Hear how the U.S. Marine Corp. changed Matt Booth’s life and primed him for his entrepreneurial journey, which includes boutique cigar lines. The secret to Matt’s success? Pay attention, follow your “belly radar” and pivot. “My business should have failed a hundred times over,” the founder of Room101 brands told Rob Gagner at the 2021 Tobacco Plus Expo in Las Vegas.
Call it kismet. Call it tenacity. Call it intuition. Matt knows how and when to call it.
From boutique cigars to stylized humidors. From Room101 urinal pads to bespoke custom bling worn by the likes of Snoop Dogg, DeAndre Jordan and Guy Fieri. Just try to predict Room101’s next gig.
Matt stepped away from the cigar game and Davidoff in 2017. He’s launched a comeback with AJ Fernandez and Caldwell collaborating on new boutique cigar lines, such as Doomsayer, Farce and The T. His Room101 cigar knives and cigar lighters make great statement gifts for the edgier cigar lover. Hit up a Room101 Hit and Run and lose yourself in this stream-of-consciousness interview with cigar man, Matt Booth.
Matt Booth (guest): I approached the doorman. I asked him, I say, “Hey, where about round here could I purchase some diapers?” And doorman at these hotels, internationally, I love these guys, the character, they’re bruisers, right? But they’re suited for the day, but typically most of them are like bruisers in some way. And this guy was one such gentleman. I respected him and he looked down at me because he was much taller than I, and he had no fucking idea what I was talking about, diapers. Now, this is a word that we don’t even think twice about, right?
Rob Gagner (host): Right.
MB: I need diapers for my son. And he said, “What the fuck is a diaper?” And I said, okay, so this word isn’t registering. How do I translate this? And I say, “The underwear for my baby.” And he says, “Oh, you mean nappies.”
MB: And, “Two blocks up here, do that, the store…” And I go get the nappies. In the British vernacular, in the Queen’s English.
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. Hey, everyone, Rob Gagner here with Boveda, I’m at TPE, sitting across a legend in the industry. This man has started a jewelry company, gone on to make bespoke custom units, lifestyle products that not only affect us, but have entrenched us inside the cigar community with what we like to smoke. It’s none other than Matt Booth.
MB: Oh, my God. Shit.
RG: Take me back. We’re just speaking British.
MB: Yeah. But they have such a phenomenal set of terms that are so vastly different from anything that we use. I was being interviewed… We just, by the way, just opened up our first international distributor after almost 13 years in the game, Tor Imports, my man Scott Vines in the UK, right? And their product literally just landed this week in the UK. So it’s a new level for us. His social media manager Cali is interviewing me, and then as many interviews as you’re probably well aware, just kind of go off into whatever land, right? And she enjoys horses, she owns horses, that’s not code, I’m not trying to be weird. She owns two horses, and we start to vibe on that because my mom, the one luxury that my mother afforded herself, the only luxury was a horse. And there’s some weird, obscure connections to tobacco for me and horses, like the scent of hay. There are some time travel type triggers in my mind that directly connect in the blending process with certain tobaccos that put off that stink, aroma.
MB: As it were. So we’re talking about that, we’re chatting, and then she’s talking about how it’s a very expensive hobby. And at the end of the month, she basically has to work again for the next month to get the money to support her horse habit. And I mentioned to her, we’re joking about her having to move into her trailer and all this stuff. We also spoke about Crocs for a good period of time. But my point is she said, “Well, I’ll just be mincing about in my lorry.”
RG: Mincing about my what?
MB: Lorry. And I said, “Mincing about in your lorry? Mincing?” And she just starts laughing because she understands that I have no idea what she just said, but I’m so intrigued. And mincing can have a couple different meanings, right? But essentially, for her, not necessarily frolicking, but like prancing about a little bit, like mincing. And I imagine, although we didn’t get that far, I imagine you could probably leverage the term like you and I, we’re chatting right now, but if I started to become overly flirtatious with you, and you maybe giggled to me a little bit, we might be mincing with one another. Does that make sense?
RG: Okay, or the other way …
MB: This will happen.
RG: … like mince words like we could be arguing.
MB: Right, but I don’t know that they use it in that way.
RG: Oh, so …
MB: But I don’t know if they use it in the other way either. But it seemed like there was a friendly and jovial upbeat scent to the way that she was leveraging the word, right? So now I like to use mincing and I want to… So my point is, every conversation you have with anyone, the world becomes a smaller place, right?
MB: And that was a moment that she and I shared, but she enlightened me to some new terminology, and one step closer to the world being small, right?
MB: It’s why I like to travel.
MB: I mean, both psychedelically and physically.
MB: I travel less psychedelically now, I have a child, I… Sometimes you don’t come back to the station, and we can’t do that now.
RG: Less of the psychedelics.
MB: Yeah, way less, like none, actually. Now, it’s terrifying. I’ve never really been afraid of much, especially not death, because I think you’re, in some way, returned cosmically to the universe, right? Not in any form. I have no formed structure, right? I don’t …
RG: So if you were diagnosed with a terminal illness, you wouldn’t be afraid at all?
MB: No, no. Hear me out. So as a younger chap, or lad, as they might say in the UK, I didn’t fear it. I actually, for most of my youth, probably welcomed it in some way. But now I was overcome as a dad, right? This was not too long ago, I was washed over… Typically, I’m washed over with this wave of gratitude for my family …
RG: Tell me…
MB: … that I was afforded cosmically through all the activities in my life and all of the speed bumps that I even placed in front of my… in my own path, right? That somehow I made it to the point where I was cosmically gifted this opportunity to have this family.
RG: I hear you, brother.
MB: Oh, my God. Well, you’re a fucking animal. You button it up more than I do, but I can smell it on you a mile away.
MB: He was an animal.
RG: What? No.
MB: Oh, yeah. See, that’s what an animal would say too. Yeah. Oh, yeah. You and me would have been disappearing ourselves for like three days in The Old Shillelagh in downtown Detroit.
RG: It’s all about saying yes.
RG: It’s all about saying yes. That’s how I met my wife. But it’s all about saying yes. When somebody asks you, “Hey, do you want to go do XYZ?” If you feel like it’s safe, slightly, right? Nothing life threatening. You want to say yes, because you don’t …
MB: You could mince about.
