Voice Over (VO): 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 out fishing with Jeff Haugen from Crux Cigars.
Jeff Haugen (JH): Hello, hello.
Rob Gagner (RG): We are going to have a good episode of Box Press today, but fair warning for all of you listening out on podcast land, you might wanna switch over to YouTube because right now we got fish on the line. No, I’m just kidding. We’re … We got lines in and we’re gonna try to catch fish. But it’s gonna be a cool episode where we possibly might catch a great Northern or a Muskie. Now, we’re actually just bask fishing. Ooh, II felt something. Oh, anyways—
RG: … stay tune. We might catch a fish. All right, Jeff, I gotta ask, what’s the best way to start the day?
JH: Best way to start my day?
JH: I start every day with a cup of Baileys and coffee.
JH: Every day.
RG: Baileys and coffee.
JH: Baileys and coffee, that’s how I start my day.
JH: Kinda coast my palate, and then I go for an Epicure, Crux Epicure.
JH: That’s what I do.
RG: You like the cream in coffee.
JH: I like a little cream in the coffee.
JH: Just Baileys.
RG: Just Baileys (laughs). You just like the Baileys.
JH: Not- not like regular cream-
JH: … or milk or … I don’t like any of the substitutes or just good black coffee works too. But I just drink coffee in the morning. Years ago, I would start the day … I would end the day with coffee. You got a fish?
RG: No, I got a weed.
JH: You got a weed. That’s a nice weed (laughing). Yup. Now, I only drink coffee at my house before I leave in the morning, but I drink a pot of coffee.
JH: That’s it. I drink a pot of coffee before I leave. That’s it. No coffee the rest of the day.
RG: Why is that? Why did you switch?
JH: ‘Cause I couldn’t stop. I drank coffee all day long.
RG: I got a bite.
JH: Did you?
RG: You gotta get your line it.
JH: Oh, [inaudible].
RG: I felt the bite.
JH: I’m just … I was looking … I’m looking at a—
RG: Felt pretty aggressive.
JH: … equipment. I’m looking at a monster fish here.
RG: (laughs) Is that what you see? I just see a bunch of lines.
JH: It may not be indigenous to Minnesota.
JH: It may have been brought it. I’m gonna get it. You a coffee drinker?
RG: Yeah, I love coffee.
JH: I love it too. You drink it all day.
RG: No. I try to just do it in the morning, and I only do one cup. One cup. But I’m— I’m one of those fancy cup guys. You know, I got, like the AeroPress or the pour over or the French press. I don’t have pot of coffee. Like, I don’t have coffee maker.
JH: You do a fresh press?
JH: French … I’d really gotten into the AeroPress.
RG: Oui, oui.
JH: Oui, oui (laughs). Oui, oui. I bought myself a Moccamaster.
RG: Oh yeah?
JH: And, uh, everyone that said that was a chef, said, “You gotta buy that Moccamaster ’cause it’s all, it’s all like, uh …” Hey, I caught something. It’s a weed.
JH: Um, you know, the guts are all, uh, copper. It’s all built by hand, all that kinda stuff. But what I quickly realized it really doesn’t matter ’cause I’ve also had good coffee in the Dominican Republic—
JH: … at somebody’s house, where they take a dirty old tube sock, put coffee in it—
JH: … and they pour some hot water through it. And that was a good cup of coffee too. So I don’t know—
RG: Tube sock coffee.
JH: Yeah. Tube—
RG: … coming at you from the next, uh, next Bristo near you.
JH: I think we, I think we do that. I try we try it out, and just say, “okay …” uh, but we’re not gonna do dirty tube socks. We’re gonna do like—
RG: I’m down to try the tube sock idea because really—
JH: It’s all you need. You need a … we build it out of a coat hanger, a tube sock, and then, uh, we’ll get some … You bring the coffee ’cause you’re a coffee snub.
RG: Hmm. I can do that. You just go with the regular or something like that.
RG: Good coffee.
JH: Kirkland, Colombian. We get like 100 pounds of it for six bucks (laughing).
RG: Buy by the pallet. Well, now we know how you start your day. That’s great. A cup of coffee, a little Baileys. Well, actually, a whole pot of coffee.
JH: It’s a whole pot of coffee, but not a whole bottle of Baileys.
RG: Okay. Good.
JH: Yeah. Oh, got a little bite. I’ve gotten a weed. I don’t really know the difference.
RG: When you feel a bite, or even if it is a weed, it’s still kind of exhilarating.
RG: … you’re down there.
JH: It makes you feel alive, doesn’t it?
What Would Crux Cigar’s Jeff Haugen Do With An Extra Six Hours a Day?
RG: All right. Odd question, but if you didn’t have to sleep, what would you do with all that extra time? If you didn’t have to sleep at all. So you got eight, 10 hours back, what would you do?
JH: I don’t sleep a lot to begin with.
RG: All right. So you—
JH: I always sleep like six hours a night.
RG: All right. So if you get six hours back, and you never have to sleep, what would you do at that time?
JH: I think, I think, uh, maybe I’d get in shape.
RG: Get in shape?
RG: You would work out during that time.
JH: That’s the hours I need.
JH: That’s what’s keeping me from being another 25 pounds lighter is that six hours that I sleep.
RG: That six hours.
JH: Yeah. So if somebody could make something that’ll keep me up another six hours—
RG: Not the coffee and Baileys in the morning.
JH: Baileys has nothing to do with this.
RG: No, no.
JH: No. That’s lubrication to get the day going.
JH: Um, I should work out. I got a good work out. My wife works out seven days a week.
RG: I think if I could…
JH: She works out enough for both of us.
RG: Both of you.
JH: And maybe I’d volunteer a little.
JH: I would. I’ve thought about that for years, you know.
RG: Volunteer a little bit?
RG: Where would you volunteer? Anywhere?
JH: I’d love to volunteer at children’s hospitals.
RG: Children’s hospitals.
JH: It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. Yeah. So maybe once this COVID thing is over, maybe maybe we start doing it.
RG: I’m down. I would … I think I would try playing the guitar.
RG: Playing an instrument ’cause that could entertain for a good couple of hours once you get good at it.
JH: Uh, yeah.
RG: And then, I kinda like the volunteer thing ’cause that’d be nice. But if I were stuck at, like, just doing stuff at night, I’d probably play the guitar and read more. ‘Cause both of those things, I feel like I never … There’s things that I wanna do, but I never get … you know, I’m like, “Ah, you know, I gotta go to bed.
JH: Well, I found myself … When I was younger in my 20s and early 30s, I’d read for one hour every morning. That’s actually how I started the day.
JH: I’d read every day.
RG: Whoa. I got one.
JH: I got a fish. With a weed.
RG: With a weed (laughs).
JH: Um, yeah, I used to read a lot. And, uh …So I can appreciate that. Guitar’s on my list. I have guitar, I’ve never played it. Um, play the piano a little bit more.
RG: Oh, you know how to play that?
JH: I used to play the piano when I was younger.
JH: I’m not good, but I used to play. My dad … My grandfather was a piano teacher.
RG: Oh, really?
JH: Uh, my great grandfather was a cigar roller up in Cold Spring, Minnesota.
RG: Ha (laughs).
JH: He did that during the day, and at night, he’d, uh, he’d carve tombstones.
JH: And my dad was in the piano business his whole life. He worked for Kawai, Yamaha, Steinway, all major brands. He used to own some piano stores in the Twin Cities area and, uh … So I grew up around pianos my whole life. I should be better at it.
RG: You got one in the house now?
JH: I just have, uh, like, Roland Digital Piano.
JH: My dad was one of those guys that, I remember as kid, I’d lay underneath the piano, and he would … he couldn’t, he couldn’t read music even though his dad was a piano teacher. My dad couldn’t read any music. But he’d go to the, he’d go, he … Back then, he had, like, reel-to-reels, and he would listen to a song, he’d back it up, he’d listen to it again, back it up, he jumped on a piano, and he’d wail out that tune.
JH: … he just could do it all. I mean, it was incredible.
RG: So he could listen to it play it back.
JH: He’d listen to it, and within five minutes, he’d know the song.
RG: So it’s not like he didn’t know the chord progressions or anything like that, it’s just, he couldn’t read the sheet music.
