Box Press Podcast

Cigar Biggies Discouraged Me. Why I’m Glad I Ignored Them. Dapper Cigar’s Ian Reith | Ep. 43

Is there a Cigar Companies for Dummies book? 🤔  Ian Reith, the self-professed “glue” of Dapper Cigar Co. is ready to write it. In 2013, he launched this boutique cigar brand with the Cubo Claro. He added Cubo to the cigar lexicon. (It’s even trademarked!) From scratch, Ian learned everything you need to know about cigars: where to buy tobacco; what factory makes cigars; who prints cigar bands; and how to salvage a sales call with a cigar retailer who thinks you’re from Davidoff! All while connecting with cigar mentors and sloughing off the industry naysayers. Hear how Ian went from cigar lover to cigar brand—a brand whose cigar swag donned by even non-smokers!

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 at Boveda. This is Box Press.

RG:

Welcome to another episode of Box Press. I’m your host, Rob Gagner. And today I’m at TPE, and I’m sitting down with Ian Reith of Dapper Cigar Company. But Dapper Cigar Company, if you know anything about me, has been on my list of top cigars every single year. Why is that? Well, one, they’re slowly launching their lineup all the time. Two, it’s really good tobacco. And three, it’s Ian Reith, Dapper Cigar Company, why not? Ian, thank you so much for joining me.

Ian Reith (IR):

Thank you for having me, man.

RG:

Yeah, man.

IR:

This is a lifetime experience here.

RG:

This has been a long time coming.

IR:

Has it?

RG:

Absolutely.

IR:

I feel like I haven’t earned this chair until now.

RG:

You’ve earned this chair a long time ago, and I’ve been wanting to sit down with you and talk to you about your brand journey because it has so many intricate ins and outs, and it truly is a journey of somebody who has no family in the business, and literally comes from a consumer’s perspective, to say, wow, I’d like to try to figure out how to make one of these things. One of those things being a cigar. And more importantly, you’ve had to make a bunch of other things to go along with that cigar to make it a brand that it is today.

IR:

Well, if the cigars don’t work out, we’re going to make hats. Apparently those are popular.

RG:

Exactly. The swag is killer. So if you get your hands on Dapper Cigar swag, I think the line was from one of your articles was, we put as much money as we do into our premium tobacco as our swag because we want people to wear it, not just throw it in the closet and go, that was cool.

IR:

That is true. That is true. That’s about caring about just what you do as a company. You want to make good products, you want to make good cigars, you want to make good hats.

RG:

But not everyone thinks of it that way, they think, well, I just got to put swag out there so people wear it. Well, if they don’t like it, they’re not going to wear it. You’re one step ahead of the majority.

IR:

Yeah, maybe, but part of it is, as a business, you’re going to look at swag, a lot of people look at swag as being, I can’t believe I’m talking about swag, but a lot of people look at swag as being an expense. It’s just something you got to do, spend a lot of time on it, and just put stuff out there. But the reality is, you are basically making products just like the products that those are endorsing that you want people to be passionate about and wear, because they’re essentially advertising your brand for free. So, why wouldn’t you make great swag? Everybody should make great swag.

RG:

You made great swag, and you even made some onesies for my daughter, which I was so thankful for.

IR:

That’s my wife. I didn’t make those myself. My wife did. It was her pleasure to do so.

RG:

Such a treat.

IR:

I was just happy that they came out great.

RG:

Now even my daughter has swag from Dapper Cigar Company. It’s a whole family thing, it’s a generational thing. We’re just going to keep passing it on.

IR:

It is, it is. I don’t know if it’s legal. I don’t know if…

RG:

It’s totally legal.

IR:

Okay. Okay.

Where did the the brand name Dapper Cigar Company come from?

RG:

Totally legal. I love it. Absolutely love it. But more important, I want to know right off the bat because I think it’s such a cool story, is the whole naming of the company Dapper Cigar Company. You got here that you had a neighbor Chris, is it Alvarez?

IR:

Yeah. Yeah.

RG:

He was like an old school barber. No.

IR:

Yeah, he kind of did that.

RG:

The old school barber vibe was his thing. He was cutting hair, he had that kind of old school 1920s look. So he was really hip on nostalgic, and you’re as well very nostalgic in your brand. So, he looked at making it into something that says like now that’s a dapper cigar is what he says to you. And you looked at that and you’re like, that’s a good cigar name.

IR:

Yeah. Step number one, if we were to do the steps to start a cigar company, at some point, you have to hit the proverbial what do we call it.

RG:

Absolutely.

IR:

Now it helps if your last name is Spanish. Check that box.

RG:

Wait a minute, let’s challenge that. It may not help because I don’t know how to pronounce it. So I actually think you have an edge because I can pronounce Dapper, and I know exactly what it is.

IR:

It was all part of my master genius plan.

RG:

That I think you had with Chris.

IR:

I was ahead of my time.

RG:

Out late smoking a cigar and just shooting the shit.

Smart tips for naming a new business from Dapper Cigar Company

IR:

We couldn’t figure out what to call it. I couldn’t figure out what to call the company. I wanted something that was simple. You want something that can resonate with people. You start thinking of all kinds of stupid things like, if we’re going to line up on an internet search page or if you’re going to go to a catalog listing, don’t you want your company to be kind of close to other big companies, hint, hint, in the alphabetical lineup, right? It’s kind of a little bit of marketing.

RG:

D gets you up there a little higher.

IR:

It’s not bad. You got some heavy hitters around you. I used to call people, this is a true story, I used to call people in California, I’d call retailers, I didn’t know what I was doing, I was just calling retailers, just seeing if they’re going to even be interested in buying our cigars. And there’s a lot of older retailers. Some of them have a little harder hearing, they’re a little hard at hearing. I would call them and be like, this is Ian Reith from Dapper Cigar. Go, yeah, yeah, yeah. I go, yeah, I’m selling cigars and say, hey, I’m going to be in your neighborhood. Do you mind if I stop by? Oh yeah, at three o’clock and I get there, and they look at me and they go, you’re not from Davidoff. I go, you’re right. But now I’m here. It kind of does work.