RG: Well, yeah, you don’t know what kind of experience you’re going to have, and that’s almost the chase. What kind of experience am I going to have if I say yes?
MB: Well, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, right? So you got to go get it. So, to finish that thought, because sometimes I ramble a bit, I’ve been… So typically, I’m washed over with gratitude, right? I can’t even… There are no words to express the level of gratitude I have to be where I’m at today in terms of life, family, all that stuff. But I was washed over with terror for a moment.
MB: Well, because it had never occurred to me that in between the moment that I achieve this level of blessing, right, and have just been absorbing it, bathing in it like… That’s funny, I had a vision of Bill Paley bathing in gold doubloons in a bath, something like that, like bathing… I stopped myself because I didn’t know if I should say that, and then I said it anyways, I love you, Bill. Or anything like that, right? But I was overcome with terror because I thought, “Now I actually have something to lose.” And the loss would be so grand it was terrifying. Now I believe that my family is very cosmically connected. I’ll find them again. You know what I mean?
MB: I will find them again. But it took me half of this lifetime to find them now. And I just thought… I was terrified at the thought of death because it would take me away from them. And I thought, “Fuck, now I’m scared to die. This is fucked up.” But how full circle this thing comes, right?
MB: It’s crazy, right?
RG: You’re saying you kind of have something to live for as far as… You always have something to live for, but now it’s like…
MB: It’s everything.
RG: … I want to keep living this life.
MB: Yeah. Never want to stop. Yeah.
RG: And death starts to knock on a more frightening door when you got family involved.
MB: Crazy, man. I had never had that thought. I had never addressed it.
RG: Yeah, and you’re talking to an undertaker.
MB: Yeah, no, I know.
MB: See, I told you… Animal, full animal.
RG: So I know all about death.
RG: It’s intense.
MB: Yeah, man. Well, and the interesting thing about a cat in your position, right, is the cast of characters changes, and you would become… Okay, so we’re always in a certain… on a stage of a certain type, right? If I go into, for example, a retail store and I’m there to educate and entertain and whatnot, and all the licking and nipple twisting starts and everyone has a great time, I’m very comfortable in that environment. And similar to like everyone always makes the jokes about the cast of characters that’s in a rock band, like, “Oh, the bass player behaves this way. The drummer’s this guy.” And so that same cast of characters exists in a cigar shop.
MB: You run into character, like, “Oh, you’re the bass player.” And people are like, “What?” Like, “Nevermind.” But you were familiar with that cast in that setting, which is super unique, right? Because I would imagine, although, obviously, it’s an industry, and people gravitate to certain lines of work, for certain reasons, right? Some things compel them, because it’s part of their internal wiring harness, right? I think it would be a very interesting, probably overwhelming and phenomenal experience, to somehow become so adept at dealing with that cast of characters, but also in that moment, which, for many people, is a moment of less hinging, less control, emotional overload, right? But you could sit back in the room be like, “That’s the dude that wants the money, I smell it on…” you know what I mean? You know every one of them, right?
RG: Oh, yeah.
MB: I think that that would be a really unique position to be in, to have that type of education, human education, right? Because you could go direct a funeral in a country, or actually, not even in a country, here, right, where that entire cast one evening, there’s not one lick of English spoken, right? But yet, you would still very well be able to communicate and cater to them on feeling, right? Because sometimes…
RG: Good insight.
MB: Yeah, well, I think, right, because language can be the tongue of the snake too, like slick talking, influence, massaging certain things with language. I find some of the most pure and unadulterated volleys of communication I’ve ever had have been with non-English speaking, or people that I can’t communicate with at all through language. So maybe there’s a translator, but you sit across from someone, and so now because language is deleted, the mind… like the volume knob on other types of perception goes up…
RG: Turn it up to 11.
MB: … and the language thing has to go away. So you’re more hypersensitive to many times their content of character, the being that’s in front of you. The Japanese have a saying about people that are actually dark inside, like bad, right? They say they have black stomach.
RG: Black stomach.
MB: Black stomach. This is a term that they use, and it’s… If someone has black stomach, they’re rotten. They have…
RG: Is it correctable?
MB: … ill intent. I think anything, to a certain degree, is correctable. But if you come across somebody that’s just a really gnarly, nasty person, they would say that they have black stomach.
RG: I like that.
MB: Yeah. And they don’t have to be…
RG: …like it being in people, but I like the terminology of it.
MB: Yeah. Well, I think it’s a very unique but very authentic way to hammer that out in two words.
RG: Yeah, black stomach.
MB: Black stomach.
RG: Stay away.
MB: Yeah. And if somebody is moderately bad, they probably have tan stomach, or something mauve stomach.
RG: Maybe they might introduce you, “Former black stomach but now golden.”
RG: I don’t know.
MB: Yeah. Yeah, man. Yeah.
MB: Whatever. So we’re talking about stuff.
RG: We are, but we want to talk about you, how you got here.
MB: Well, I feel very uncomfortable now. How I got here?
RG: Not so much how you…
MB: …picked me up at the airport.
RG: … physically got here. But more or less your journey.
MB: Wow, man.
RG: Can I start you off with an idea?
MB: Oh, okay, jumpstart me.
RG: You’re a Marine veteran…
MB: That’s true.
RG: … and you entered into the military at a young age, and you said it was because you noticed that your life needed to take a change of course.
RG: Tell me what influenced that change of course, because that takes a lot of wisdom to know that you need to do that, and I think that’s a life changing moment?
MB: Well, a lot of things that I do and have done have all been piloted by “belly radar,” right?
RG: Piloted by what?
MB: Belly radar, internal radar, right?
RG: Belly radar, okay, gut instinct.
MB: I think that that decision was made, maybe by my future self, right, or the future self that I could be if I aggressively altered my course. I had identified that I just needed to pull the ejector lever on where I was, an aggressive rerouting, rechanneling immediately. Do not pass go.
RG: What was the vision that made you think you needed to pull the ejector? Did it just happen to you at once, or did it build, or… Tell me more about that?
MB: I mean, it’s just I think living… Well, as I said earlier, a younger version of myself… When we were talking about the whole gratitude for family and whatnot, the aforementioned younger version of myself that did not fear, and in fact, I think in many cases welcomed death at that time… Very immature to do that, by the way, what a waste, what a waste of life, right? But when you’re young and angry and you’ve got a bunch of things going on, this just seems the fuck it… Can I say F?