JH: Couldn’t read sheet music. Yup.
RG: So did you ever try to sell pianos with your dad?
RG: No (laughs)?
JH: When I was in high school, I’d go to his stores and I’d clean the pianos.
RG: So you never sold the pianos. You’d go and clean them.
JH: I was too young, I didn’t … I mean, he had sales guys. I mean, you’re selling hundred thousand dollar instruments sometimes, you know? I was, I was the guy that wiped the dust off the piano. I was good at that.
RG: It’s an important role though.
JH: I mean, I don’t know that I was good at it.
RG: You don’t.
JH: He would say, “Great job,” but I’m sure I missed some spots.
RG: So then, is there a job that you know you were terrible at? Like, you just know, you’re like, “I wasn’t so good at this job. I’m not very good at this.”
JH: Well, I only had a few jobs before I actually got in the cigar business. My first job, I was a stripper.
JH: And, uh, I would strip paint and varnish of the furniture.
RG: That kind.
JH: Oh, yeah, yeah, your mind went somewhere else with that, but, you know …
JH: But we worked … I was … When I was 15 years old, and we worked on the, um … We had 600-gallon tanks or methylene chloride, which is, you know, if you take zip strip, um, I think, by law, it can’t have more than 18% of that, and this was 100%. So we would—
JH: … we’d dip the furniture, it would melt everything off. You’d scrub it with wire brushes, brass brushed and- and like Brillo pads and things in- in the nukes and corners if they had, like, intricate legs. And then you’d take it out and you’d rinse it off, and then you would, you’d dunk it in a bleach tank, rinse it off again, and then re-finish it. That was my first job.
JH: It was terrible.
RG: Terrible job.
JH: I wasn’t bad at the job. It was just, it was a painful job.
RG: It was a terrible job.
JH: No ventilation. Breathing that stuff in.
JH: No good.
RG: No mask.
JH: Ugh, no.
JH: The shop was 110 degrees in it. I think the owner of that … I did that one summer, and I said, I’ll never do it again ’cause then I went and played … I’d go play football, and I couldn’t, I couldn’t run. I couldn’t run a quarter mile—
JH: … ’cause my lungs were burned out. But, uh, I think that guy made it another five years before he died or something like that.
JH: No, it’s true. It was bad, it was bad.
RG: Just extreme chemicals.
JH: … it was bad. Yeah.
RG: Well, then, maybe, you know … Is there a job that you know you’d be terrible at? Like, even if you didn’t work in, like “Ah, yeah, no, I wouldn’t that.”
JH: Oh, there’s all sorts of things I already know I’m terrible at. Yeah.
RG: Well, what’s the top one that comes to mind?
JH: That’ll really be terrible, uh, I don’t know. I’d be a terrible politician.
RG: Uh, I know. Couldn’t tell a lie to save your life.
JH: I just couldn’t be a politician.
RG: Yeah, I know. I’d be horrible at the mind games.
JH: Well, you gotta … It’s part of the game, you know?
JH: You need money to fund your campaign. Can’t come out of your own pocket. I mean, you can, but most people aren’t getting into politics to fund it themselves.
JH: So it’s … That fuel’s gotta come from somewhere. And, unfortunately, a lot of times, you have to sell some of your soul to get that money, you know. You gotta go against the grain of some of your own beliefs.
JH: You know? There’s some exceptions to that. There are some politicians that I think are some exceptions. But, you know, it’s a, it’s a tough game. That’s why you don’t see a lot of super high quality people in there anymore.
JH: What do you we got here?
Fishing Guide (FG): Uh, that one’s swim jig. So just cast it out-
FG: … twitch it every now and just straight reel it, give it a twitch, and you’ll be, you’ll be dialed.
JH: Oh, look at that!
RG: Dialed in. So we’re definitely not fishing the old-fashioned way because we’ve got sonar and trolling motors and all sort of good rigs. But what is maybe one thing that you absolutely have to do the old-fashioned way?
JH: I feel as far … I, uh, I feel it’s hard to anything the old-fashioned way because everything’s been improved.
JH: Anything you use and it gets improved, the equipment gets improved. You know?
JH: Like, you know, like, I love smoking- … Like, I love barbecue.
JH: So I, so I love smoking, you know, but … meat, but I, but I use a palate smoker. I mean, because it’s very consistent.
JH: It’s guaranteed perfect every time, you know?
RG: So that wouldn’t be considered doing it the old-fashioned way.
JH: That’s not old-fashioned. It’s not old-fashioned. We …
RG: But if you do go to a barbecue house, and they have one of those big smokers—
JH: Oh, they don’t-
RG: … do you think there’s a difference?
RG: Yeah. No?
JH: (laughs) I don’t.
RG: Not at all.
JH: I really don’t. I think meat … I think the more consistently … The more consistent temperature you can cook meat, the better off you’re gonna be.
JH: But the guy that know how to use a, you know, a fire smoker, I mean, they know how to use charcoal, they know what they’re doing. That’s a lot of years of, uh-
RG: Practice. Kinda like fishing, practice … You need practice?
JH: I think when I decide to get back in shape though, I’m gonna do it the old-fashioned way.
JH: Like Rocky Balboa.
RG: Yeah. Chop wood, run steps.
JH: Oh, yeah, run steps, lift tires.
JH: … pick up concrete.
RG: Get a cabin in the woods.
JH: Wrestle a bear.
RG: I mean, who needs the new Bowflex 9000?
JH: You don’t need all that stuff.
RG: No, you don’t.
JH: I mean, go … Maybe go work on a farm.
JH: You wanna big and strong, work on a farm.
What’s Crux Cigar’s Jeff Haugen Best Cigar Memory?
RG: Best restaurant or place you’ve ever had a cigar, and the describe the ambiance, set the scene.
JH: (laughs) Sounds … It sounds kinda snotty. My best cigar experience is actually in, uh, Stockholm, Sweden.
RG: Stockholm, Sweden.
JH: A restaurant called the Opera House. I used to travel with my step-father. My step-father was on the international board for infectious diseases and pediatrics. So I was kind of his travel buddy before I got married in my 20s and 30s. And we went to, uh, this restaurant, and he told me to order a bottle of wine. I did. It was a, whatever, weird, 1997 or whatever Château Latour, which wasn’t, it wasn’t on the menu—
JH: … um, but they had it. It was expensive. We smoked some, actually, Cuban cigars that day. But I think, like, all of my cigars, it’s always with the people I wanna be with. It’s definitely more situational.
JH: Like, people say, “A best cigar I ever had, I was sitting on a beach.” Oh, yeah, you’re on vacation and you’re doing what you wanna do.
JH: But that was, uh … We had a great meal.
RG: What kinda restaurant was it?
JH: It was, uh, it was kind of an international cuisine. And it was, uh, probably the most expensive meal I’ve ever eaten in my life.
And about that $2,500 Bottle of Wine
JH: ‘Cause at the time, I was in my 20s, where, uh, you know, the amount that this bill came to … I mean, the of wine alone was $2,500.
JH: And I was like, “Gosh, what I could do with that $2,500.”
RG: Right. Was not eat a meal or drink a bottle of wine.
JH: But I’ll never forget, and I don’t think it was because of the amount of money we paid for it. But it was just one of the best conversations I had with my step-father before he passed away and—
JH: … you know. It’s what’s great about food and cigars as it brings out real conversations, you know?
RG: Yeah. Nice.
JH: In cigars shops, it brings out some of that … it brings out everything else you don’t wanna know about somebody, but that’s okay.
FG: So that’s a weird worm, so you can just …
RG: Thanks, buddy.
FG: But it should be pretty …
JH: At least when you cast in a weed, you feel like maybe you got a bite or something.
RG: Oh yeah. It feels good.
JH: What was favorite restaurant, Rob?
RG: Well, my cigar moment?
What’s Boveda’s Rob Gagner’s Best Cigar Memory?
RG: I’d have to agree with you on, it’s more or less the company that you have and the story behind it. And it really was a situation where my buddy had just brought back some Cubans from—
RG: … South America. And we were in … of all places, we were in Fargo.
RG: Yeah. At a place, I think you know. JT Tobacconists (laughing).
