen, and it’s going to be a nice Maduro cigar.
RG: Caldwell is going to do the same thing here.
SB: Actually, I think he’s changing it to Mofos, his Mofos line-
SB: … which is a little bit more limited cigar, but again, he’s donating 100% to us.
RG: Wow, and what are the cigars running for price point?
SB: Right now, this one and Caldwells will be $10 MSRP, so if you go to the store it’s $10. I’m not really good at palate and tasting cigars.
RG: Neither am I.
SB: … but I think this is a $12-$13 cigar and I don’t normally would say that. I’m not saying it just because it’s the last thing I want you to do.
RG: This is a great cigar.
SB: I don’t want someone calling me and say, “Hey, I thought this was a $12 cigar? It tastes like ass.”
SB: I actually really enjoy it. It was me and a few guys who actually got to pick this blend out.
RG: Do you think there will ever be an opportunity to try to sell these online so you can reach people that can’t get to a location?
SB: It depends on the donation center. If they want to sell theirs online, I don’t care.
SB: So like they …
RG: … could you go to the website and find a donation center?
SB: Right. You got to our website. We’re going to release a list pretty soon.
RG: What’s the website’s URL real quick?
RG: Cigarsforwarriors.org, you can find a site that would carry this cigar, the coffee. That’s another thing you’re doing.
SB: Potentially. We don’t have the list out yet, so after the trade show, Eddie’s going to right us a list out.
RG: Well, we’re going to make a list because we’re just going to air that, and now you’re going to have to do that, right?
SB: Exactly. Now, I don’t have a choice.
RG: You can’t delay that project now. There’s a demand.
SB: It’s been pretty cool, and Cavalier comes out on Veterans Day on November 11th.
RG: What’s the Cavalier?
SB: Cavalier is a cigar company that’s really gotten big in Europe.
RG: Cavalier Genève?
RG: They’re going to make a cigar for you?
RG: Oh, wow.
SB: We’re pretty excited. The couple’s a very nice couple that …
SB: … own it.
RG: Sebastian and his wife.
SB: Sebastian’s a phenomenal guy, so we’re excited to be working with him. We’re still working out some of the details on it.
RG: Love it.
SB: They’ve already …
RG: You’ve got these different limited edition cigars coming out to help support the funding that you need to send the projects over to the troops?
SB: Correct. Our goal is to have six companies only ever because we don’t want to overwhelm the donation centers. Most donation centers will take two or three, five, six boxes every two months. That’d be okay.
SB: … but if we were doing one every two weeks, you’d overwhelm them. Same thing with the consumers. A lot of guys, our big supporters, love chasing things. They would chase our cigars. They could afford to get a box or two every two months. Now, if I was doing one every two weeks, it’d overwhelm them and they would just not buy anything.
RG: That’s smart.
SB: We’re doing that. We’re adding the coffee, which we’re very proud of. It’s our first coffee company, and Janus is doing it for us and they’re doing a… A piece of the proceeds for every bag of CFW Coffee sold, but way more important is they’re being so generous they’re going to donate the same blend of coffee back to us to give to the troops.
RG: Okay, so not only is there a portion of the funds being donated to you, they’re saying we’ll take another same amount of that coffee and send it over to the troops free of charge?
SB: Yeah, the blends. You know that they’re getting just as good as you’re getting …
SB: … which is a big thing. I mean, think about a lot of companies will say, “All right, we’re going to sell this to consumers, and then we’re going to give you that.”
RG: The bags of coffees can only be bought at locations again?
SB: Two bags can be bought online at their company, but you can go to our website and find the links very quickly.
RG: You can buy the coffee online and get it shipped to you?
SB: Yes, two of them.
RG: I love it.
SB: It’s we have a dark roast and a medium roast. They’re all based on Army Corps values, the names of them.
RG: All right.
SB: … and they buy it, we get a bag of coffee and you get your name on that bag of coffee beans since its yours.
SB: … so …
RG: If I bought a coffee it’d say, “Rob Gagner,” and, “Courtesy of Rob Gagner, here you go, have a coffee on me.”
SB: Yeah. The very back of it has little labels. It says, “Thank you,” tells all about Cigars for Warriors, about the coffee company, and then it says, “Thank you to,” and they’re going to handwrite your name on it. If a retailer buys a retail coffee, which is a totally different blend, a little higher bean, we get a little bit smaller cut, which is fine because, again, the most important thing is, again, the company’s going to donate a bag for every bag bought. We got a retailer who buys 50 bags, we get 50 bags right then and there.