MB: Fuck. I have to clear my throat… Fuck. It’s very nice. So I think that living with a very negative mindset and acting that out physically, I knew I wasn’t heading in a good direction, and there was going to be brevity to either my life physically or freedom wise, I don’t know how to put that. So I made the choice to eject from that, man. I really never looked back, until somewhat recently, I never really looked over my shoulder, I…
RG: What caused you to look back recently?
MB: A couple things, man. Obviously, family. Getting to the 40-year mark has been cause for some reflection. Setting up a home base close to the family, and picking up on some of the embers of a life that used to be via that process, all are cause for thought, right? So, that’s why, I guess.
RG: That’s awesome.
MB: Yeah. Have I said enough?
RG: You’ve always said enough.
MB: Have I not said enough?
RG: This is your story, man. You’ve always said enough.
MB: I’m so grateful that I made that decision. The Marine Corps changed my life, right?
MB: And actually, in many ways, primed me for the entrepreneurial journey that was ahead, unknowingly, completely unknowingly. Because there is no try, right? There’s only do. I should have listened to Yoda, I could have skipped the whole four years of pain. But I’m very glad… I will forever be grateful that I made that decision, I’m glad I did it. But it wasn’t for me long term, either. I would always congratulate friends and guys that I served with because there were some guys, even at a young age, that decided to re-enlist, and they had found what they really wanted to do with themselves at such an early age, and it made sense for them, right? So I’d always congratulate them, because I felt that they were way ahead of the game. And now, being 40 years old, all those guys that stayed in have already retired and are moving on to a second career with a pension, with the… You know?
RG: Sure, yeah.
MB: So it’s good for them. Good for them.
RG: Obviously, military… When I think of people who come from military, I think they have a lot of drive, ambition, strength, direction, dedication, affirmation, but those attributes and affirmations that make up who you are, what do you think are maybe one of the best attributes that attributed to your success in life?
MB: Are we doing this?
MB: I felt like I was… I felt like I was aggressing your microphone for a minute. I want to chill.
RG: You can pull it closer.
MB: Vincent Vega. Okay. So you sit before you, you sit with me, I sit before you as one of the most stubborn people you have ever met in your life, 100%.
RG: You’re one of the most stubborn people?
MB: That you have ever met, I guarantee, I guarantee.
MB: It’s part of my genetic fabric. But there are a lot of things that you’re born with that are part of your genetic tapestry, and you can either succumb to them, and they can be an encumbrance, or you can learn how to leverage them and weaponize them sometimes to your advantage.
RG: That’s a good point.
MB: And that’s the chief ingredient to the recipe of my success. Of course, I don’t want to use the word success too flippantly right now. But if you’re talking about what got us here, my business should have failed 100 times over, it was never… Knowing what I know now, in terms of having to fumble my way into a more executive position, and provide oversight for our company and companies and direct, knowing what I know now, surrounding business from practical application should have never worked. Never. Right?
RG: What were some of those things that made you feel like, hey, this isn’t going to work out.
MB: No, I never felt like it wasn’t going to work out. I always knew it was and I was going to make it work. But I’m saying if you scripted this and you sat down with the… I don’t know, like Rodney Dangerfield. What was it, Old School? What was the thing where he went and taught kids in a business course in college, but he was an accomplished entrepreneur? It was ’80s movie? Do we know this movie? We know this movie. I know you know this movie. It’s Old School, it is… Is it Old School?
Froman: Back to School.
MB: Back to School?
RG: Old School? Back to School?
MB: We’re going to look it up.
RG: Is it School of Rock?
RG: That was Jack Black.
MB: The premise of the show was Rodney Dangerfield was this accomplished businessman, an entrepreneur, and… What?
MB: Back to School.
RG: Back to School.
MB: Probably picked it up one Friday night on VHS cassette from the local mom and pop rental spot and shove that into the gaping orifice of my video recording and playback device, and watch this gentleman who is a seasoned operator, schooling kids that were learning, very formed, and probably idealistic lessons about business. Now granted, someday, when I actually have the fucking time, I would actually like to go and attend business courses, because I’d like to see what I missed out on on some of the fundamentals, if I missed anything, or how they teach it and how it works, or how it’s taught versus how it works, right? But…
RG: Do you think that you can really learn business? Or is it more through experience?
MB: I think you can learn anything to a degree. And then I think that there are other things that are unlearnable that you either have or you don’t have, and they can completely be elements in the raw within you that are honed and polished, right, through trial, right, through action. So I think that, for me, whatever I had, worked, right? I made it work, and still make it work.
RG: So when you say…
MB: Allegedly. Am I making this work?
RG: Oh, yeah.
MB: Kind of. Ipso facto.
RG: So you said you make it work and you never felt like there was a moment where this wasn’t going to work.
MB: No, because I was going to do it.
RG: So there weren’t any…
MB: That was it.
RG: … red lights that made you think, “This is it for Matt Booth. I can’t go any further, I’m stuck.”
MB: No. Okay, perfect example. 2008, which we find ourselves in a very interesting time right now, specifically as it relates to consumer behavior. Because my opinion is that people are spending in a way that they haven’t spent since prior to 2008. Consumption of merchandise, right?
MB: On all levels, all classes of goods, and it’s scalable from someone buying an extra box or a nicer box of cigars to someone buying their family Rolex presents because last year couldn’t take them on the cruise to Capri, right? It would be nice, right?
RG: Right, right.
MB: Fuck, we got to get that Capri cheddar. I don’t mean the short pants either. You know what I mean? So what was I talking about? Jump start me, man.
RG: You were talking about not ever feeling like you were stuck.
MB: Oh, right. In 2008, the game plan was I had been taking my products to market, I was focused on selling our bespoke-made jewelry products as fashion accessory to higher end specialty boutiques, and setting up a core foundation of distribution around the country where we would have, say, one location per city, right? Very intimate, very intelligently placed. The script would allow for, say, one placement in a fine jewelry store and one placement in a fashion boutique, because they would sell different levels of our collections. And many times to different consumers or even if it was the same consumer, they would have a different mindset walking into one door versus the other, right? And when the economy crashed in 2008, which is always interesting to me, because the world refers to it as the global financial crisis. But we refer to it as our financial crisis, right?
MB: Oh, my God. I’m so sorry. I thought I turned that off. Junior move, bro. Okay. Probably important. So all of my accounts went out of business. We had been building this specialty store foundation, because the next stage was department store. You build the foundation, build a solid foundation, build the notoriety around the name, build the equity in the name, get the product flowing, and then department store one would be the next target, right? And roundabouts there in Matt Booth’s Room101 timeline, the global financial or American financial crisis occurs, right? All of my accounts either went out of business or stopped paying their bills.
RG: Oh, man.
MB: At once.
RG: So what did that do?
MB: Within a week, within two weeks, it was over.
RG: What went through your head?
MB: Even my specialty customers. I mean, we had a lot of custom projects. I mean, my factory was full of several custom commissions every month. Well, at that time, I was always already gaining entree into this industry, and I was somewhat being ushered in on the coattails of the equity that I already built in our existing brand, and our cult followership, the community, the Conspiracy that was Room101 and Room101-ophiles, if you will. And I popped my head in here and began to build Room101 Cigars. I stepped from door A, which is engulfed in flames and falling behind me, and I step into the tobacco dome. And it’s as if there’s no crisis at all. There’s healthy business…
RG: You saw a polar difference in 2008 between…
MB: It was as if it wasn’t occurring.
RG: Why is that?
MB: People were spending, there was healthy business here, there was tremendous opportunity for growth. And what was occurring was the birth, if you will, of a new niche segment of this market, which was the boutique segment or crash segment of the market, right? We dovetailed directly into that, and caught a second wind with our branded business. So what was, at the time, believed to be a shrewd and strategic move to add this additional lifestyle category to our branded lineup became the new pulse of our branded business, right? While the other area continued to restructure, rebuild, marinate, people were licking their wounds, right? Although we never really saw spending come back…
RG: In the store section?
MB: I mean, we didn’t and we didn’t. It was just never as much of a free for all as it was. Actually, one of my first official account was a family-owned business here, family-owned specialty store called Elton’s named after the father Elton, piloted by his son Scott. They were the only account that survived 2008, they completely pivoted, they restructured the type of merchandise they sold, they catered to a different clientele or to a different spending appetite for some time. I mean, that account, their store… I remember vividly back in the day there was this LA-based brand called Great China Wall. At the time, super cool. Looking back, you’re like, “It’s a bit much.” But, I mean, these… Do you remember Great China Wall, Froman?
F: What’s that?
MB: Great China Wall, the brand?
MB: Okay, so $4,500 hoodie.
RG: Oh, wow.
MB: Oh, yeah.
MB: They’d sell a couple of months out of their store which was in the shopping area of the Mandalay. They’d sell several of our large necklace kits which were completely unnatural to be sold in a clothing store. They were excessive items, right? So they would sell high ticket items out of that store. People will come to Vegas, get kitted up, go out on the town, like the whole deal, right? In fact, if you want to think about the human psyche in the spending, so in the end of 2008, everything was fucked, it was decimated. The day of New Year’s Eve, is traditionally that store’s largest sales day of the year. This is the biggest day for spending in their store. With the economy burning, we set an all-time sales record for jewelry sales in their store the day of New Year’s Eve, as well as they set an overall store record, right?
MB: The next year, their register on that day did not ring one time, and they officially went into survival more.
RG: Why is that?
MB: Well, because human nature is like… I imagine everybody said, “Fuck it. We’re going to go out and go hard one last time. And then we’re just going to figure it out after the fact.” Right? And so…
RG: So even though the pending doom of the global financial crisis hit, they think, “Well, I’m going to go ball it up one more time.”
MB: Let’s go out and get it one last time before we really have to start figuring shit out, right?
RG: So then in 2009 it was like crickets.
MB: Yeah. Because everybody had long since been home licking their wounds, trying to figure out what they were going to do. And at that time, we were beginning to go full steam into premium tobacco as a brand. So I never thought, even with all that impending doom, I never thought for a minute that it wasn’t going to work out. I was just following… You a Michael Jackson fan?
RG: Oh, yeah.
MB: You know the Billie Jean video?
MB: You know how the tiles of the sidewalk light up?
MB: I just follow those tiles.
MB: Right? And I was being guided into this other space. And instead of Braveheart style, fighting it out in those trenches, I was afforded the opportunity to build our brand an entirely new category and breathe life, new life into our brand as a whole. So I never really thought it wasn’t going to work out.
RG: Awesome. I like the conviction…
MB: Long winded?
RG: No. Love it. Great stories.
MB: How aroused are you speaking to me right now?
RG: I wouldn’t give that the term that I’m currently feeling.
MB: He plays it cool, he does. He’s a cool operator. He was an undertaker so he can keep it super level. It’s okay. I know.
RG: On that jewelry business front, I love the… Coming up in the thriving silver scene, the way you explain it, there’s this desire in, what was this, the ’90s? So accessorize was silver, it was the hottest thing to have.
MB: Well, that’s when that industry had a boom, basically, right?
RG: So that’s kind of the genesis of Room101 is you’re seeing the silver artists making craft silverwork. And what drew you into that, that it was so drawing that you were like, “I got to be a part of this.”
MB: I was obsessed with it, man. I would see that style floating around Hollywood and I realized I was going to pursue it in a more serious fashion when… Okay, so I come up with a lot of my ideas when I’m going to sleep. And I think it has something to do with the fact that I’m beginning to separate from consciousness a little bit, and a little bit of control is… And there’s relief from whatever was inundating my mind throughout the day.
RG: Your stubborn brain relieves itself.
MB: And so this is when I’d come up with a lot of my song ideas, right? Get up…
RG: Because you’re a musician.
MB: … write it down, record it, whatever I got to do, because in the morning, it’ll be gone. And I realized that in that moment, I was starting to get up and chart jewelry designs and concepts for collections.
RG: Just on your own with no training? You just thought…
MB: Because I was becoming obsessed with it. So that was really the moment where I realized like, “Hey, maybe I should do something with this?” Froman, you got to get the pics for social. Daddy needs his Instagram. Oh, my God, I’m so delinquent on Instagram.
RG: I have to admit, as a young man, it wasn’t very popular to be obsessed about jewelry and accessories, but I was. So that silver scene that you’re talking about, I remember it because it was everywhere, and I was constantly trying to consume something to accessorize myself and express myself in that manner. It wasn’t widely popular for men to wear jewelry in the 90s.
MB: Correct. But it was rockstar. This was a different thing. This wasn’t just jewelry…
RG: Your jewelry was cool, but the jewelry… I’m going to Claire’s Boutique where it’s set up for women, you know what I’m saying?
MB: Understood, I get it, I get it. You got to drape like 10 of the chains to… I got you.
RG: Yeah, and my wrists are already tiny enough. So it’s like, “Do you have this in an extra, extra small?”
MB: But similar to this world, which we’re both very familiar with, that world had this very small community of designers, right, figureheads, and each one of them very similar, not so much now, but in the beginning when you look at the cast of characters that was piloting the initial wave of boutique brands, every individual is very different and their brand was very different in a sense that it was authentic to them, right? The brands were actually just like… I feel more so that they’re tributes to the craft, right? This is my interpretation, this is my rendition of this thing that I love, right? And it looks like me.
MB: And very similar, in that world, there was an even smaller cast of characters that were piloting these brands. I followed them, I admired them, wanted to be like them, dreamt that I could do something along those lines, but with my own twist and none of them had really done full… I mean, they were lifestyle collections, but they were solely tethered to that spine of silver and then maybe some leather work, whatever. But they didn’t tread into tobacco, into fragrance, into eyewear, into alcohol. And I wanted to have this fully comprehensive lifestyle collection that was Los Angeles flavor, but that also paid homage to, say, Dunhill of 1962 at the same time. That was the idea, right?
RG: That’s awesome.
MB: Yeah. Am I getting off track? Am I doing you proud?
RG: No. You’re doing great.
MB: I get so nervous, Rob.
RG: But with the cachet of celebrities that you have fitted out with jewelry and custom work, I mean, the list, this is a small representation, the list is huge. You got Busta Rhymes, Snoop Dogg, Guy Fieri, Dee Snider, Ice-T, Chad OchoCinco and Slash. I mean, these people come from all sectors of celebrities. You’re not catering to one type of celebrity, these people are coming at you from all angles.
RG: Which project was your most fun and exciting to work on?
MB: I think one of the coolest things that we made was a leather carrying case for Slash’s top hat. And we made…
RG: A leather carrying case for his top hat.
MB: His assistant approached me and Slash is very unassuming if he’s not geared up, he’s just a rock guy…
RG: Yeah, the top hat makes it.
MB: … big hair, Adidas track pants walking through the airport. I mean, only those that really, really know, right?
RG: I can see that.
MB: But the hat, if he’s carrying that fucking hat, everybody… They’re like hair, hat, hair, hat, Slash. So the idea was, of course, what do you get for the guy that has everything or could get everything? They wanted some sort of concealment carrying case for the hat.
RG: Oh, so he didn’t want to show it off. So he could go incognito.
MB: Yeah. And Plus, he’s got to carry it in his hand. He wanted something where it would protect it a bit. And we built this thing, we built balsa wood frame. I mean, this was done the way a hat box would have been made in 1920, the way they don’t make them anymore, right?
RG: Yeah. True bespoke hat box.
MB: Yeah. Italian leather, custom sterling silver fittings. I even made… The shoulder strap was attached to it with Schaller strap locks. So I mean, I’m sure he never used it that way, but you could remove it from the case and use it as a guitar strap. It’s just more of a linking it to him kind of thing. That was always one of my favorite projects, because it was so unique. And it really was an opportunity to flex what exactly we could do, because I’d made a ton of bracelets for a ton of people, and I love doing it, but this wasn’t just another bracelet. This was something that was truly one of a kind, full bespoke construction and served a purpose. It was also very functional.
RG: Right. And it allowed him an opportunity to be more, dare I say, normal.
RG: Covert. I like that.
MB: Yeah. I’ve never made a practice of chasing after celebrity endorsement for our brand, although many brands are built on this. And so if you really examine the cast of characters that supported us over the years, a lot of them… Evan Seinfeld likes to say, “They’re just the real motherfuckers.” That’s how he says it. He says, “The guys support your brand, yeah, they have fame, and they’re known. But they’re also…” It’s not like we’re trying to broker some sort of endorsement deal with George Clooney or something like that.
RG: No, they want to wear this.
MB: By the way, I’m not shy. George, call your boy. But at the same time, we work with people that I think far more appreciate what we do, and it’s not looked at as some sort of business transactional thing.
RG: You’re not buying them to wear it. They want to wear it. They want to have that, that is an expression of who they are.
RG: That’s the most genuine way to get an endorsement. I think that’s wise.
MB: I mean, look, Guy, I’ve known him for over 15 years. We met after he won his first Food Network competition show, and I made him the first bracelet that I made for him at that time. And in the years to follow, I’m sure he has been approached by many, many a designer after the fame came, and many people…
RG: Hey, wear my stuff, wear my stuff.
MB: … many people he turned away. Now, his content of character, I think, is uncommon with many people, right? He’s a really solid guy. Basically the sentiment was, you were there before all that, and so now, you’re my boy, I’m going to honor that. But now I’m famous and maybe this can shed some new light, more people can discover what you do through me. And he’s expressed that sentiment to me many times.
RG: I like how Guy turned down people that were just trying to get their product on him for exposure. Has there ever been an opportunity where you’ve turned down a piece because you just didn’t think it was the right fit?
MB: Off the top of my head, I can’t think of one. I can’t think of one. And I know that a lot of people like to… And I guess it is interesting, right? And it adds some color and flavor to what it is that we do and many people validate any brand by the famous people that wear it, not by the merit of the product. I mean, this is just kind of human nature, I think, with consumables. I far more enjoy making things for people that are the working guy or gal that want to invest in their dream piece, right? And whether that’s a ring, bracelet, something crazy, custom, anything in between, those are the real MVPs to me, and they’re all part of our family, man. I mean, every person that I’ve ever made a custom piece for somehow, some way becomes a friend. It’s a very intimate process.
RG: Yeah, explain that, though.
MB: Well, I mean, first of all, I’m not the only person that does what I do. I’m the only person that does what I do the way that I do it. But that could be said for a myriad of other folks, right? So something I’m doing resonates deeply enough where they pursue my product, my brand, like they’re aligning themselves with us, right? So there’s already a shared frequency in some respect there, right? And so the process of building a custom, yeah, I’m taking direction from them, but at the same time, a lot of what I build for people comes from my feeling about them. And every custom piece I’ve done consistently becomes my favorite thing that I’ve made, right? I tend to do my best work for other people.
RG: That’s awesome.
MB: Or when the atmosphere is at that level of intimacy, and there’s a heightened level of importance, right, that this is going to be their piece. And we don’t replicate anything we make on that level for anyone else, unless it’s sanctioned by the owner or they want to get one for their buddy or whatever, of course, I mean, it’s basically their property. I make it for them.
RG: That’s so interesting. That intimate level and that inspiration that you carry, when you get new pieces, is that what kind of keeps you going? Is it nice to get new pieces that make you go, “Oh, yeah, this is why I do this.”
MB: Look, designing, the commercial aspect of what we do is to support the vice of design. The creative portion of everything that I do is my favorite part of everything. Similar to blend composition, series construction and structure, packaging design in this world and so on. That’s my favorite part.
RG: Sure. Making it is your favorite part.
MB: 100%. Froman, how’s my posture?
F: It’s good.
MB: Oh, my god. Is it better this way? Is it better this way? Is it better this way? Is it better this way? Is this better? Froman, wait, be honest. Hold on. Is this a good look for me? No? Okay, it’s good. Oh, my God.
RG: So I got to talk about a urinal cake.
RG: Sorry, pad.
MB: Actually, a mouse pad.
RG: Urinal cake is way better sounding.
MB: Yeah, well, I mean, I want to do the cakes too.
RG: There’s a difference?
MB: Absolutely, there’s a… Okay, okay, let’s back up.
RG: School me up on these urinal things.
MB: Urinal pad, okay, is just a flat pad, sometimes scented, many times perforated to allow for flow of product, and many times it can be adorned with graphics, right? A cake is an actual hockey puck-esque form of deodorized material that disintegrates on contact with warm liquids.
RG: Okay, so… All right…
MB: It off puts the scent.
RG: Thank you for the education. Appreciate that.
MB: It’s my pleasure.
RG: So we have a urinal pad. You have changed the game of marketing. Not only cigars…
MB: Mom’s proud.
RG: … but just anything. And the fact that you have a urinal pad that people covet so much that they pull out of the bathroom, rinse off in the sink…
MB: Yes. It has been witnessed. Yeah.
RG: What do you feel when something like that happens? Are you just flabbergasted?
MB: So as I am unschooled in the ways, but wise in the ways in many ways at the same time, I defer to my beautiful wife, Pterodactyl Boo, Nikki Covington, because she’s a psychotherapist, trained. And so when I know that I’m leveraging some sort of psychological fuckology to market my products, I turn to her and I say, “Okay, so textbook, what am I doing right now? Because I know this works. And I know it’s going to work. And I could piece together why it’s going to work in my own words, but textbook me, what is this that I’m doing?” And then she’ll say…
RG: And that’s your wife that tells you that?
MB: Yeah. And she’ll say, “Well, actually, what you’re doing is you’re leveraging this trigger more than likely from their childhood.” And she dissects mechanically from an educated standpoint what I’m doing and why it works.
RG: That’s why you’re dangerous.
MB: Well, I just know that it works and I intuitively do what I do…
RG: Pulling those levers over there.
MB: Yeah man. But she gives me some confirmation.
RG: We’re going to pull this lever right now.
MB: I said, “What is the most intimate moment a man can have with himself?”
RG: You think that’s it?
MB: I must advertise while his mind is open. Do you know what micturition syncope is?
RG: Micturition what?
RG: It sounds..
MB: So syncope is to faint, okay?
RG: Syncope, to faint.
MB: Syncope is faint, right? To lose consciousness.
RG: So micturate is to pee.
MB: That’s correct. It’s a very fancy word to take a piss. So when you urinate, my dear friend Boveda Rob, psychologically, you might think that you’re pushing, you might feel like you’re pushing fluid, but what you’re really doing is your mind is telling your unit to loosen muscles that are containing this fluid in your body and allowing it to leave you, okay? So there’s something very intimate going on in your mind while you’re conducting this activity. Now, this is funny with the way that I’m describing it, I get it, ha ha. But this is also very serious, because I said, “What’s one of the most intimate moments that my customers could be having with themselves that I could saunter into for a moment, at that moment, and strike at their soft underbelly of consciousness?” And I said, “Well, obviously, when they’re taking a piss, so I have to make urinal screens.” And it worked.
RG: Yes, it did.
MB: And if anyone ever does that, you bit my style and you know you did. You’re not giving me credit for half this shit that’s on this trade show floor, but you’re not taking that. I own the bathroom game in this business. I’m sorry, I get very defensive.
RG: That’s all right. Because it’s fun to pioneer new ways to approach marketing and reaching a customer base. So I applaud you for saying, “Yes, I thought outside the box on that one.” Well, look, man, everything we’ve ever done has been via guerrilla tactic, has been grassroots. I have self-funded my business through the entire history of my business. So everything, whereas…
MB: Wait a minute, I thought you had other investors.
MB: But I thought I heard you on another podcast saying like, you have other investors and you wanted them to feel secure, so you were trying to get on more podcasts? Did I misinterpret?
RG: I don’t believe I ever said that. I have several partners in my business that help me pilot different categories, help me manage.
MB: Maybe that’s what you were referring to is like… Because somebody said to you, like, “Hey, I wish Matt Booth would have been on the last eight podcasts that I just listened to.” That’s the reference of the story I’m talking about and I thought you had said, “I wanted them to feel comfortable investing in me. So that’s why I took it.” But that’s not…
RG: No, I think if I was talking about investment, I think I was talking… I believe I remember what you’re talking about, and I believe I was referring to our retail partner’s investment into our brand…
RG: … by supporting our brand, putting our brand on their shelves.
MB: It’s the retailers that you were listening to and they were saying, “I would like to see you on more podcasts.”
RG: It was a retailer that said that. It was Ronnie Haisha, Secreto Cigar Bar Detroit, Michigan. Thank you, shout out. He said that to me. Can I do malicious promotion?
RG: Okay, good, good.
MB: So he had actually mentioned that to me, said, “I wish this Matt Booth had been on the last eight podcasts that I’ve listened to.”
RG: Okay. My apologies.
MB: No, no, no.
RG: I thought you were solely on your own, doing your own thing, and I thought it was very uncharacteristic, but I thought, “I don’t know. I don’t know what it takes to run a huge business like yours.
MB: Let’s not get carried away with huge, but we’re getting there.
RG: It’s a big business, man.
MB: Well, look, man, it’s… But everyone that deals with us and supports us is making an investment into our branded products and into their stores. As with many small businesses if you deal with… There are much larger companies that mine that have a cadre of employees and executives and marketing directors and they can take shots at you all day. They can spray machine gunfire with an endless supply of ammunition, seemingly endless, right? And in my position, I can’t shoot and miss once ever. If I shoot and miss once, we pay for that. I pay for it, my family pays for it, our brand family pays for it.
RG: Have you ever shot missed? Where you kind of felt the sting in the payment that you had to make.
MB: One of my greatest assets and follies at the same time is my honesty.
RG: Your honesty?
MB: And navigating business dealings. I think that wearing your heart on your sleeve in an environment that’s safe, can become a phenomenal asset, because you are being authentic in the moment and to your partners or potential partners. Wearing your heart on your sleeve when you’re swimming in a kiddie pool that has two sharks in it, and you’ve effectively strapped raw steaks to your body can be a very different thing. I’m not going to say I’ve shot and missed, there are definitely ways that I would have managed, as our business grew, different business dealings. I mean, at the end of the day, I’ve always had things buttoned up in a way where we shall survive, obviously. We wouldn’t be sitting here today if I hadn’t. But at the same time, I’ve gone up to bat with Goliath many a time, right? Because I think of that unbridled honesty, that stance that I can’t seem to break myself from taking, we’ve suffered a bit because of that.
RG: You just said something really interesting where I was like, I’ve always made sure that if I shot and missed, it wasn’t going to break me. But as an entrepreneurial, or as an entrepreneur, they always say that you have to risk a lot in order to make it.
MB: Of course, I risk every day.
RG: But I mean, as far as like some people’s stories are so risky that they’re like, “I had $15 in the bank, I had no idea if I was even going to make it. But yet, I still did it. I went out, and I spent $5,000 on my website, instead of paying my mortgage.” Were there times in your career that you had to do those types of things…
RG: … where you could have lost it all?
MB: Well, I mean, on paper I could have, but the difference between everybody else’s story that does that and mine is that I was the one piloting my ship at that time.
RG: But they were too, right? They’re entrepreneurs.
MB: Yeah, but I have a superpower of being honest with myself, right? I’m not I’m not drunk on my own Kool-Aid, right?
MB: So what’s up, boss? Get in the action, bro. No? Okay, come back. So I hear about people making these decisions, and I’m like, “Man, you dummy. You didn’t have what it takes. Be honest with yourself.” I imagine our boy, Rodney Dangerfield, when he went into that classroom, he could have said, “Okay, 5 people out of this group of 100 actually have what it takes.” So we could start there, right? If you don’t have certain components, constitution, right, and drive, and a little bit of sense, I guess… Of course, you have to continually beat the sensibility away with a stick when you’re an entrepreneur because you have to keep fighting, right? You have to keep going, right? But a lot of people I think fail because of themselves, because they never had what… they really didn’t have what it takes, and they’re chasing this dream, but they don’t have the meat and potatoes to back it up.
RG: What does it take?
MB: Well, like I said, you have to be one of the most stubborn people you’ve ever come across in your life.
RG: So even if it is…
MB: I’ve been ramming my mouth into a drinking fountain for almost 20 years, someday I’m going to break through it. Either my jowls are going to give way completely or I will go through the fountain and through the wall. Jowls? He’s soft on that one.
RG: So you think the stubbornness makes it?
MB: Jawline. Cock holster. Bingo.
RG: The stubbornness makes it for you.
MB: For me. And look, someone else’s key ingredient could be different, right?
RG: Is it because you’re just going to say, “Okay, roadblock here. I’m going to figure out a way to get around it.”
MB: Yeah. Every day.
RG: That’s like tenacity.
MB: Well, there you go. Perseverance pays.
MB: And it’s the only way I can describe it.
RG: To me that’s a common trait of people who have been in the military.
MB: Well, like I said, man, there’s only to do, and you’re the only one that’s going to do it.
RG: Because even the Marines are very, or special forces, they’re very like… Even if I can get like a little bit of an edge to get me to the next two hours or three hours or the next sun up, anything I can do to get a little bit of an edge. What are you looking for in an edge constantly?
MB: I’m sorry, I was thinking about something pornographic. Still thinking about that. It’s a delightful thought actually. What am I looking for? I mean, I got to be honest with you, man, I don’t take a lot of time to look…
RG: No, what are you…
MB: … around. I mean, I’m always face forward.
RG: But the urinal cake is a perfect example that you looked at, and you said, “This is going to give me an edge.”
MB: It felt right.
RG: So what are the things… How do you find those edges that you want to pursue and grab onto them?
MB: I have a Rolodex of these things in my mind, and I don’t know why it’s there, but I know how to access it. Does that make sense? Sales is psychology, right? And this is a very human business, which I think is why we’ve actually done, I mean, allegedly, well, in this business, is because it’s a very human business, a very heart and soul driven business. Almost heart and soul come before business in many instances in this industry, right? And I believe that that, because I’m a heart and soul driven individual, I think that that’s why I’ve been able to stake my claim to a little kernel of the market share in this world, and I think somewhat permanently. Least that would be the hope.
MB: I’ll keep you posted on how that works out.
RG: I do have to talk about the ’54 Kustom Chevy.
MB: Okay. I’d be delighted.
RG: You’ve tried to explain this to me before, but I don’t think I fully grasp it, but I can see it.
RG: What does Kustom mean in that world when you’re looking at reshaping that ’54 Chevy? You say it’s a Kustom, not a Hot Rod.
MB: Yeah, of course. Absolutely.
RG: And I don’t understand that, so you got to enlighten me.
MB: Hot Rods. Phew. See, there’s another… You can get him that picture later.
RG: Oh, I know.
MB: Wait. what happened? Oh, I missed… Oh, my God, it’s right there. Yeah, that’s a Hot Rod. That car, that style, that’s a Hot Rod.
RG: That’s a Hot Rod.