JH: Ah, that’s funny.
RG: So, yeah, he, uh, he said, “Hey, you gotta come smoke this. You the only guy I know that enjoys great cigars like this.” Montecristo Number 2. Some of the best cigars you’ve ever had, you know, Cubans, sometimes they can be horrible. These one were perfect.
JH: When you get a, when you get a one, yeah, they are great.
RG: Yeah. And like you said, it was more or less the conversation, because then we were talking about his volunteering in South American. And, you know, it was just … it was epic because it was the middle of winter. Fargo was snow-packed, you know, 12, you know—
RG: … 12 inches, uh, at all times on the ground.
RG: And yet out of the cold and into this nice warm bar/cigar shop, and had a nice drink, and smoked a great cigar, had a good conversation, it was just like, perfect. So I don’t know if the ambiance was the cigar or the conversation, but I think both of them played hand-in-hand, and I think it was just made for an epic night for us and—
JH: Yeah. I think everybody remembers their- their first cigar they had and they remember the first Cuban they had.
JH: I’m not sure they remember the first anything else, but …
RG: How do you like to spend your weekends now as a father?
JH: Well, as much time with the kids as I can.
RG: All the time just anything and everything they wanna do?
JH: Yup. Just being with them.
RG: Ooh, what you got there?
JH: I got that weed.
RG: Big one. Big weed.
JH: What are we gonna do with all this fish?
RG: Oh, man. I’m about to flay them up and eat them quick.
JH: Shore lunch, coming at you.
RG: (laughs) Oh, there you go.
JH: Oh, yeah. Look at that bass. Whoo!
FG:We are on board, boys!
JH: Yeah. Oh, that’s a beauty.
RG: Look at that bad boy.
FG: No one can win any tournaments with that one, but—
JH: Still fish.
JH: Yeah. Good job.
JH: Good job.
RG: These are the kind of fish I’m catching today.
JH: Weed fish?
RG: Weed fish. Jeff, I know you got a lucky streak, so let’s use it. I know every time you go out to Vegas, you always end up pulling in more than you came with.
JH: I’ve drawn okay out there.
RG: What, uh, what’s—
What’s the Winning Secret If He Gambles?
JH: You wanna know my secret?
JH: Don’t gamble a lot.
RG: Don’t gamble a lot?
RG: Only when you go out there?
JH: Just when you’re feeling it.
RG: When you’re feeling it?
JH: Only when you’re feeling it.
JH: If you go out there and jump at a table just because you feel like you have to, you will lose every time. You gotta feel it.
RG: You gotta feel it.
JH: Whether it’s a table, a machine … That’s been my, that’s been my success.
RG: So limit the gambling to when you’re in the moment.
JH: You gotta feel it. You gotta feel it.
RG: So what would you say the luckiest time is you’ve ever had?
JH: One of the luckie- … So I was with a group of guys. We were there for an IPC- an old IPCPR convention. It’s maybe five years ago.
JH: And the first we were there everybody wanted to gamble. I wasn’t feeling, but I said, uh, “Fine, I’ll go gamble.”
RG: Oh, you broke your rule.
JH: I broke my rule. And I played probably eight different games and I lost at every single game. (laughing) You know, like the you know, like the movie, uh, Vegas vacation?
JH: I did all those games. You know, pick a number between one and 10.
JH: I mean, I didn’t do that, but I lost at everything. And- and not a lot, but I was down like, I think was down like 800 bucks for the day. I- I couldn’t win a hand, I couldn’t win anything. So I left and said, “I’m done.” I went and got something to eat, I was going back to my room, and right before the elevator, we’re standing at the Venetian, I saw this slot machine with big elephants on there. And I said, “Elephants!”
JH: “I gotta go play the elephant machine.” Third pull on the elephant machine, I won $900.
JH: I cashed it out, I was even for the day.
JH: I probably went to that machine another five six times, pulled eight, $900 out of it every time.
RG: Every time?
JH: Every time.
RG: It was the elephant machine that week.
JH: But I had to feel it.
JH: I saw the guys coming out of the … they were coming out of the elevator, it was about midnight, I was going up for the night.
JH: And it was Justin Niederman, and Olm, and all those guys, Rick Baker, manages Tobacco Grove. And, uh … Oh-oh, I hope don’t got you there.
RG: Did I?
JH: And I told them I’ve been winning at this elephant machine. I said, “Guys, why don’t we go at this elephant machine and do a community. Everybody throws in 20 bucks.” We sat at the machine, you know, Olm and his analytics, he pulls up the—
JH: … information on the machine, and he goes, “Ah, this is a terrible odd machine.” I go, “I’m telling you, every time, I put 20 bucks in this machine, I win eight, 900 bucks.” I couldn’t get anybody to go community with me. I said, “See, here’s what you do.” Put 20 bucks in, I hit it three times, it paid me another 600 bucks. And they’re all like, “You gotta be kidding me.” I go, “I’m telling you.” I cash out, I go, “Good night.” It wasn’t two minutes I was there and I pulled another 600 bucks out of that machine. Went to bed. Those guys partied all night. I saw them the next day, I go, how are you doing? They go, “Your stupid elephant machine.” They went and partied and drank. And they went and hit that elephant machine. They didn’t win one thing.
RG: Not the right machine for them.
JH: Well, not the right … they didn’t feel it. You got to feel it. When you gamble with your friends, you play card games or you play like a pai gow. ‘Cause even if you’re not feeling it, you can play pai gow for two hours and not lose a lot of money. There’s so many pushes in that game. Have you ever played pai gow?
JH: I’ll teach you
RG: This isn’t going to be like the time you tried to teach me how to play Tonk?
JH: Did you, did you lose money?
JH: Yeah, I’ll teach you this one (laughing). I’ll teach it to you.
RG: Oh, this is a friend game. Huh? This is the one where I give you my money.
JH: Yeah. I mean, every time you win a game there’s going to be a cost.
JH: Sometimes it’s time, sometimes it’s money. Sometimes it’s both.
What’s the One Thing Crux Cigar’s Jeff Haugen Thinks Everyone Should Do, At Least Once?
RG: True, true, true. What is something you think everyone should do at least once in their life? At least once.
JH: Do at least once in their life. Why, that’s a good question. You ask everybody all these good questions?
RG: No, I just save them for the good people (laughing)
JH: I think everybody should at least leave the country once in their life.
RG: Yeah? Travel abroad.
JH: Travel abroad.
RG: So I’ll take it a step further. ‘Cause I thought … I went to Spain. and I don’t know how to speak Spanish—
RG: … but it really made me kind of appreciate getting into the culture and trying to at least do my best. It almost made me work a little harder, you know? And if I could speak to the country’s language.
JH: Get you out of your comfort, you know. What you can do is you can appreciate other cultures.
JH: But I think what it does more than anything is it makes you appreciate the country we live in.
RG: Yeah, that’s true.
JH: That’s what it did for me. Went to … My stepfather and I probably went to 23 different countries together.
JH: 23. We spent 10 days in each country.
RG: Like this was a planned trip that you were going to hit all 23 countries.
JH: No, we did one or two trips a year-
JH: … for years. And I didn’t.
RG: But that was the goal.
JH: I traveled when I, when I had time. And like I said, he wanted a travel buddy and we were close. But what I … And I love talking to young people. I love talking about government, politics, what it’s like to live in the … you know, the history of … and their- their culture. But after all … Uh, I didn’t, I don’t think it really hit me until I was in my 40s that what it really did for me is appreciate that we live in the best country on the planet by far.
RG: What brought you to that realization?
JH: Well, we probably have the best … We have, we have a lot of land-
JH: … in this country. We have a lot of land. We’re spread out.
JH: So if you want to, you want to live in an urban area, you can live in an urban area. You want to live you wanna live on water, you can live on water. I mean, we’re in Minnesota right now. There’s over 13,000 lakes. You know? I mean, and the opportunity that we have, the education that we have, we have the best medicine, we have the best we have the best of everything. And it also made me appreciate how rich our history is for a very short period of time that this country has existed.
RG: Yeah, I didn’t realize that.
JH: Other countries have thousands of years of history.