RG: I love it.
SB: … and it has that retailer’s name on it.
RG: I’m doing cigar and coffee pairings with this coffee. Here we go. You guys are going to get some exposure. Now, let’s get some support for this because this is a great cause.
SB: The best thing that could happen, they’d call their shops and say, “Hey, do you got that?” Whether they do or not, it’s going to incentivize the shops to start looking for these cigars coming out.
RG: I love that.
SB: … and it helps us get new donation centers, that Hiram & Solomon may have a store that we’re not in and vice versa, we have a store that Hiram & Solomon’s not in, they get in. The nice thing is we’re doing is trying to be easy on the retailers as much as possible by putting no demands. Otherwise, like a lot of brands come out, you got to buy six faces to get this, 20 faces. All you have to do is buy a minimum of two boxes.
RG: Two boxes.
SB: It’s perfect for a retailer.
SB: There’s no pressure of turning around and adding 20 faces, but it gives a change to you guys, to your customers to try a Hiram & Solomon that they never had, or they had one they didn’t really enjoy in the past, try a new one.
RG: Absolutely. I love it. Two opportunities not only to get something from the club, Cigars for Warriors, or not the club but the foundation, but really to support it.
SB: Yeah. I mean, if there’s anybody who buys 50 bags of coffee at one shot, we’ll work with them and put a collaboration on them and create a new label.
RG: Oh, wow.
SB: Let’s say, I don’t know, Famous Smokes bought 50 bags of coffee, we’re going to reformat it and have it basically famous Cigars for Warriors Janus.
RG: A business could say, “Hey, one of our charity gives this season is going to be supporting Cigars for Warriors,” and do a project where they not only get to impact the troops, but also get to see a little bit of a brand opportunity out of it.
SB: Well, we try to do everything as… It’s very, very important to us is we want the people who support us to come out ahead more than a charity. I know people always say, “Well, the charity should be first,” but at the end of the day, we’re all regular volunteer people who don’t really want to put our hands out. We want you guys to come to us saying, “We want to support this cause,” and we want to do it because it’s also good business. The donation center is built around a hundred percent how to make that donation center more money because we’re going to get our donations just naturally, and the better they do, the better we do.
SB: They just fall in. It’s a very simple, minimum standard program to be in. I mean we’re talking about humidors and signs near the cash register and you’re good to go.
SB: You got to do the paperwork and you got to get all of the information out to us.
SB: It’s a very serious program and I’m excited to actually give back. My opinion, this is giving back to those retailers that have supported us all of these years. Now, you get something that the shop down the road may not because they’re not a donation center.
SB: … so it’s a win-win.
RG: … I love it.
SB: Now, how we help Boveda, I don’t know because y’all have done so much. I mean, the numbers, you’d have to come and tell me the numbers of bags y’all have donated to us.
RG: I have no idea.
SB: I would… If you said under a hundred thousand, right underneath that, I would probably say that’s probably true.
RG: How many cigars have you sent overseas?
SB: 1.2 million, right under it.
RG: 1.2 million?
SB: We’re a couple of thousand away from 1.2 million.
RG: 1.2 million cigars.
SB: If it hadn’t been for the pandemic, we would have been way beyond that.
SB: … but there’s silver linings in everything. Because we had to cut the number of cigars being sent out, still a lot, we had more room in the boxes to add coffee, add a couple of more magazines, add different stuff like that.
SB: Like Boveda came up with a cool swag they wanted to put in there, they happen to have their name on it, yeah, we’re going to put it in there to get us more attention to the different companies.
SB: People don’t realize, especially a cigar company, I mean, preach it to them, but the cigars you smoke when you’re in a combat zone you’re going to remember the rest of your life. What I smoked yesterday, I honestly couldn’t tell you, so it’s good and the military market is going like that in cigar smokers.
SB: The rest of the world, cigar smokers are a slight decline, so-
SB: … your new market has to be… You got to think about those troops being a huge new market.
SB: I mean, the military is not something really tiny, so the more they can get involved to get their name in there, the more their sales over the years are going to increase. I get guys all of the time asking, “Who’s the newest cigar shop that helped you out? What manufacturer helped you out the most that we got cigars from?” They really want to know these questions and we tell them.
RG: The troops want to know who’s supporting you so, “I can go support them,” correct? They’re pretty loyal.
SB: I’ve had more guys go into a cigar shop, buy two boxes, turn around and donate it just because they got some boxes from us.
SB: Basically turning around and giving it back to the guys.