MB: … like a Street Rod, Hot Rod. My car is technically considered a mild Kustom, because there are very mild customizations that have been done to it. The deletion of some trim…
RG: Got it.
MB: … these things, it’s not this fully… It doesn’t have frenched headlights and all this more extravagant sheet metal body work done to it, but it’s mild Kustom.
RG: So then what is a Hot Rod, just putting new paint on it and…
MB: No, man, I mean, they’re done in that style. Typically, they focus on using a certain base vehicle, right, that we don’t necessarily use in our world, right? And the outcome is different, a Hot Rod to me is loud and fast and both loud and sounded loud in appearance. It’s American Graffiti. Those are Hot Rods.
RG: Got it.
MB: Street Rod, Hot Rod, right?
RG: Thank you.
RG: But Kustom.
MB: Kustom is something cooler. Now, full Kustom… And it’s Kustom with a K, mind you. And this is just another interpretation of the vehicle, right? I remember falling in love with what I didn’t understand at the time, but now I do, was Kustom vehicles. When I first moved to Hollywood, I lived at the corner of Melrose in El Centro, in a very delightful part of town in East Hollywood. Froman, you’re probably very familiar with that area. My apartment complex has long since been bulldozed and turned into something far more shiny than when I was getting mold poisoning living in it.
MB: But I would drive down the block past Bob Roberts Spotlight Tattoo every day, block away, block and a half away from my crib. And there was this gentleman that worked in there named Baby Ray. A legend. Legend from Venice, Los Angeles guy. And he had the illest, the meanest cars I had ever seen. He had a black ’54 Chevy, mine’s a hardtop, it was a post sedan, and it was always kind of felony stop parked out in front of the tattoo shop and I would make a point to go that way…
RG: To look at it.
MB: … and break my neck looking at this car. Ultimately ended up meeting him, getting tattooed by him, all that stuff, and driving that car to Stir Crazy to get him coffee. You know what that is, Froman? He’s like, “Go down and get me the…” I’m like, “God, dear God.”
RG: Wait, how did you get an opportunity to drive his car?
MB: Well, he sent me to get coffee for him when he was going to tattoo me.
RG: Okay, so you walk in there, you get a tattoo and the guy says, “Go get me coffee.”
MB: No, I mean, after he’d been tattooing me for a while.
RG: So how long are you hanging around this guy?
MB: A couple months.
RG: A couple months. You just kind of like…
MB: He sent me to get coffee in this car.
RG: Well, you go into the…
MB: Dear God.
RG: … tattoo shop, and do you just get a tattoo right away? …just start building that relationship? Or did you just start hanging out with him and just drinking coffee and…
MB: No, no, man. I mean, I went in to get tattooed and found him there, and he ended up starting to tattoo me. Yeah. And then I would have to come back and come back…
RG: Did you just keep getting more and more tattoos to build that relationship up?
MB: No, I mean, I kept getting tattoos to get the tattoos. The relationship was a byproduct of that, right?
RG: So then this relationship forms and he hands you the keys to his ’54 Kustom to go get coffee.
MB: Go get me coffee. Yes.
RG: And you’re about flipping out.
RG: What’s going through your head?
MB: Now, that car is actually a famous car because Baby Ray later sold that car to Jesse James. And that car, you would now know it, was on the AutoZone commercials with Jesse James back in the day. That’s that car. That’s that black ’54 Chevy. Yeah, that was originally Baby Ray’s car.
RG: So what are you thinking as your start this car up, like, “Good Lord, please don’t let me scrape it.”
MB: Well, yeah, absolutely. But also at the same time thinking I’m desperately in love with this thing, there’s something about this that is so captivating to me. I could never dream of affording something like this or having something like this for myself, of course. But how fucking rad, man. And from there I fell in love.
RG: But now you have one.
MB: Yes, I do.
RG: So now your dream came true.
MB: You know, in a roundabout way, yes, it did.
RG: And why did you paint it silver and not black?
MB: I’m going to paint the next one black.
RG: The next one.
RG: All right.
RG: But what made you go silver?
MB: Silver was more fitting for that car. It was originally silver, or like the 30th coat of paint on it as I got it was silver, and I thought it was pretty in silver.
RG: Good. You fell in love with the silver.
MB: Yeah, I like the silver.
RG: I think it’s gorgeous.
MB: Yeah, we repainted it, but…
RG: Oftentimes you’re seen in the car with your son Grayson.
RG: What does that mean for you to go on a car ride with Grayson?
MB: Oh, it’s the best, man. It’s the best. Pick him up from school. I pick him up from school in that car, he sits in the back like this, and he points to his friends… His friends are like, “Oh…” And he’s like… You know.
RG: Points to them, winking at them.
MB: Yeah, it’s cool. It’s super cool. Someday it’ll be his car.
RG: That’s awesome.
MB: Gives me an excuse to get another one.
RG: Yeah, right. What a cool thing to pass on.
MB: I can borrow his car.
RG: Matt, I appreciate it. This has been a really fun conversation.
MB: Is that it? Is it over?
RG: Do you want it to be over or do you want to keep going? Have you got more to talk about?
MB: I mean, I always have stuff that falls out of my mouth. But I guess we’re in a good place. We covered a lot.
RG: The what?
MB: Oh, the edging? That’ll be the next interview. Yeah. It’s a fantastic practice. I highly recommend it.
RG: What’s the edging?
MB: We’ll get into that later? Don’t you worry. I mean, not us together. Whatever, maybe. I mean, who knows? I don’t know if you’re into Boveda Rod. I mean, it’s Vegas.
RG: Steve has a lot of knowledge of the underworld that I don’t.
MB: Yeah, he does, clearly.
RG: And he throws things out there. And I clearly am very naive.
MB: It’s a thing.
RG: It’s a thing. I don’t know this thing.
MB: Well, stop by the booth, I’ll show you later.
RG: Matt, I appreciate you.
MB: No man, I appreciate you. Thanks for the time. If people didn’t care enough about what we were doing to ask me questions, I’d be out of business. So thank you.
RG: And as always, if you need anything from Boveda, go over to bovedainc.com. If you enjoyed this conversation with Matt Booth, like it, subscribe, there’s more coming your way. We appreciate you and thank you for joining us.
MB: Boveda, keep it moist.
RG: We’re going to use that.
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- ’54 Kustom Chevy (1:02:11)