JH: … and they will say, “Yeah, we got all our history. You only have 250 years.” I said, “well, look- look what our country’s done it 250 years.”
JH: Very remarkable.
RG: Uh, you don’t get a ton of deep, deep history past a hundred years in the Midwest. But when I went to the East coast-
RG: … I was just shocked to see stuff in the 1800s and, like 1700s. I was like, wow. Headstones, buildings, all sorts of cool history.
JH: Hard working people. And they’re everywhere in the world. There’s hard working people everywhere. When you take all the people that settled here, they had nothing. They had a, had a hope and a dream that they could provide for their family, and stake their claim, get some land, work hard, and be part of something great. And it worked out for the benefit of all of us.
RG: Well, we’ve only caught one fish and that was by our guide. We haven’t had a whole lot of luck, but you know what? We had some fun. Smoked cigars, talked life, learned a little, cast, heck, we caught a few weeds even. But, Jeff, really appreciate it. This has been an awesome opportunity to take Box Press to a different level.
JH: It’s been a lot of fun hanging out with you guys. We’re not leaving until we catch the fish though. It’s coming.
RG: It will be coming. We almost had one. I saw one come up to the boat. It was about this big, you know, it just kept growing as it got—
JH: Sooner or later, they have to eat.
RG: But really want you guys to stay tuned for the next part, because that’s where we’re going to sit at the end of the dock, really get into Crux Cigars, Jeff, his history, everything, he’s got so much experience.
Sitting on the Dock and Smoking Cigars with Crux Cigar’s Jeff Haugen
RG: So when you’re, when you’re looking at dealing with challenges, such as COVID or any other sort of demographic where you’ve dealt with … I mean, 28 years of … in the business, you’ve had all sorts of different challenges that you’ve had to deal with. What are some of the takeaways that you’re seeing from having less traffic in the shop, people being at a distance, people wearing masks, what are you seeing as far as some of the future that you can kind of shed a little bit of light on and say, “Hey, this is something that I’ve noticed that’s going to help change the way I do business for the better”?
JH: Yeah. I think, I think a lot of businesses during the COVID has, uh … they- they’ve really had to re-examine what they are doing as a business. And so, the one thing I told our staff, both for Tobacco Grove and for Crux is, we are following a business plan. I always had a business plan.
How Successful Cigar Businesses Can Adjust to COVID Challenges
JH: And, uh, you try to, you know … And we try to build our company, not in one or two years at a time, but by decade, right? I mean, that’s how you truly make quality decisions that anchor your company for the long haul. Then COVID comes along. Right? And everybody goes, “Holy shit! What, um, …” I mean, “What am I gonna do?” You know? Um, so I told the staff, “Listen, our business plan is no longer our business plan. Okay.? You gonna throw that through the paper shredder, and we’re going to write a new business plan. But I need your guys’ help and your input. What can we do offer a new experience to the customer? How are we going to connect with them?” And so it’s really important to … you know. So a lot of self-examination at the time had to—
JH: … happen, I think all for, all for the better, right?
RG: You have to adjust.
JH: You have to. That’s right.
RG: And you have to self examine, otherwise you can’t adjust. If you think you know it, and you just keep going down that tunnel, like you said, you kind of get left in the dust. You get … you’re not evolving, you’re not listening to your customer.
JH: That’s right. And so, you make changes, hoping that those changes are going to have a positive impact on your business moving forward. You continue to make those adjustments—
JH: … because you’re not going to get them all right.
JH: And then you need to have peripheral vision. You need to see what’s going on everywhere. Right?
JH: And so, what’s happened for me is like, I’m not traveling for Crux right now.
JH: I mean, I usually go to Nicaragua every month and, or down to Florida, where we have … Our offices and warehouse or in Boca Raton in Florida. I haven’t traveled since March. That was the last time I came back from Central America. And so, I have more time to kind of have that peripheral vision, to kind of sit back and say, “Okay, what do I really need to do.”
How Businesses Can Innovate in the Time of COVID
JH: … to grow our business?” You know? In a retail operation, what I noticed immediately is, you know, that store was redone five years ago, but it’s showing its age, you know?
RG: Really? Already?
JH: Five years.
RG: Five years,
JH: Maybe I’m, maybe I’m too anal on it.
RG: You got a keen eye for it. Right?
JH: But I said let’s do it again. Right. So we have the store remodeled, right?
Preparing for Cigar Smokers’ Return with New Cigar Lounge Furniture, Better Humidor Lighting
JH: You know, humidor needed better lighting. So we made sure all the shelves had lighting and we needed new displays. We needed to freshen up the paint. We needed some new furniture. We needed, uh, uh, you know, a number of different things. So we had identified all those and we got it done. We had a shutdown period in Minnesota for retail, where I’ve talked to a number of retailers, but I assumed calls with, you know, multiple retailers.
JH: And a lot of them hadn’t … weren’t shut down. They were still able to do, uh, you know, curbside, uh, … You know, in Minnesota, we were shut down, right?
RG: Yeah. No sales whatsoever.
JH: You know, deemed non-essential. Um, stores that did try to do it, um, the Sheriff’s department were shutting them down. You know, it was, it was a little different than I think most parts of the country. You know.
JH: So we made some adjustments there. And then, and then the next phase, when they started reopening things, we start … and I had realized, “Hey, this is a good time to change our point of sale system.” Right.
JH: We’re operating on a dinosaur of—
JH: … an old QuickBooks program. So we needed a point of sale system. So we did the work, we found the right one, and we implement it. We’re going to be able to do, you know … People can do curbside pickup and order online and they can do this and they can do that. Right. So the point of sale system was critical and improving our business.
JH: And, uh, looking at the analytics, you know. So I want to be able to assure I can make … You know, I’m not in the store every day, so all I can see is what I can see. But I, you know, I know what a profit picture is from what my accountant tells me at the end of the month.
JH: … on the financials. But I’d like to know on a daily basis, so if corrections need to be made, they can be made. So the new system allows us to do that. It’s also important that your customer interaction is totally different than it used to be.
Retailers Should Read Customer’s Comfort Level During the Pandemic
JH: Right. It used to… You know, a lot of times customers, if they’re shopping for cigars, they don’t want to have those 30-minute conversations with you in an indoor space. They want to be in and they want to get out. Right?
JH: And so, just watching how those interactions took place … Um, for example, I saw a customer came in and he had a mask. He had a mask on. Our staff … Our policy is, you know, was, right, it’s up to you, whatever your comfort level is, but make sure you’re socially distancing, right? Don’t put yourselves or our customers at risk. So a guy coming in with a mask, he was in the humidor. I saw on one of our staff approach that customer. He got too close, the customer backs up. My staff member walks … Takes another step forward because he feels like he’s too far away, customer steps back again.
JH: I kind of jump in there, throw a mask on and said, “Hey, I got this one. I know this guy. Let me talk to him.” You know? And I didn’t know the guy. Um, but it was a good learning experience for me. What I found out is the guy was going through chemotherapy. He legitimately concerned about catching COVID-19 and we were invading his space.
JH: So it was, it- it was potentially a situation where he may not come back in because he’s uncomfortable. Right?
JH: So we made that change. If somebody is wearing a mask, you match that-
JH: … and you wear a mask, right. If they’re not wearing a mask, at very least you got to, you know, keep your distance. Right.
JH: And so, that’s a, that’s a big change, I think … Um, you know, so it’s,- it’s hard when you’re wearing masks. You don’t really see facial expressions. You can look at their eyes, you know, but their eyes, aren’t smiling and frowning.
JH: … and doing this and that. Right? So you … Body language. If they’re fidgety, if they’re doing that, maybe you can read some of that, but it’s a different experience when people are wearing masks, you know? Uh …
RG: It is. It’s tough on the retailer.
JH: It’s tough. It’s a, it’s a tough time. But I think, I think the retailers that are doing it right, that have made the necessary adjustments, that have educated their staff, have a good safety action plan in place, I think, you know, and they’re taking advantage maybe of some opportunistic buys or increasing profitability, their sales are growing … Let’s face it, we all know that people aren’t going to work. They’re sitting at home and they’re … and they got a laptop, and they’re sitting on their patio. Right?
JH: And they have a cigar in their hand. Right? And they’re working. Some of them have a cocktail in their hand and a cigar and they’re working. Right?
JH: Um, I’m not saying that’s me. Once in a while, but you know … Um, uh, so things have changed, you know. So people have more time. Golf courses are packed, you know. Lakes, and if you come out to this lake on a weekend, I’ve never seen the kind of traffic that I’ve seen now. People are taken advantage of being outdoors. What better, what better thing do when you’re outdoors than smoke a cigar?
JH: So that’s changed. So, you know, I think, I think sales are good for the most part. The retailers are making those necessary adjustments. The retailers are kind of like, “Oh, it’s all doom and gloom,” you’re going to be stuck in that, uh, it’s doom and gloom—
JH: … and your sales are going to reflect it. Right. And so, I think people are smoking more cigars than ever. So if you’re a retailer that sales haven’t increased maybe you want to make some adjustments, right?
JH: That’s all it is. Ask some questions, talk to some good retailers.
JH: Right? We’re a very transparent industry. I mean, there isn’t a lot of industries like this, right?
JH: Manufacturers talk to other manufacturers, they help each other out. You know, it’s a small industry. Right. But, um, we all want each other to grow for the betterment of the industry. We all want to be doing this in 10, 20, 30 years. There’s so many people that are in this business, whether they’re retailers or manufacturers, or, you know, they’re doing a podcast or they’re working for whatever, uh, you know, there’s so many other things they could do at that time to probably make more money at it.
JH: But we do it because of this, because of these human connections. And we do it—
JH: … because we love it. We love what we do. So for us, this is one of our top three, right?
JH: Would it be one of your top three?
RG: Having a cigar, a good conversation. Probably nothing better. This scenery too. Holy cow!
JH: It’s what’s the left- … It’s getting a little windy out here, but—
RG: I love it.
JH: … fish are gonna, fish are gonna start biting.
RG: Yeah, exactly.
JH: Probably not (laughs). We’ll catch something. We got some nets.
RG: We got some nets. Go cast the net.
RG: It’s about what I need to fish. That always is the best. Uh, sunny fishy, maybe a few bass. But other than that, I’m no angler. So …
JH: I’m not either, it’s like being in an ocean. You ever been deep sea fishing?
JH: Me neither. Been in the ocean fishing quite a few times though.
JH: But I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna … I should do it sometime. And I’m sure it catching the big fish, it’s gotta be one of the biggest highs and, uh, adrenaline rushes.
JH: But I’d much rather go out, you know, where are all the fish are moving around and have somebody bait my hook for me.
RG: Yeah. Right.
JH: Throw it out there, catch it, they take it off for you. And I just reel it in.
RG: Yeah. Right, right, right. You get the fun, you get your fun—
JH: Sounds like that’s your kind of fish.
RG: Exactly. That’s the fun part. Right?
JH: (laughs) Yeah.
RG: Just give me the, uh, 30% of fun—
Yeah, I can reel.
RG: … that you get out of fishing and then the—
RG: … rest, “Ah, all right.”
JH: That’s right, that’s right.
How the Cigar Retailer Lauched Cigar Brand
RG: Baiting, cutting, filleting, not so good at. So that’s good. So 28 years in retail, great experiences with great customers. Then all of a sudden, you turn around and … How did you get into wanting to make cigars, wanting to create a brand? I mean, in my eyes, it kind of makes sense. It’s like, “Oh great. I have the place now for people to enjoy great cigars. Let’s go tackle making great cigars.” Is that how it came about or was it different?
JH: I, uh, I think it was different. As I mentioned, I wanna, you know … I think I have a growth mindset. And I think if somebody has a growth mindset, they can’t stay in one place.
JH: Right? And it wasn’t that I needed to jump around within an industry. I just knew I was somewhat stuck in where I could go in this industry where I was in the state of Minnesota. Right. I mean, to be candid, um, I, as I mentioned before, I had looked at other States to maybe open up a retail store because I knew I could multiply, put the right model together to hire the right people, give the great experience and I’d multiply that … those efforts. Right?
JH: Minnesota couldn’t do that. And so, uh, you know, at a period of time, I didn’t know if I could stay in the business unless I did something else, you know, and- and as you know, I went and got a real estate license back in 2005 or whatever it was. And… Because I just … I didn’t know if maybe I should buy some houses and do something different or, um … But, you know, I knew that it was going to be very difficult. Um, and- and- and in those days, there just, there was, there was very little income. I mean, in 2005, in the state of Minnesota tax went from 35% to 70% overnight with a floor stock tax.
JH: Like, I had to shut down a retail store because of it. Right.
JH: A couple years later, it goes up to 70%, then ultimately 95%, you know. And the tax Minnesota was 95%. However, there’s a cap, as I mentioned, uh, but I just realized it just wasn’t a state that I could do grow a business. Right. And I learned everything I could. We’re fortunate that we’re in a business where people will tell you about their life. Right?
JH: You can get advice from just about everybody on just about everything.
JH: Right. And, uh, we’re in a business where people aren’t mad that their dishwasher just broke and they got to buy a new dishwasher and- and fork out the dough. Right?
JH: They come in or retail store because they, they want to buy cigars. They want to have that experience.
RG: That interesting that you’re saying that you say that ’cause it’s not a forced buy, it’s a luxury buy.
JH: It is.
RG: And then, that experience of enjoying that luxury in cert- … you know, peace serenity, you don’t have to worry about … uh, like you said, if their dishwasher breaks, you got to go figure out which one to buy.
JH: That’s right.
RG: And it’s a necessity. Well, for you, it might be. But yeah, you know, it’s something that you want and you got to get it. But for luxury cigars, you just … you want to enjoy the opportunity to just sit back and relax, whether it be in the shop or out of the shop.
RG: So that’s nice because then it opens up the talking and the conversation to something much more lighthearted and digging into people’s passions. So … Yeah.
JH: That’s right. And we’re fortunate because we … uh, uh, this doesn’t take five minutes to enjoy.
JH: Uh, I mean, cigars take 30 minutes, an hour, an hour-and-a-half to enjoy. And so, uh, you know, so those human connections can really take place in cigar stores.
JH: You know, you might be passionate about or love, like, Bourbon, but, you know, you’re not gonna spend an-hour-and-a half talking to somebody about Bourbon in a liquor store. Right?
JH: You know, uh, I mean, most of the time, you’re not, I mean maybe in some instances, right. So, um, what I try to do is just learn and learn and learn. And then I realized whatever I was learning Maybe I could put it to use. What I learned in high school, college didn’t really apply to anything I was doing. Right? And so, I did realize I was in a state that I couldn’t continue to grow. I love the human connections in the cigar business.
JH: And I love being in cigar stores where I built all these genuine relationships. I have these friends, right?
JH: I mean, what better job is there … If you’re a retailer out there, a better job, you go to a retail store and you connect with your friends all day long and smoke great cigars. I mean, it’s not a bad gig, right?
RG: Life doesn’t suck.
JH: It does not suck. And so I thought, okay, if I can’t grow and build more retail stores in Minnesota, how do I, how do I have those experiences? And it’s maybe for my own personal gain, but how do I continue to fill myself up and be in the cigar business?
JH: And maybe at some point down the road, make some money on. And that’s where cigar manufacturing comes in. Because what I noticed was these great cigar makers that are out there, they are flying all over the country, going into retail stores, building human connections with both the retailers and the end consumer, certainly when they’re doing events. And that was fascinating to me—
JH: … that I could now … all I’d have to do is start a brand. And I could feel like I owned another four or 500 retail stores—
JH: … and have these relationships all over the country, which is exactly what happened. So that’s … That was the first light bulb that went off is I can go around and talk about cigars and meet people in other cigar shops, which I love to do. And you mentioned before, anytime I traveled—
JH: … I was, I was always going into cigar stores and people that love cigars do the same thing.
JH: You love going into cigar stores. Okay, what’s their selection? But what’s the field like, what are the people—
JH: … what are the people about that come in here?
JH: ‘Cause we’re all uniquely different. Right? And so, um … And most cigar stores are very welcoming, Right?
JH: And the—
RG: The good ones.
JH: The good ones. The good ones are very welcoming.
RG: Very welcoming.
JH: You know? There’s a few that might be a little closed off. They got the same four guys that come in every day and they don’t want anybody else to break up their own group, you know?
RG: But even then the great ones that have a good knit core group of people, even their customers love meeting new people that are traveling, you know?
JH: That’s right.
RG: It’s, uh, it’s that open mindset, like you said, that growth mindset of, “We’re all here enjoying the same great thing. And life doesn’t suck.”
RG: “Let’s not push that on anyone else. Let’s enjoy each other’s company.
JH: That’s it.
RG: … even if it is for a day.”
JH: Yeah. You get it. I mean, that’s it.
RG: Yeah. That’s great.
JH: That’s it. Like I said, the idea came, that, “All right. Maybe there’s something I should look into. And as a retailer, I’d been to a number of different factories. You know, these different manufacturers were gracious enough to take me along like other retailers, and, “Hey, this is how we do it. And here’s the process,” and all that kinda stuff.
RG: So you really learned a lot and did some research with the other manufacturers to see, “Okay, how do you do business? What’s your core model?”
JH: I learned some. I learned some, right? But after the light bulb went off, different than anybody that wants to start their own business, when that light bulb goes off and you know you want to start something, the antenna goes up, right? So you have an antenna that goes up, now everything that has to do with possibly growing that company or building that company starts hitting that antenna.
JH: You just receive it. Right? And you’re taking it. And, uh, I’ve got great friendships, you know, all the cigar brand makers out there. I mean, as a retailer really helped me because now they became the mentors. Right?
JH: And I could sit down with any of them. I can name a number of them, and they all said, “Yeah, great idea. Think it’s awesome. How can we help?” Right.
JH: And still supportive to this day. Right.
RG: They wanted you to start your own brand so that they could help you and—
RG: … and launch something.
JH: That’s right.
RG: So how did you end up in Plasencia’s presence? I mean, that’s your core person that’s making or farmer that’s making product for you. How did that relationship start?
JH: So, kind of a crazy story. Uh, you know, and … There was a, there was a gentleman in Minnesota that, Bill Bock, and he owned a company called the Indian Hand Sales. He was friends with Nestor Plasencia. Okay. I knew Bill Bock very well. Nestor had talked to Bill Bock and said, “I want to send one of my sons to a retail store to learn about retailing in the U.S., do you have any recommendations?” And Bill Bock says, “You know, your son’s about the same age as a guy that I know that owns a retail store, let me call him and see if he’d be interested.”So he does. And I said, yes. And, um, and that was Gustavo Plasencia, right? So Gustavo Plasencia worked in the retail store when I had the storm at a talk at that time, uh, on two different occasions for, you know, three months at a time.
JH: … you know, working in a retail store. So that’s where I learned more about the Plasencia family, the history of Plasencia…
RG: And at the time they didn’t have a brand out of their own line. They are just making cigars for everyone else.
JH: They’re growers, right.
RG: They’re growers—
JH: They’re growers—
RG: … farmers.
JH: … who are making brands for other people. Um, they probably had a couple of cigars out, but not selling direct to the consumer, right?
JH: Direct to the retailer. Right. So now, flash-forward, I decided I want to do a brand. What I realized, you know, I just said, I got to learn more about this. Right. And not from a retailer’s mind, but from a now a manufacturer side, what do I need to do to build this type of business? And I booked a plane ticket and I said, “Well, I’m going to go to the cigar capital,” which is Estelí, Nicaragua. A lot of factors there. I could learn and absorb a lot from there.
Traveling to Where Cigars are Made in Nicaragua
JH: Booked a plane ticket by myself, flew down there, rented a car, took a half-an-hour to walk around the car ’cause he had so much damage and dents.
JH: … and everything else, and I drove down the Pan-American highway, right. Got shut down by the police, gave them some money, didn’t lose my license? I mean …
JH: This is kinda like how stuff happens, you know? And …
RG: It’s kind of the Wild West back then.
Doing a SWOT Analysis to Craft a Cigar Brand
JH: Well, yeah. And it’s different now. I mean, it’s a little bit different country, but the people are very gracious. And now I have my routines ’cause I’ve been there so frequently, you know? And, um, uh … But I made that trip. I got to Estelí. I met with a number of different cigar makers. Uh, went to most factories and tried to just learn what I could. And essentially built a SWOT analysis. If I were to partner. If I picked a manufacturing partner, what would they look at, what would they look at?
JH: What are the pros and cons? Right. And, uh, I had the connection with the Plasencia family because of Gustavo Plasencia. Right. But I also realized that I can’t … sometimes you gotta … the connections are great and that can help the relationship grow in the future, but I also had to make the best choice.
JH: And so, that’s not the reason …
RG: Your due diligence.
Retaining Employes in a Cigar Business
JH: … I picked Plasencia as my manufacturing partner. I picked him because of all these other reasons, right. Largest tobacco grower, what they do for their people. They have schools. I mean, they have, I mean, they have a church for their … I mean, what they do and they’re a humble family, most people don’t even know everything they do for their people, right.
JH: And I—
RG: It’s how to care for their workers.
JH: Uh, it’s … They generally care for the people that work for them. And other manufacturers have followed suit. In a good way, they’ve realized that that’s good. Not only does it feel good, but it’s good for building business. Right?
JH: And retaining employees. Right. And so it was spending time with them. And then of course, the person that spent the most time with me is, Nestor Andres Plasencia. And, uh, you know … And he took me all the different tobacco growing regions. And we ride horses together, and he … You know, and I have learned, you know, he has the passion, you know, his dad had the passion, still does, his dad’s still working in the farms every day. Nestor’s out there. He’s still traveling from farm to farm and he’s running the other side of the business.
JH: You know, and I just learned, and I learned that I learned. And it was probably a couple of years before I was really ready to say yes because I just didn’t even want another guy, you know, not that I had a big checkbook. I mean, I had enough money to start a brand, but I want to make sure I was capitalized. And I want to make sure that I wasn’t just another brand in the market.
JH: I wanted to be, you know, heavily involved in the blending process, right? You know.
RG: And you’re not setting out to just make a shop cigar.
JH: No, this is not a private label.
RG: You’re setting out to do a national brand.
JH: Correct. You know, this is an international brand.
RG: International now.
Asking Questions Upfront Can Save a Business A Lot of Money
JH: I mean, you know, and because of that mindset of wanting to grow, building more connections, I try to set up everything with that mindset that we’re going to grow and grow and grow, but we’re going to do it slowly. We’re going to do it incrementally. We’re going to make some mistakes along the way, but we’re going to, you know, we’re going to ask a lot of questions, like you ask a lot of questions. We’re going to … I’m going to ask a lot of manufacturers questions.
JH: Asking those questions saves a lot of money.
JH: Like, it’s probably saved me a million dollars, right?
JH: I mean, I’m not kidding.
How to Be A Successful Cigar Retailer
RG: What are some of the pitfalls that you’re trying to avoid? You said you’re going to make mistakes along the way. What- what was maybe one example of a good mistake that you learned from?
JH: Biggest mistake, there … You know, there a couple of … I think there’s a couple of mistakes, like in retail and then … And most good retailers understand this. Right? Most good manufacturers understand. So at least the ones that have been in business for long enough to go through those mistakes themselves. At retail, it’s a pretty simple formula. Listen to your customer. It’s their store, like we talked about.
JH: Uh, carry the brands that they want to buy.
JH: And then keep them in stock.
JH: Right? It isn’t always about price. It isn’t always about all the other stuff, but it’s a pretty simple formula. Don’t run out of it.
How Running Out of Cigars in a Humidor Hurts a Cigar Brand
JH: Well, that’s also true in manufacturing. So even though I knew that the retail side, I made the mistake in the manufacturing side of, I thought, “Well, you know, what’s great is I got to open up a bunch of retail stores. I’ll have a bunch of Crux retail partners all over the country.” Right? “And then the sales will just go like this.” Right? But what quickly happened is I ran out of product. So I’d open up a retail store. Now they have a gap on their shelf. They’re not happy.
RG: They’re going to fill it.
RG: ‘Cause that’s rental space. Well, you taught me that in the business. You got shelf space, this cigar is paying rent-
JH: You gotta pay the rent.
RG: … on that shell space. And the longer it sits there, the higher the rent.
JH: That’s right.
RG: And if you … Like you said, you can’t backfill it and people want. Now you got … Not only do you have a vacancy, you have a vacancy that you could have filled and people wanted it, so it would have paid dividends on its rental space, but you can’t get it.
JH: That’s. Right. And what happens, what happens if they love that brand.
JH: … and now it’s not there. Now, the retailers are at risk of losing that customer to another retail store or the internet. Right?
RG: And I want to put them at risk to say no.
RG: So you pair down.
JH: Right. So I said, “Okay, let’s take back … We don’t need, we don’t need 500 retailers. Let’s get our first 100 quality retailers that we can build long-term relationships with.” Right?
JH: Let’s make sure we have product in the warehouse. You can’t sell from an empty wagon. Right?
JH: And we were trying to build sales with an empty wagon, you know? And so it was painful. It was a painful experience to go through.
RG: How long did that last?
JH: Four years.
RG: … the growing and the—
RG: … and the rolling and the manufacturing.
RG: I mean, a lot of people think, “Oh, go and order more cigars.”
RG: You can’t … You’re … If wagon is empty, you can’t call and say, “I need to fill my wagon,” they might go, “Our wagon’s empty too.”
JH: That’s right.
RG: You overshot your expectation. We should have ordered more tobacco.
JH: That’s right. Sales is always a function of distribution. Right? But it’s also a function of your supply chain. Right?
JH: You have to have supply.
JH: And so slow it down.
JH: Right. One of my partners, one of my mentors in my business has always told me, “Let’s build this, but we’re going to defer the enrichment.” Right. If you can defer enrichment in life, not buy everything, you know, want to right now, you’re going to have, you’re going to have that wealth in the future. Right?
RG: Delayed gratification—
JH: Right. Right
RG: … is what I’ve learned.
JH: Correct. Deferred enrichment. Don’t take all the money out, but keep putting all the money back in. So in six years of Crux, I’ve never taken a paycheck. I don’t. I actually don’t plan on it for, you know, sometime.
JH: We’re going to keep growing it because we’ve been filling the wagon. Right. And now, I can say the warehouse is full of product. Retailers call up, they can be confident when they sell our product. They call a week later, want to do a reload. All right, it’s on its way.
JH: We couldn’t do that before. It was, “Okay. It’s going to be another two months before the next shipment comes in.” You know?
JH: Um, it just doesn’t work. And I think, I think what you’re seeing now in retail stores across the country is the brands that are … that have inventory, right, that can keep your shelves full, are the brands that the retailers are going to push. And so, we had to get to that point. It was … But it took a lot of money, it took a lot of effort. And, and we keep putting that money back in. We keep building our inventory. And as we build our inventory, I’m looking at the data and I’m looking at the reorder rates, right. I’m looking at how we’re growing with our retail partners. Every time you open another retail store, it’s a calculated risk.
JH: Risk is, do we have enough resources? Do we have resources, the human resources to fully, nurture that relationship and, uh, service that customer, and then are we going to have enough product to keep them filled—
JH: … and not, you know, uh, uh, short ship our other retailers?
JH: So that’s why everything is incremental at this point. You know, it’s just incrementally grow and grow and grow. And we’re learning because I also know we’re probably gonna make some more mistakes. Well, making mistakes, a small company are catastrophic, right?
JH: When you’re a larger company, when you have all the support, when you have, when you have the cash reserves and you have the resources, both human and financial, you can, make your adjustments, right, and then recover because you have the history, right?
JH: You have equity in the brand, when you’re a new brand, you don’t have … you know, one of those cons is there’s no equity in the brand. Right?
JH: So I mean, how many people have seen brands come and go over the years?
JH: You know, I certainly have as … growing up as a retailer. You got to incrementally do that, right. And that makes all the difference in the world with that, I think, that mindset as well. And, you know, that’s, what we’re going to continue to do is open up one retailer at a time, making sure that we have the right people to service it and making sure that we have the inventory, making sure quality control is that its highest standard. Right?
JH: But as a small company, we’re still small enough where even through COVID through anything else, we have the ability to be nimble. We can maneuver. Right?
JH: You know, so if we need to turn something around, it’s a small boat. You know, you can get out and there’s heavy water out here, and we go out in that little paddle boat or a pontoon, right, pretty easy to turn those around.
JH: When you go out there with a yacht, you know, it takes a long time to turn that around.
Evolving the Look of the Crux Cigar Brand
JH: So being small has its advantages where we can be nimble, we can make adjustments. But we don’t have the room for error in catastrophic mistakes, product failures, non-communication, you know, anything that it really tastes one of the building blocks of building a successful business.
RG: Sure. That’s great. I do want to talk about how you set up the boxes. Because from the retailer’s perspective, there’s a lot of retail thought that goes into this box. and you’ve gone through … I mean, if anyone’s familiar with Crux in the past, it was a medieval kind of theme. It had a label that was hard to read. I think Charlie Manado from halfwheel that was always his biggest dig is the aesthetic of the Crux brand wasn’t there.
RG: And now, we’ve gone with a very clear Crux, logo, writing, very bright, boxes used to be brown with a lot of brown and- and earth tones. And now we’ve hit. We got blues, we got reds, we got black, we got, you know, oranges. We got everything in this lineup. The bands themselves just absolutely beautiful with that bikini band really just bringing it out.
Why Crux Cigars Designs Its Boxes with Three Ways to Buy its Cigars
RG: And what I love about this is that you have, what we like … What you taught me is three points of sale. You have single-stick sales, you have five-pack sales because these are beautiful five-packs, beautifully presented. And then you have the whole box to sell if somebody wants that. And I just love that because when you’re, when you’re new to cigars or you’re young and you don’t have a lot of money, like I did, you just, you love the fact that you can enjoy a great stick, but man, I can’t afford a whole box, but when I get this five-pack, this feels like a box to me.
RG: And when I presented this to some friends in the family, I had a few of these five packs. Uh, and I put them out, boy, that just really made the whole process seem like this is just a luxury. You know, you peel this off. I got to open it because, I mean, you peel it off and boom, the presentation is second to none. Just beautiful. So why, why the three points of retail out of your cigars, why was that so important to your brand? You’ve had that since day one.
JH: Yeah. So we spent a lot of time internally as a team just, just talking about, once again, we had the luxury of building a new brand. In our old packaging, we had that as well. Right. It’s always three points of purchase because we’re trying to, we’re trying to think about how a retailer, which I was at the time-
JH: … you know, uh, what would I want to see? Well, I want the customer to be educated, right? So there’s information on the inside of the inside of the lid. Can’t get through it. I can cut my nails. Um, but you know, you have a strength meter and you have some flavor icons. And so you kind of get a general idea of what the smoking experience might be.
JH: Everybody was going to try a single cigar, but if the retailer then holds up a single cigar and a five-pack, right … Most of the time you wouldn’t, as a retailer, you wouldn’t hold up the single cigar. You just … You hand the five-pack and what happens is a customer just grabs it and goes, “All right, I’ll just take five.” Right?
JH: So you have that opportunity of moving from a single to five immediately, right? If that doesn’t work, if they smoke the cigar, they enjoy the cigar. They want to go back for, they don’t have to buy a 20-count box, they could move to a five-count box, right?
JH: And they can still try some of their other favorite brands. If it’s a brand that they’re into and they say, “Okay, that’s my stick,” and or, “I need a gift,” it comes in the dress box, right? So individual barcodes for each. So it makes it easier for the retailer to inventory and have confidence in selling because it’s all about more cash register rings for the retail. Right. And that’s-
JH: … that’s all we want to do. If we … If, as a partner, we can help you with more cash register rings, sell more cigars, I mean, that’s what it’s all about. As far as the packaging itself, what’s changed over time is … You’re right. I mean, we have more of that medieval kind of heavy steel kind of look. And that got us to where we are today. Right?
JH: It had a good edge to it. It was different. It was, it was unique. And when we came out of the gates, it was something that people noticed, right?
JH: The person that put together that packaging and all those logos and all that kind of stuff, and really, a template for how we’re going to market this company, Mark Daum.