RG: That’s amazing.
SB: Again, it just tells you that our program turned out to be more than just saying, “Thank you.”
SB: I hate saying it because it sounds so conceited or arrogant about it, but …
RG: No, it doesn’t.
SB: … the media has just evolved so much. It’s something beyond what we ever dreamed of.
RG: Like you said, you’re not making it up. It is truly the impact that they are thinking that they feel, that they think that this gave to them. I mean, to hear that somebody who was so down in the dumps that that box turned their life around to make them feel like, “Hey, yeah, I can keep going on another day,” that’s a huge program.
SB: It’s overwhelming some days. It’s a blessing most days.
RG: You’re doing a big thing for people.
SB: It keeps me out of trouble, as my wife says. Since the COVID, now, it’s killed us on donations as you can imagine, but we’ve still denied through donation centers. A lot of guys are still going up to the curbside buying cigars and telling them to throw a five-pack in. Again, it’s not-
SB: … as much as we were. Of course, the monetary donations have just gone down, but with all of that said of the COVID, there was a silver lining in it as we were able to get a lot reorganized within the charity. I’m always looking for more efficient ways. The volunteers is… Day to day, the volunteer program is always about the rockstar volunteers. The volunteers that want a title or realize that they got in and they didn’t realize this is going to take them more than an hour a month. Or, the family happens, and that’s what happens. Most of the volunteers’ life happens. We always preach to them, “Just tell us you need to step down and you can step back up anytime you’re willing.”
RG: That’s good.
SB: But you got something that will just disappear because they don’t want to tell us they’re stepping down.
RG: Yeah. There’s a bit of shame there, but it’s nice that your program is allowing people to step in and out of …
SB: Life comes first.
RG: .. volunteering.
SB: Families have to come first is the biggest thing. There’s no solider, no airman, no Marine would ever want a family to be harmed for a cigar. I can’t imagine any soldier ever saying anything different because in a day you become the military, it isn’t for the paycheck, that’s for sure.
SB: It’s something that’s in you, just like a police officer. You don’t become a police officer for pay.
SB: … so …
RG: It’s a serve and leadership type of role.
SB: It’s people who want to do service. They want to give back and you can’t tell them any different. Do you have bad apples, bad players? Sure, but you put 20 guys that like Tupperware, you’re going to have 10% of them are bad players. Military’s way less than that. It’s probably 1%, if that.
SB: It’s something I’m very proud of, but more importantly I’m more proud of what the volunteers have done over the years.
RG: Sounds like it.
SB: It’s just amazing what these folks do.
RG: You’ve got a good team and a good sense of the whole organization runs on a very clear mission.
SB: We have what we consider… It’s called an Active Board of Directors. They don’t just meet once a month. The higher you go up in that organization the more work you do, and the goal is the more higher up in the organization, the more you support the event coordinators at the bottom of the hierarchy per se. I give… At the end of the day, the event coordinators are the heart of the organization because we channel all of our energy to focus on supporting those guys. It’s not about a power trip. It’s not about having a new title.
SB: At the end of the day, it’s about serving those guys, so that’s where the motto came from, Live2Serve, is it follows all aspects of everything about CF W. Whether we’re talking about great sponsors like Boveda, y’all serve by serving us, or they’re talking about a guy donating a cigar, donating money, talking about a retailer, talking about a manufacturer, it’s all about serving. At the end of the day, it’s also about the troops themselves serving-
SB: … so we’re all living to serve. That’s where we came up with the motto, and Eddie like it so much when he started seeing it being posted everywhere, he asked if we could use it for the first cigar. I said, “Well, that’s only poetic being the first one to come up.”
RG: Such a cool story.
SB: I mean, to have all of these companies really wanting to make these cigars for us and make nothing out of it, that says a lot about a company.
RG: Yeah, a lot about a company and a lot about your organization because they know they can trust it.
SB: That’s something I’ve very proud of as well, and it blows my mind that people have that level of trust with us as well.
SB: I’ve been blessed. I’m happy. The industry’s a phenomenal industry to be involved in.
SB: We are moving more and more outside the industry, which I’m also happy about. There’s only so many times I can call Rob and tap you on the shoulder for another donation, so we need to get more outside influences.
SB: … and it’s slowly getting there and that’s a neat thing to see as well. We got some pretty cool things coming up in the future that we’re working on.
RG: That’s awesome. The best way people can get involved in understanding what you’re doing is going over to cigarsforwarriors.org?