IR:

But Chris, he lived at that time across from me. And he was just focused on old school barber cuts. I had no idea and he just looked at a cigar, we made that first Cubo band, another generic name, very generic, very easy to say, almost cliche. But he looked at the band, and he said, “That’s a very dapper looking cigar.” I go, there it is, I’m not going to think about it anymore. Done, I’m going to go on, moving on. Eight, 10 years later…

RG:

How did the name Cubo come up?

IR:

Came with a cube cigar? I don’t know if you remember, back about 10 years ago, eight years ago, there weren’t a lot of completely box press square cigars. And so, in pure gimmicky fashion, why not make a square cigar? Drew Estate comes out with a square box press cigar, the Java Mint, like two years later. I go, well that was obviously, well, it was a dumb idea to begin with. So we just rolled with it because I’d spent enough money on it that I said, I got to make this work. Dan, our designer did a really elegant throwback to kind of old school Cuban vibes. So that’s how that happened. We started with a C and a D name, and both of them very generic. Cubo is actually one of the few brands out there that have a trademark that are that close to Cuban.

RG:

Oh really?

IR:

Yeah. It’s very rare. Kind of proud of that. I don’t know.

RG:

Absolutely. And you kind of made it up. Cubo.

IR:

Kind of made it up. It was supposed to be a cube cigar. Didn’t work out.

RG:

You just made up Cubo.

IR:

Right.

RG:

Put two words together.

IR:

Terrible idea.

RG:

I love it. It’s great.

IR:

So there you go.

RG:

Brilliant. We’re off to a good start. We got the name of the company, we got a good name to a cigar. We can go to retailers, con them into meetings, and then sell our cigars.

IR:

And attempt to sell our cigars.

RG:

Attempt. Attempt. That’s where the rubber hits the road, that’s where it gets hard.

IR:

It’s brutal. It’s soul-sucking.

RG:

It’s soul-sucking.

IR:

I listen to a lot of these podcasts and you hear all these comedians talk about bombing, when you get up there and you just totally fail.

RG:

Bombing.

IR:

Bombing. You go on stage you bomb, you fail. There’s boos, etc.

RG:

Crickets.

IR:

Crickets. That is the equivalent of selling cigars on the road. It’s that feeling for two, three years.

RG:

Why do they bomb it? Why do the retailers just say nope?

Why it helps to be really naive to do what Dapper Cigar Company did 

IR:

It’s tough, and it depends on your area too. So, I started selling cigars in Northern California. Northern California is a brutal territory to start selling cigars. California is a tough state to start selling cigars. And when you don’t know anything about selling cigars, it increases your chances of bombing every time.

RG:

Learning curve is probably steep there.

IR:

It’s brutal. It’s soul-sucking and brutal.

RG:

We’ll get into that. Absolutely. But first, I want to know, how did you even get your idea or concept for the business? What made you say, I’m going to try opening up my own cigar line?

IR:

Naivety. You just go one step at a time and you just try to con your mind into saying, all right, next thing we got to do is this, next thing we got to do is this, and you just keep plugging away. And it helps to be very naive about a lot of things I think.

RG:

Absolutely.

IR:

If I knew how soul-sucking selling cigars on the road would be, I would have never done it.

RG:

It loses its luster, the passion behind it, it’s like whoa, this is totally different than smoking cigars.

IR:

All of it. In the business, if you knew all the inside baseball stuff and you knew how challenging it was to establish a new brand of cigars, with all that’s happened the last 10 years, any semi-intelligent person would not do it. So you have to be really naive in order to keep plugging away and keep doing what we did.

RG:

But so you’re a consumer and you’re thinking, like you’ve always said, it was a hobby that just exploded for you. You were immediately into it, you wanted to know more about it. And that fueled your desire to say, let’s see if I know how to make one of these. And that’s really how you set out, it was like, I just want to see if I can make one.

IR:

Yeah. I mean, that’s really it. And you start from scratch on everything. You start from scratch learning how to find who to work with, where do I buy tobacco from, what factory do I make cigars with? How do I print bands? Where do I print bands? What do I have to have to sell this cigar? Do I got to register anything? Do I got to pay any taxes? All this stuff is like, you’re finding everything out for the first time.

RG:

There was no one there to lead you through the gauntlet?

IR:

No, there was no cigar companies for dummies book, which I will be producing later in my career.

RG:

That would be great. A cigars for dummies book would be awesome.

IR:

We’re going to sell it right in the entrance at the trade shows.

RG:

Trademark, that’s trademarked, but we’ll figure it out.

IR:

Miami Herald best seller.

RG:

Yeah, exactly. Piece of cake.

IR:

I feel like I got a lot of those lessons, and when you meet other cigar makers, you share a lot of things.

RG:

You were getting educated through other cigar makers telling you like, oh, hey, here, try this or do this, or here’s how you get through that hurdle.

IR:

Such a small business.

RG:

So how did you meet them though?

IR:

It started by basically going to retailers, the retailers that I were visiting, became friends with them, I would talk to reps. Interesting story, the Cubo band, we print all of our bands at a company named Vrijdag in Holland.

RG:

That’s the premier band company.

IR:

They’re one of the premier printers in the world for bands. Hell of a company. I mean, they sold paint to Van Gogh I think.

RG:

Oh my gosh, they sold paint to van Gogh?

IR:

That’s in their literature.

RG:

These guys are artists.

IR:

These guys are no joke. So, I would have never been able to print those bands had I not met Nelson Alfonso at a cigar event in Fresno, California. I literally showed him my artwork on the cigar that I cut out like paper, I printed it on my inkjet or laser, and I cut it out. We got to talking, and the guy was so nice. I had actually tried to contact them a year prior, and they were like, we don’t really have any room for guys looking at guys looking to print.

RG:

We don’t have any room for some, who’s this?

IR:

They asked me, how many bands do you want to print? I’m like, I don’t know, 1,000.

RG:

We don’t even fire the machine up for that.

IR:

Crickets. I don’t know. So I told him the story and whatnot. He looked at me, this is a true story, he looked at me, he goes, “You have to do this. You have to print this and you got to print this at Vrijdag.”

RG:

Why?

IR:

I don’t know.

RG:

Because of the artwork?

IR:

No, he just loved what I was doing with it. It was very intricate. He’s European so a lot of that old school kind of look, not a lot of companies are doing bands of that kind of intricacy anymore.

RG:

Yeah, because you got some old buildings in there.

IR:

Yeah. It’s very intricate. Beautiful scenery of a…

RG:

Sunset in the background.

IR:

Yeah. And there’s a steeple kind of deal in there from a famous Cuban city.

RG:

This is the Cubo cigar band that we’re talking about.

IR:

Correct. Correct.

RG:

The first cigar.

IR:

He said, you have to print it. You have to print it, you have to print it.

RG:

It’s gone from, aah, no, we’re printing this.

IR:

Power suggestion, right? When Nelson Alfonso and Nelson’s company is Golden Age Empires, he prints and does all the production for Cuba. So all the Habanos S.A. Bands, all that stuff. He also has designed all the Atabey and Byron cigars, those high end cigars you see in the U.S. He’s the designer of all of those. They’re all printed I believe at Vrijdag. He told me you have to print these, and you’re going to use our rep, and I’m going to send a note to him.

RG:

Now you got an in.

IR:

I had to print 100,000.

RG:

Green light.

IR:

100,000 was a little rough.

RG:

100,000.

IR:

Apparently it’s small number but when I heard it, I nearly shit myself.

RG:

Oh my gosh.

IR:

I was like dude, we got 100,000 cigars now.

RG:

100,000 cigars. You went from 1,000 to 100,000 in a click of a button.

IR:

Bands, just the bands.

RG:

Just the bands. You still got those bands? Have you ever had to reorder Cubo bands?

IR:

We ordered a lot of different bands. We went through them.

RG:

How long did it take you to go through the 100,000?

IR:

We just got through them last year of that specific line.

RG:

And you’ve been out since what year?

IR:

Who knows, not very good dates, but it’s got to be at least six years on the market. Five years on the market. Tough going.

RG:

That is tough going.

IR:

But that’s one line.

RG:

The road is not easy.

IR:

The road’s not easy. We really haven’t seen, the last couple years have really been exponential for us. The first few years if you look at those charts, it’s like a slow ramp, and then it kind of starts curving up really high.

RG:

What do you think makes customers engage with your brand more now? Is that the exposure you’ve gotten through other media?

IR:

All of it, yeah. Guys like you, I mean, people like you play a tremendous role. We don’t do any advertising. It’s a company…

RG:

No advertising other than your swag?

IR:

Yeah, that’s it.

RG:

No print, no online because you really can’t do it anyways. Well, you could on some of the cigar media sites but it’s expensive.

IR:

It’s expensive.

RG:

Well, local, you have neon signs for retailers.

IR:

We have retail signs.

RG:

So we’re talking about very rudimentary advertising.

IR:

Everything that we do is made from us.

RG:

Did you ever take out a phone book ad?

IR:

No, thought about it. In Miami.

RG:

Dapper ranks high, put a triple A in front of it and we’re golden.

IR:

Yeah, Yellow Pages. Right next to the attorney, the accident attorney.

RG:

The darn it attorney.

Which is more valuable: a customer who finds your brand by ad or in a humidor?

IR:

We haven’t done it because one, it’s expensive. And two, we actually don’t feel like a customer you gain from an advertisement is as meaningful as a customer that you gain because they bought your cigar, they loved your cigar, or they love something about what your cigar company is, whether it’s a story, whether it’s a referral from a friend, any of these things that resonate, whether it’s somebody saw hat. One time we got an email from somebody and said, I was flying in a plane and I saw this hat and I loved it. Can you guys sell us this hat directly? And at that time, we weren’t selling the hats, and we said no, but we’ll see if we can find one for you. Person didn’t even like cigars, they just saw the hat on a plane.

RG:

Ain’t that cool?

IR:

Pretty cool.

RG:

That says a lot about the styling of your brand.

Who designs Drapper Cigar logos?

IR:

We’ve done well. Our designer, Dan Gretta, he’s a rock star. He’s world class, and we’re just happy to have him on the team.

RG:

That’s unbelievable. Were there moments, especially in the beginning, where you thought this is going to fail? I’m out.

IR:

I thought that way this morning.

RG:

This morning I thought about throwing in the towel.

IR:

You think about it all the time.

RG:

Really?

IR:

Yeah, because the cigar business is so brutal. From a manufacturing standpoint, it’s just, getting good news in the cigar business, when you get it, you almost don’t even know if it’s real, that’s how infrequent it is. Whether it’s legislation, whether it’s FDA stuff, whether it’s production problems. Even when Coronavirus came out. I would say about March of last year when it first came out and it literally felt like the world was coming to a standstill, you have a respiratory disease, it’s March, and what are all the retailers going to do? They’re not going to order any cigars. They’re going to sell what they got in their inventory because they don’t know if they’re going to be around. And when you sit there for a couple weeks and you see a trickle of orders, you go dude, is it over? And that little experience is like everything, when the FDA decides, hey, we’re going to ban this or we’re not going to allow this, you’re always constantly going, oh my god, is this really the right decision, is this really the right business to be in?

IR:

It’s a constant thing in the cigar business. You have to really love to make cigars in order to be in the cigar business on a long term. And I think that’s why you see a lot of cigar companies that are small come in and they leave after a couple years because they just haven’t, there’s just too many of those bad news moments.

RG:

How did you convince retailers that you weren’t a flash in the pan and you were going to be around for a while? It’s one thing to say you got the passion to do it, but I’m sure retailer is like yeah, I’ve heard that from the other six guys that left.

IR:

We still deal with that today. And the only way that we can convince them is by coming to trade shows every year and consistently putting out new products and consistently showing that we’re in here, we’re in it to win it kind of thing. There’s no other way. A lot of retailers would come to me a trade show and go, we don’t know if you’re going to be around next year kind of thing. In the back of my head I’m like, well, me neither. Joke’s on you, buddy. But that is the reality.

IR:

The reality of it is is that the only way that you can convince retailers to buy in that are skeptical of that, is that you show up year in year out, and you keep releasing new cigars, and you keep growing, little by little by little by little. That’s the only way I know. I don’t know of the other paths. I just know the path that I’ve gone through and I know that, from my experience, these things have kind of worked, and the more tenacity and the more, you start to harden a little bit. It’s like everything. I think every business and every venture is probably very similar to that.

RG:

There’s definitely a need to keep it going internally, and then externally. So, to me, that means for you, there’s probably sacrifices that you’ve made. What are those sacrifices that you can list, say you’re like, yeah, I definitely made that sacrifice to keep the brand going?

IR:

There’s every sort of sacrifice that you could possibly have. Financially, very difficult. And let’s face it, finances are what, you got to be well capitalized. If you want to go into cigar business, you have to be able to generate, you have to have money, you have to be able to keep up inventory. You have to put money into the company and know that you’re not going to see that for a while.

RG:

Was there ever a time you looked at the bank account and said, I just don’t have the money to do it?

IR:

You mean other than this morning, no. There are lots of times when you look at what’s going on, and on the manufacturing side, on the manufacturing and company side, our margins are very slim. I’m not going to speak for everybody, I mean, I know what we do, and I know kind of in general what the market’s like, but you have to run a very tight ship I think. And you have to be prudent with the money. Is it a good idea to spend $5,000 to advertise on something? That’s tough.

IR:

And when you’re building products too, if you’re printing bands that are super high quality, if you’re making boxes that are super high quality, you are choosing to invest a lot of money upfront into those things, with the hopes that they will pay off, because you really don’t know.

RG:

Right. Because you can have a very fancy look and high quality feel, but if people don’t smoke it, you’re not going to get the return on your investment.

IR:

Yeah. And even when you do have the cigars out, you blend these cigars, you make this packaging, you invest a lot of money upfront. But what’s the guarantee that that product is going to resonate with consumers? I’ll give you example, the Cubo brand that we started originally, our other brands have done very well compared to Cubo.

RG:

The first one.

 

What cigars do Dapper Cigar make?

IR:

The Cubo Claro and Maduro, we weren’t able to really move it after we were selling El Borracho and La Madrina and Siempre.

RG:

Really?

IR:

Everybody was buying these other brands.

RG:

That Cubo Claro is my favorite.

IR:

Well, there you go. For whatever reasons. So, what ended up happening, and this is kind of like ego is, I decided, well, obviously, we need to redo that brand because the brand is awesome, I mean, people love the brand, brand is awesome. So we went through insanity developing the Cubo Sumatra, the backdrop was insane, this Cuban village, if you look at the backdrop, it’s insanity. It’s insanity. And it’s a great cigar. But at the end of the day, it still does not sell as well as La Madrina and El Borracho, etc.

IR:

I don’t think about it too much, and my current opinion is that you have to have enough humility to be able to say that sometimes when we do these risks and we make these brands, they don’t resonate. And you got to put that guy to bed. And you got to move on to the ones that do resonate. And so that’s what we’re getting better at doing in the last couple of years is we’re saying, hey, look, we’re not going to beat this dead horse. And we’re going to move on, we’re going to keep progressing. I don’t even know if I answered your question.

RG:

You totally did. You totally did. I think it’s really interesting that cigars are one of those unique things that it’s like, kind of like coffee, what’s in it matters, and how it’s been treated really, really matters, from the fermentation process. You had said your hope is that customers become more educated about what goes into the cigar to really judge it as far as its quality.

IR:

Yeah.

RG:

But what do you think the consumer needs more education on because that’s a hard spot to be in because, well, limitations on what you can disclose and what you can through FDA and whatnot, and then two, I don’t know what you paid per pound to make this. I don’t know your profit margin. I don’t know if I’m getting a good deal, I just know when I smoke it, I like it. So what else do I need to know?

What frustrates the founder of Dapper Cigar about the cigar industry?

IR:

I mean, what frustrates me about the cigar business, and to this day, I think we do a very bad job in the cigar industry as a whole. I look at wine, for instance, and with wine, there’s a remarkable descriptive and detailed, just every product that you see coming out, Napa wine, European wine, there’s such transparency when it comes to the ingredients.

RG:

Sure.

IR:

They’ll tell you not only the country, they’ll tell you the species, they’ll tell you the hill it’s grown on. They’ll tell you the lots in the hill in the appellate, because they’re very proud of it, and two …

RG:

It matters.

IR:

It matters. Right. And I think it does matter. And one of the things I would like to see personally, it’s going to take a bit to get there, is to be that descriptive, so that consumers know when they’re smoking that cigar, this is why the cigar tastes like this, this is why I like that.

RG:

I got a suggestion then because I interviewed the guy you buy tobacco from, John Oliva, Jr. And John taught me that you can plant tobacco on the left side of the road and it comes out peppery, and in the exact same, almost same spot, 40 foot difference because the road separates the two plots, on the right side of the road, comes out more sweet. Exact same seed, exact same varietal, it all matters on where it’s planted.

RG:

So, as the blender, can you give me some tasting notes on, hey, I planted this seed varietal because I wanted the sweetness to come out of it, and I planted it over here because it brought that. I think that would be helpful because to me, then now you’re getting down wine territory, you’re getting into terroir, why does it matter why you chose this field, and why you picked these ingredients. But a lot of people in the industry shy away from telling me what flavors I should be tasting. Are you afraid of telling people what flavors they should be tasting?

Should cigars have a vintage like wine?

IR:

No, no. I mean, we tried to disclose, we’re probably one of the fewer companies that, you can go to our website, and any tobacco that we can disclose, we’ll disclose it. We’ll tell you what the binder wrapper filler components are. And if we can disclose the farms, we’ll disclose the farms. If we can, if it’s available. If it’s not, it’s because of various limitations with brand conflicts, etc. But I want to be 100% transparent about it because I’m very proud of it and I would love to convince others in the farming aspects of it, I’d love to sit down and talk with John about getting real deep and providing lots of information, because they have such a hard job growing that tobacco.

IR:

And we’re also talking about a product that changes year to year. And that’s something that the wine industry is very good at. If you have more rain in one year and it affects the crop, they vintage very well in wine. We don’t vintage at all in cigars. We really don’t.

RG:

Should we be?

IR:

I think we should. Why shouldn’t we? Because if somebody says, hey, I tried an El Borracho, I tried your San Andres one five years ago, didn’t really like it. Well, is that the same El Borracho that you’re going to try five years later? Shouldn’t be.

RG:

But what about the consistency that you’re trying to provide through a blend? From what my understanding is is like okay, if the blend has changed because of the climate or because of the terroir, now, I need to re-slightly alter the blend to come back to my home base of where I started this blend in the first place. Are you playing that?

IR:

You’re trying to get the high level.

RG:

You’re saying there’s limitations there and you might swing based off of vintage?

IR:

Absolutely. And what vintaging would allow you to do is it would allow you to explain the differences, the slight differences. And it would also help us as manufacturers and retailers because if you have particularly great vintages, people will buy those and seek those out.

RG:

Then what if you don’t, you’re stuck.

IR:

If you don’t, that’s bad…

RG:

It’s bad news bears.

IR:

Yeah, bad news bears. But hey, we’ll roll with it. Kind if have some bad vintages. Dom Pérignon is not great every year. I see it at Costco, you telling me that’s the best one? No way.

RG:

Costco got the 2009 vintage.

IR:

The 2009. You take it over to your friends house, is like, 2009, that’s not good.

RG:

That’s not good.

IR:

That’s not good. But 2008, that’s money. I don’t mind our cigars being that way. We got to shoot for great vintages every year.

RG:

All right. You like the pressure.

IR:

And look, we’ll just do like the cigar industry. If it goes really weird, we’ll just have them reprint the good vintage bands.

RG:

Oh, okay.

IR:

Did I just say that?

RG:

So just slap a sticker on it.

IR:

We need more 2008s.

RG:

You’re building a lot of trust with our clientele now.

IR:

That’s a terrible joke. But we joke about those kinds of things in the cigar business because there is so many outlandish things that can be seen.

RG:

And you’re kind of pointing out that there’s a lot of opportunity to not really be guided by a set of strict rules. I would say the wine industry is pretty heavily regulated.

IR:

Very much so. When you look at even places like France where they grow Champagne, not grow Champagne, but where Champagne comes from, or you look at, I drink a lot of Italian red wine, Brunellos and stuff, oh my gosh, the control that the farmers and producers have to have in order to call themselves those categories of wines, it’s pretty regulated, for the good thing, because when you pick up that product at the store, you know that there’s a certain level of commitment and process to that.

RG:

You wanted to taste the way it’s been reviewed. You spend $75 on that bottle of celebration wine, you should get the same review in Wine Spectator or whatever that that bottle got.

IR:

Or if you buy a bottle of Champagne and they made it with different grape, that would be a little weird.

RG:

You’ve also talked about, especially in the beginning of starting your brand, you’re really trying to stay in tune with what the customer was wanting. That led you a little bit away from your true North Star, your true, hey, I know what this could develop into and what this brand could be. When do you think you need to listen to the customer and when do you think you need to shut it off and listen to your intuition and your brand awareness?

IR:

Man, good question. Real good question because when you get on the road or you’re in the cigar business, you get a lot of input. There’s no lack of input. Everybody’s going to tell you what you should be doing.

RG:

The shirt that says I smoke cigars and know things, that just means I like to give you my opinion.

IR:

Correct. And I’ve heard a lot of opinions. We don’t make enough Lanceros, we don’t make enough Candelas. Unfortunately, unfortunately, my current position on it is that, I try to think about what I would like and what other people would like. And if it’s sellable, then we see if it sticks. We make the product, we blend it to what I think is going on, if the market is tending to be heavier and we don’t have a heavier cigar, then we need to make a heavier cigar. And then I combine that with the data because now we have the sales data.

IR:

So, we’ve been around a little bit enough to now know, okay, well, when we sell a new brand, how does that look? If it’s going to be a good one and it’s resonating, what does the pattern look like? And it turns out that it’s pretty predictable because when you make a good cigar, people will reorder that good cigar. And when the brand resonates, they’ll continually order more of that cigar. You’ll get a lot of new customers coming to ask you about that cigar that maybe you didn’t previously experience. So there are some indicators. It’s a combination of intuition and just data. And you have to be humble enough to say, look, if this thing doesn’t work, we are not going to try to make it work. We’re not going to shove this round or square peg into the round hole because we love the brand and think that, look, the consumers decide. At the end of the day, when they go and they buy those cigars, that’s the vote. The ones they buy the most, those are the ones that win.

RG:

What are some of the best suggestions you’ve received during the build up of Dapper Cigar Company?

IR:

I have a pretty small sphere of people that I talk to about the business and about the cigar experience just because I’m not out a lot amongst the community, I’m not doing a lot of trade shows and stuff, just my nature. But I take a lot of advice from a guy named Gustavo Cura, he’s a mentor of mine with Oliva Tobacco.

RG:

He runs the factory down there.

IR:

Yeah, he is overseeing NACSA and Oliva Tobacco’s their fermenting and sorting operations in Nicaragua. He’s been a very, very good personal friend of mine, and he gives me a lot of great advice. His advice is not only from him, but it’s from advice given to him because he was very good friends with guys like Frank Llaneza and the Olivas of course. A simple, great piece of advice that he gave me was Frank Llaneza, Frank Llaneza told him that you knew a cigar was good when the guy was smoking the cigar and he was halfway through the cigar, and he would reach over in his pocket just to check to see if he had another cigar—because that’s how you knew that that cigar was good.

RG:

I got to make sure I have another one of these.

IR:

That’s why you got to have the pocket. So advice like that. Lots of guys throughout this last eight years have given me little tidbits like that that you kind of put in the memory banks, but that one really sticks out.

RG:

It’s good. So you’re really listening to the customer’s reaction but you’re still honing in on your North Star of this is what I want to do, this is what I want to blend. And especially, that’s where you’re getting all that from NACSA and from other people as well because you’ve worked with other blenders outside of NACSA.

IR:

Right now, our concentration is NACSA. In the past, I’ve worked with a gentleman named Gonzalo Puente and we blended the Cubo Claro and the Maduro, the originals. Right now I work with NACSA and Raul Disla a lot. Raul Disla is the production manager there. And working with Raul is very, it’s very productive because there are some people in life, when you work with them and their experience, if they’ve gone through something 20 or 30 years, and they’ve been in something, generally, they will have formed very strong opinions about their preferences. Don’t use this tobacco.

IR:

Now, when they tell you don’t use this tobacco, is it because they don’t like the tobacco? And that’s what happens. Raul, remarkably, is the most open minded person about blending that I’ve ever worked with for somebody so long in the industry. And we’ll sit there and getting downright kind of arguments a little bit. No more Ometepe. But at the end of the day, it’s very productive and he always tells me, he’s like, look, these are your cigars. So, you have to be happy with these cigars. And that’s rare because to have that kind of working relationship. The end of the day, I’m not down there in the production facility day in and day out like Raul is. And it’s very important that we have that relationship and he is able to look at all of our blends with virgin eyes.

How cigar makers like Dapper Cigar battle with innovation versus traditionalism 

IR:

That’s hard to do. Even myself, you get you hardened and you get set in your beliefs and you go oh, I’m not going to do that because of my prior experiences. But then to look at everything new and say I think this can be improved or I think we should revisit this, or I’m open to using this tobacco, I’m open to doing it this way, that’s been a lot of our success in the blending category I think.

RG:

That’s awesome. Good suggestions. Feed new creativity.

IR:

Yeah. Yeah. Gus is like that too. He’s always looking at improving things. He’s never content. It’s always what can we do better. And that’s hard because cigars are also traditional. So, you’re battling innovation and tradition.

What Dapper Cigar is named after a Mexican bingo card?

RG:

Your brand is very traditional as far as you’re pulling from the roots that have already been there, but you’re really amplifying that in your brand. When you’re looking at naming a cigar line, you’ve said like El Borracho came from, now I might, what are the cards that your wife, they’re like these Hispanic cards.

IR:

Yeah. La Lotería.

RG:

La Lotería.

IR:

They’re bingo cards. Mexican bingo game. I think it might even be Spanish bingo game. Very popular in Mexican Hispanic cultures. And they’re great cards. The artwork is great. The names are great. Matter of fact, there are some other cigar brands out there that have names similar to the bingo cards, but El Borracho came from that bingo card, it came from my wife. And it was a great call. It was tremendously successful brand. People like drunks apparently. It’s a good play.

What’s a good bachelor party cigar that Dapper Cigar makes?

RG:

But the whole idea was like you’re calling it the drunkard, right?

IR:

Right.

RG:

But where did that that name come from? Why did you even decide to-

IR:

I was drinking a little bit too. I think the power of suggestion was involved there.

RG:

Was it a card that you saw and you’re like, that’s a cool logo?

IR:

Yeah, the card if you ever see it is a drunk guy with a bottle tipping it away. We took that and then we made it, we cigarified it. We turned it into a cigar brand like we would want. It’s funny, Nelson Alfonso actually came to me after release at the trade show, and he looked at it, and he’s like, “This is very nice, but you should have called it Las Borrachos.”

RG:

What does that mean?

IR:

Female drunkards.

RG:

Female drunkards?

IR:

The female drunkards versus the male drunkard. So it’s like Nelson, we already printed everything bro. There’s no redos here. We already invested all this. No, but thank you, I appreciate that. He was meaning in a very nice way. All of the brands, we take these concepts, we try to make it relatable, we try to make it simple, we try to make it resonate with consumers in some way.

RG:

As far as a consumer, for me to know a little bit about El Borracho, the story behind how you even decided to name it, then the artwork goes together. The whole thing as far as maybe even the blend is supposed to be palatable for the everyday smoker. How do you make sure, especially with no advertising budget, how do you make sure you get that message out to the consumer, and what do you think makes the consumer connect to that?

IR:

Yeah, that’s tough, man. If I had the answer to that one, boy oh boy.

RG:

Well, you’re trying to do some of these things to connect that message because you say that it’s important to tell that story so that the consumer gets connected to it, right?

IR:

As an example, El Borracho, there’s a lot of Spanish speaking people in United States today. California, I mean, where I live, heavy Spanish influence, maybe 50% Mexican. LA, you’re looking at the same situation. Texas, you’re looking a lot, there’s a very large Hispanic movement in the US. That brand connects very well off the shelf because it’s a La Lotería card as well. And it’s almost like a sense of joy when somebody sees that brand. And that brand is one of our few brands where people will just stumble on it. You don’t get that opportunity a lot.

RG:

Kind of like the El Borracho.

IR:

Yeah.

RG:

Stumbling around.

IR:

I like that. That’s good. Yeah, you don’t get that often. Now, we’ve tricked them or we’ve created this imagery and this name enough for them to spend 10 or 12 bucks for the cigar. Now the cigar’s got to be good.

RG:

Right. Now the cigar’s got to live up to it.

IR:

Correct. And what if we made that cigar full, full, full? Well, how many people in the market are smoking super full cigars? And all those people that bought that cigar because they resonated with the name?

RG:

Can no longer smoke it.

IR:

They’re not going to smoke it. They’re going to be like, oh my god, I tried it and it just made me throw up.

RG:

So the story does matter.

IR:

Story does matter and everything I think has to align.

RG:

If they up with El Borracho as the name, I would say there’s still connection we could infer there, but yeah, we don’t want to do that.

What’s the best cigar for Cinco de Mayo?

IR:

We’re going to make that cigar, it’ll be the hangover. In that particular sense, things have to align. You got to make a medium bodied cigar I think because of a guy gets that cigar, I mean, we get so many stories of women coming in to buy cigars for their husband, and what do they pick, they pick that one, because it gets a little chuckle. They go, oh perfect, Cinco de Mayo. Crush it on Cinco de Mayo. Everybody’s got a St. Patty’s Day cigar or a Halloween cigar, we’re Cinco de Mayo. Locked down.

IR:

La Madrina, same way, resonates with a lot of people because it’s a very, I don’t want to say Gothic looking brand, but it is, it’s a very, very renaissance kind of medieval looking…

RG:

It has a skeleton arm holding a rose. What’s the story behind naming it La Madrina? What does it mean? Why the skeleton and the rose?

IR:

We’re in California, we’re very heavily influenced by Mexican culture in California. My wife is Mexican. Day of the Dead, it’s a real interesting holiday. Guys like Jon Huber, for instance at Crowned Heads, did a great job with that Las Calaveras. Amazing, amazing cigar and branding I thought. I just wanted to make a cigar that was themed around the Day of the Dead. But then you run into really weird issues because you’re selling cigars, but then are you going to be promoting death? It’s a weird one. It’s a real fine line.

RG:

For all of us funeral directors out there.

IR:

Exactly, exactly. We got you.

RG:

Still hold my license, I’ll smoke it.

IR:

We had to come up with a theme and a look that illustrated more of the beauty of death per se, and the gist of kind of the holiday and what that remembrance of the dead kind of holiday means, and capture that in a brand. And that’s where a guy like Dan, he’s best in the world. He creates these things by graphically representing them really beautiful. And the hand and the rose is very iconic. It’s our most popular cigar, and everybody loves that logo.

RG:

Is that a fuller bodied cigar?

IR:

It is a fuller bodied cigar.

RG:

And it’s your most popular cigar.

IR:

Yeah, it’s our most popular cigar. Both in the U.S. And overseas.

RG:

Maybe a lot of people are smoking fuller bodied cigars.

Why Dapper Cigar won’t apologize for your nicotine buzz

IR:

They are, they are. But that particular cigar, we kind of don’t feel like we have to apologize if somebody gets a little nicotine buzz…

RG:

It’s really well balanced.

IR:

Does have a skull hand on it, so it’s like we did warn you.

RG:

It wasn’t sunshine and roses.

IR:

No, no. That’s Cubo.

RG:

It does have a rose on it.

IR:

Yeah, it does have a rose. Remarkably, also that cigar resonates very well with women as well, strangely enough. A lot of women love that cigar…

RG:

Why do you think they connect with it? The artwork?

IR:

I think it’s the rose, I think the artwork.

RG:

Really?

IR:

Yeah, I think it’s the artwork. We’ll be announcing some new things with that brand to expand it in the future.

RG:

You always said a large goal of yours was to personally dedicate some time, maybe commitment on the education front. You kind of dropped a hint in one of your interviews, you were saying, I won’t go into specifics, but I’m working on a way to integrate all of my stories, my learnings and my experiences in this industry to really dive deep and get consumers involved with all the very specific parts that go into making a cigar.

IR:

Yeah, we failed on that. We haven’t done that well yet.

RG:

You failed on it?

IR:

Well, I had a grandiose dream that it would be further than what we’ve done. I wanted to really, really take people into every aspect of cigar making. It’s kind of a bit of a expensive project that I’ve shelved a little bit because of the amount of resources it would take to some of the things that I want to do, and I think also my problem is I want to do it in very high quality. That’s at the forefront of the company, everything that we do, we try to be educational about it. If we do an event, we just don’t go on an event and just say, Nicaraguan this and whatever. Woodsy, chocolaty, enjoy. We try to tell the story about the cigar, we try to explain the experience of the cigar because we think that that matters, in the cigar business at least. So that’s what we try to do. We want to do much more, in the future, still working on it.

RG:

Perfect.

IR:

Still getting there.

RG:

What do you think makes it so expensive to do though? I’m trying to wrack my brain when you said that, I’m like…

IR:

Production costs and doing it of high quality. You guys, the setup here, it’s very nice. Grade A production cost. I feel like we could shoot a short film with the stuff here. It’s great stuff.

RG:

We got the talent.

IR:

Yeah, exactly.

RG:

Shout out to Steve.

IR:

Shout out to Steve, man, this is incredible setup here. To produce these kind of things, and also, there’s a lot of transportation involved, because in the states here, we’re on the sales side of it. But really, where all the magic happens is out there in Ecuador, out there in the fields, out there in Nicaragua and Honduras. There’s some logistics to capture everything and to describe everything to the detail that I want to do it, in a really kind of geeky way, unfortunately. Because I believe that if you tell these things and you show everything that’s going on with cigars, people will go, wow, I can’t believe I didn’t spend $30 for that thing. I got it for 10 bucks. Amazing. What a deal. What a deal.

RG:

But if you go to dappercigars.com, you will find a lot of that content. You’ve done a really good job of making sure that that’s at the forefront of everything that you put out.

IR:

Yeah. Used to be that everything was catalog based in the old days, now it’s website. And I stopped even giving out, we used to have this catalog that had all these detailed stories and everything. Why should we do that? It just ends up in the trash.

RG:

Put it on the website.

IR:

Put it on the website. So we just steer everybody to the website, and then we just try to be as descriptive as possible with the cigars. We’ll tell every ingredient that we can. It’s worked out well for us.

RG:

Are the stories of how you name the cigars on the website?

IR:

Not yet, but that’s part of it as well. That’s another prong, another prong. Story is important, the stories are important.

RG:

The story is important. It gets me hooked into not only the cigar, but also the guy behind the brand, or the gal, whoever it is. Really makes me then feel like wow, I could, you’re so passionate about it and you bring so much to it. And it’s not just a cigar that you want to make and get out on the market, it’s something that you creatively made. It’s kind of like good food, good wine. It’s a real high end process that goes into doing it.

IR:

And the other thing that we want to tell more of is the story of the people behind making these products. I’m the one that gets to do the interview, for good or bad, but there’s a lot of people behind the scenes that that’s their life, every day, they’re doing these things that make these products. We want to get people into their stories as well because their stories are part of our story as well.

Do the people who make Dapper Cigar brands smoke the product?

RG:

Do the cigar rollers smoke your cigars?

IR:

No, we don’t allow them to. We don’t have enough product right now for production. No, they do smoke our cigars.

RG:

They do?

IR:

Yeah, they do.

RG:

Absolutely.

IR:

It’s funny because I always ask, there’s a guy down there in NACSA, his name is Boris. Boris is a production manager. And Boris, strange name for Nicaraguan guy, right? You’d think he’s Russian or something. I used to play a joke with him where we’d walk out in production for and I go, hey, I want you to tell me which of the supervisors are smoking our cigars. And then he would point them out and I would go like, kind of harass him and just tell him how great the cigars was. And then I’d go, hey, I want you to tell me which ones don’t like our cigars. That’s even better. We’d just go over there and I would just talk trash playfully, tell them they have no taste and that kind of stuff. It’s real fun. It’s all in good fun.

IR:

They do smoke our cigars. And it’s important that they do, it’s important that guys like Boris are constantly smoking our cigars. Because if there’s a problem, they’re the first one, they’re the canary in the coal mine. So you want them to be smoking the cigars out there, making sure that they’re right.

RG:

Awesome. Love it.

IR:

I think they’re shutting us down here.

RG:

They’re shutting us down.

IR:

This is going to get weird.

RG:

No, this is perfect, it’s mood lighting now. We’re getting into the deep cuts. The deep cuts.

IR:

Second take.

RG:

This is perfect timing for the lights to go down because I do want to end on this really cool story. Once you launch the brand, sounds like you have a favorite cigar moment. You finally release the Cubo Clara, you gave it to you dad and you both sat out on side of the porch, and smoked. What did that mean to you?

What’s Ian Reith’s favorite cigar story?

IR:

That means everything. My dad didn’t smoke nice cigars. He smoked very cheap cigars, admittedly. He smoked affordable cigars. He was a blue collar person, in the military. In his life, smoking premium cigars, he had a young family, he just couldn’t afford it. But he loved cigars. Smoked them almost every day. Usually with good alcohol, moderate amount of course. When I sat there, he used to smoke Connecticut cigars as well, and when he was smoking that first cigar, I remember him just telling me, “This is so much better than what I was smoking.” That means a lot.

RG:

It’s cool to have that moment with your dad, especially after making such a big accomplishment.

IR:

It means the world.

RG:

And for him to recognize that.

IR:

It’s really the ultimate form of flattery. It really was. Those moments like that, not that there’s anything better than that, but if I make a good cigar and I give that to a friend and they genuinely enjoy it, you get a lot of satisfaction from that, keeps you going. But that’s the ultimate one, yeah.

RG:

Keep it going, Ian. You’re making great cigars. We appreciate it. We were smoking the…

IR:

Desvalido.

RG:

Desvalido. During this, now, medium bodied or?

IR:

Medium full, a little bit more on the fuller side.

RG:

Really well balanced.

IR:

Should be well balanced. Enjoyable.

RG:

So good.

IR:

Glad you like it.

RG:

Thank you all for watching another episode of Box Press. Ian, thank you for being on. I appreciate you so much. Get out and try Dapper Cigar Company’s, everything that they have to offer, dappercigarcompany.com. If you need anything as far as keeping those cigars fresh, head over to Boveda Inc. And if you enjoyed this, go ahead and hit that like button and subscribe because we’re trying to bring more and more conversations with makers like Ian to your doorstep, and we appreciate you. Thank you all, have a great night.

Like many premium cigar brands, Dapper Cigar boxes with Boveda to protect the flavor, condition and burn of your cigars. Keep your Dapper La Madrinas smoke-ready—use Boveda to protect cigars in your humidor.

Highlights Include:

  • How did he come up with the brand name Dapper Cigar Company (03:16)
  • Why you’d re-think starting a company if you knew how soul-sucking selling on the road was (09:45)
  • Which is more valuable: a customer who finds your brand by ad or in a humidor? (16:46)
  • Should cigars have a vintage like wine? (28:31)
  • Why new cigar brands battle innovation and traditionalism when they launch a hand-crafted legacy product (39:39)
  • Which Dapper cigar is a popular gift for a cigar smoker? (45:15)

You Might Also Like:

Meet Cigar Blondie of Platinum Nova Cigars

8 Minutes with Luxury Humidor Craftsman Daniel Marshall

What’s the Safest Online Cigar Trading Site?