JH: A very good friend who became a partner of Crux. Did an amazing job organizing us professionally, through our social media, through our website, creating continuity and everything we’re doing. He built our foundation for how we move forward as a company. Right.
JH: So what happens after five years, we decided to take a … we’re a company that just wants to sell more cigars, and we want to make more of those connections. And to do that, you know, we’re not, we’re …there’s no arrogance, I mean, in our business, right?
JH: There’s no room for it when you’re building a company. You want to e-exam … self examine, everything that you’re doing. And I think a good year for that is year five.
Surveying Customers and Tobacconists to Evaluate Crux Cigar Brand
JH: So year five, we looked at everything we did, and we said, “Okay, let’s send out some surveys. Let’s send them out to the retail partners. Let’s send out some surveys to the end consumer.” And what we got back was invaluable. We took that information and then we actually built a focus group on our, on our branding. And we said, “Okay, let’s break that down even further.”
JH: And what we quickly realized is even though we liked the branding, it really wasn’t getting noticed in the humidor.
JH: Right. Our logo was difficult toread. You couldn’t read the crux. We had a lot of brown, we had a lot of different stuff, you know. Once again, to start, it was great.
JH: It was, it was that edgy, cool look, you know, and I still like that old branding. I think there’s still some people that love the old branding.
JH: But to build a long-term company to build, an international brand, I was looking for something that … That feedback really showed us that, “Okay, it’s hard to read. It’s hard to connect with. It just kinda gets lost in a humidor.: Okay. Well, that was enough of all we needed to hear. Right?
JH: So then we went through a whole new process. We stripped down the brand from the primary logo to the sub brand to the iconography for the sub-brand to the packaging. And we said, “Okay, here’s our second chance. And how- how can we do this better?” And what we decided we wanted was a- a logo that was easy to read, was more elegant, and it was timeless. Right?
JH: And you can say sophisticated and all that kind of … No, I wanted it elegant and- and timeless, right. Something that we didn’t have to, in 20 years say, or you’re going to have to do that again.
JH: And if you look at most luxury brands, over the course of the last three to four years, they’ve all changed their logos. I don’t know if you knew that or not.
JH: It’s a WW with a circle around it, right. I mean, they’ve all changed their logo. And the reason is, is because what the research has shown is we’re, uh, inundated with growths and pressures, with social media, through … I mean, how much streaming, look how much screen time we have as people.
JH: And you can’t have screen time without a gross impression from somebody trying to sell you something, right?
JH: It’s just the world we live it. And what happens, the younger generations—if it’s a complicated logo, if it’s too detailed it spits it … you brain spits it out. Doesn’t lock in there.
JH: So we … You know, so it’s almost like putting your brain … like, your phone has a low data mode, right?
JH: Your brain kinda goes into that mode when you’re looking at screens now.
RG: I gotta hit it … I gotta make an impression that’s—
RG: … not overwhelming.
JH: That’s right. And so we needed to simplify it. So that’s what we did. We wanted to make sure that our color scheme was more vibrant. So we got away from the browns. And we wanted to stand out in the humidor a little bit … So when the customer walks in … Some retail stores, if you have those great connections, those great relationships with the staff that are working in there, they’ll hand feed, uh, hand you cigars in the humidor. But a lot of times, they don’t, right? Or a customer just wants to walk around.
JH: And what’s gonna draw their eye in? It’s gonna be color, it’s gonna be something that’s easy to read, it’s gonna be, I think what we kinda put together.
Designing a Cigar 5-Pack That Holds Up in a Golf Bag, Ski Bag and Carry-On
JH: And so, the five packs, we used to do a paper wrap. We wanted to, we wanted to up that packaging as well. So it actually has a purpose. Well, the purpose is five-pack, yes, it’s to create at retain a second point-of-purchase for an increased sale, but it also has some integrity. So if you throw it in your golf bag, you put it in your bag.
JH: … uh, or throw it in a jacket, it keeps the cigars from getting crushed.
JH: It has some integrity to it. Right? Then, the cigar box itself, we wanna make sure that information that we discussed is on inside of the lid, so the consumer could kinda read and educate themselves. And we’re gonna be doing some stuff in the future, I won’t talk about now. Some pretty cool stuff. But you know, this box is a very expensive box to manufacture. And the reason we went in that direction is I always had a $5 box. The problem with the $5 box is it’s very easy to throw away.
JH: You know, when you get over a $10 per box to manufacture, it’s more difficult to throw away.
Creating an Eco-Friendly Refillable Cigar Dress Box
JH: Because people don’t wanna see these things in landfills. You know, there’s a lot of consumers out there, even on a box, it drives them crazy that they have to throw all these boxes, and they’re gonna show up in a landfill.
JH: And you’re cutting down trees for. So instead, if we improve the dress box, right, and then create a refill option for the retailer, then maybe we got something. So that five-pack is made of recycled paper. And if the retailer wants, it’s the same price whether they do one of these two options. They can order the full dress-box with 20 cigars. it’ll come just as you see it, or they can order a refill brick, which has four five-packs. Right?
JH: Well, we thought maybe it’d be a 50/50, and the retailer said, “Hey, why don’t you lower the price on the refill bricks?” Well, we’re keeping our prices low because we’re hoping that retailers just order refill bricks.
JH: Now, if somebody’s buying a gift or somebody is a box buyer, you may sell a dress-box.
JH: But most people are coming to buy boxes of these, they just want four five-packs anyway. They don’t wanna throw another box away.
JH: Right? So our sales on the dress-box are only about 10% to 15% of our sales. Once we’re, in place in other shelves in a retail store.
RG: So now the retailer can make that choice that eco-friendly choice of saying, “Don’t need to get rid of the box. If a consumer doesn’t wanna take it, I’ll just get these five-packs, refill my dress box, and you’re good to go.”
JH: That’s right.
What Crux Cigars Should Be in Your Humidor
RG: That’s brilliant. And I like the fact that this is made out of recycled paper. So we’re really trying to be eco-friendly while still having great quality product to showcase in a retail setting. Well, Jeff, I really appreciate it. Thank you for sitting down with us. We got a beautiful scenery. Again, if you haven’t tried Crux cigars, go grab them. There’s so many different lines. You make a great Maduro. This Epicure is a great morning stick. That’s what we started off with. I love smoking the Bull and Bear, hard to find, but if you find it, grab it. Any point of sale from single, five-pack to a whole box right here. Jeff, thank you so much for just bringing us great sticks, great stories, retail experience. I’m super thankful for my experience in retail with you. It was huge learning curve, and heck, it even landed me a job at Boveda. So, appreciate it, man.
JH: I think you landed the job at Boveda. But anyway, thanks for having me. If anybody wants to learn more about Crux, cruxcigars.com. We have some good videography on our website, it explains what we do. We highlight some of the retail partners. But thanks for tuning in. You got a great show here, so appreciate the time.
RG: No problem.
“I love the human connections in the cigar business.”
– Jeff Haugen, Owner of Crux Cigars
Climb aboard! There’s always room for a fellow cigar smoker with Jeff Haugen, owner of Crux Cigars. (Just don’t expect a shore lunch from these single-catch anglers!)
Since 2014, the Crux brand has made premium cigars in an array of strengths and vitolas. Starting out as a cigar retailer, he built on what he knew to engineer a career change by launching a Nicaraguan-crafted cigar biz. And these aren’t shop cigars, my friend.
Five years in, he revamped the look of his brand because a good facelift will always get noticed in a cigar humidor. In this episode of Box Press, Jeff shares how he’s used pandemic downtime for the good of his business.
Join Box Press Host Rob Gagner and Jeff Haugen
Light one up, head to the dock, deck or fire pit and have a listen. Skip ahead if you must:
- How to make a damn good cup of coffee using a coat hanger, tube sock and Dominican grounds (3:02)
- What’s your favorite cigar memory? (14:16)
- How to win in Vegas (19:50)
- Why the pandemic is an opportunity to do business for the better (28:35)
- How cigar shops can bring smokers back safely and comfortably (33:23)
- How asking a lot of questions can save your business a lot of money (50:43)
- How Crux is now more eco-friendly (58:09)