SB: Going to the .org and going to the Facebook Cigars for Warriors
SB: … group.
SB: The page is active, but the group, you’re going to see the troops’ photos. They post photos there or they send them to us. We’ll post it. The letters. That gives you really a true idea what we’re doing. That gives you more sense of confidence the mission is going, that we’re not two guys just talking on the radio.
SB: It’s showing you that, “Here’s your evidence that the men and women are smoking cigars,” and that’s a lot.
SB: You guys imagine that the care packages I got, I never sent a thank you letter to any of them. I mean, bad as that sound, toilet paper and baby wipes just wasn’t in the …
SB: … so we get letters written back to our… so …
RG: That’s just it.
SB: … that means a lot for the fact that they took time out of whatever crazy schedule they have.
RG: Right, to write a letter.
SB: Another big thing that people need to know is that Afghanistan’s not the only place we send to.
SB: Yes, they have a drawdown, but there are still close to 20 of the 30,000 troops in the Middle East alone. They’re also in Africa, a lot in Africa. We sent a little bit to Korea. We’re opening Korea up more and more as Afghanistan’s dropping. Korea’s got so many troops there, so we’re slowly opening that market up.
RG: Okay. So it’s going everywhere.
SB: … yeah, and I guarantee you all of the troops that are leaving Iraq and Afghanistan are going to end somewhere in the Middle East just because of what the geopolitical atmosphere is right now.
SB: I hate when people say, “What are you going to do now that everybody’s leaving Afghanistan?” No, there’s …
RG: There’s still troops out there, active troops out.
SB: Yeah. I mean, I didn’t come up with these numbers, Newsweek came up with these numbers.
SB: We’re still out there. It’s still a very viable mission. It’s not going to go anywhere.
RG: Yeah, active duty hasn’t gone down.
RG: That’s good for us to know. What’s key is there are troops out there that need this support.
SB: Correct, and we have more and more every day social clubs, whether just internet clubs or they’re a standing in a cigar shop club that have us as primary or secondary charities. There’s another place you can go find us is obviously if you have a local club around, or if you’re on social media, find one of those clubs. That’s been pretty fun to have these clubs build these big events and competing against each other. The Houston Club, the Warehouse Club out of there is still the champ of donations.
RG: Oh yeah?
SB: They’re bringing in anywhere between 10 and 15,000 in cash and usually 4 to 5, 6,000 in stars.
RG: Wow. 10 to …
SB: … but they’ll do the whole month …
RG: … 15,000 in cash.
SB: … and they’ll take their members and they’ll volunteer to be event coordinators for just the month of September, and they’ll do two to three events every weekend, a cigar drive, and then there’s this big afterparty where a lot of the manufacturers have been invited and also turn around, dump a truckload of cigars to us and it just builds up. I mean, cigar shops start competing against each other, pulling out their stock they don’t want anymore.
RG: I love it.
SB: We’ve changed it now. We call it The Most Patriotic Cigar Shop in Texas Competition.
RG: Love it.
RG: Smoke Ring?
RG: Shout-out to Smoke Ring. Keeping it very fresh.
SB: Those guys are phenomenal. They go nuts.
RG: That’s awesome. Storm, I want to thank you so much for, one, starting it, keeping it going, and then bring it to us so that we can help out.
SB: I appreciate you guys, especially Boveda. Without Boveda, we would have never been, one, to afford to humidify, or get that trust. I don’t think people realize that by saying there’s Boveda in all of the packages instantly creates trust with the products being taken care.
SB: That’s a good thing for your name that you can have that trust and people really look up to the brand Boveda. Again, I like people to know that you were the first ones to jump onboard before we even had a name. I mean, that’s something pretty cool. That’s just like-
RG: That’s faith.
SB: Jeff and… you got the rep I used to …
RG: Sean and Tim and …
SB: No, there was a rep that you had forever. Charlie.
RG: Charlie Rutherford.
SB: He was my first point of contact forever and he would just take care of us left and right and …
RG: It’s wonderful.
SB: … so I again thank you all, Boveda, and thank you for always having us on the show.
RG: Hey, you’re welcome. Anytime. We appreciate it. Thank you, again, for tuning in for another episode of Box Press. As always, if you need more information, head over to cigarsforwarriors.org. Anything that you need as far as Boveda, head over to bovedainc.com. Like and subscribe and get involved. They need your help. Appreciate it.
HOW TO DONATE TO CFW:
CFW is a 501 (c) (3) charity, so your donation is tax deductible. There are three ways to give: