Recently we sat down with George Rico of Gran Habano fame and got to ask him a few questions. We had a great time talking with him and he being the sporting guy that he is decided to let our audience ask him a question as well. The following is our interview with George and if you would like to ask a question as well and win some free cigars of an unreleased test blend, then please see the contest rules at the end of the interview.
Cigar Brief (CB):What do you see the role of your company being in the current market place?
George Rico: I believe the Gran Habano family has a lot of different roles in our community. We are a unique cigar manufacturer that provides cutting edge blends and packaging that is outside the traditional way of thinking.
Gran Habano is here to listen to the cigar community. As a company we have the flexibility to create products that retailers and consumers ask for. For example, our California reps and retailers asked us for the #5 Corojo Lancero because that’s what their clientele enjoyed smoking. So we went ahead and created the unique size specifically for that state. They asked for it – so we deliver.
It’s also our duty to fight for our cigar rights. We are active in the CRA, fighting legislation and making sure the community is seen in a more positive light. Every year we involve our self with a charity or a cause that will better the world. This year we tried to raise awareness for the Invisible Children and next year we have another organization in mind.
CB: How would you describe your current lineup of cigars, and its niche in the market?
George Rico: Having a fully vertical operation allows us to have a unique portfolio of cigars that cover the whole spectrum. Our primary cigar line is known as a high quality product that is sold at a low cost. The sizes cover anything a cigar lover will enjoy from the worlds largest cigar to a more manageable 6×66 and all the standard sizes on down. Wrappers include Maduro, Habano, Corojo, Ecuadorian Connecticut and we use fillers from all over the world.
We also offer cigars from a more limited production standpoint. Our new STK line targets the cigar connoisseur who will be interested in some of the more unique tobaccos and sizes that couldn’t sustain a full production line. This will be more prevalent in 2012 with the opening of our Miami factory. The new factory will allow us to work with other materials that have never before been used in our standard lines.
CB: With downed economies worldwide and the specter of a double-dip recession in the US, has your company changed its business strategy? If so, how?
George Rico: No, our company has not changed the way we do business. We have always been dedicated to creating amazing cigars and offering them at a phenomenal price points. Cigar smokers like variety and have real-world financial obligations outside of our hobby – we’ve never wanted them to have to sacrifice in either of those areas. So as we move forward in the way we operate our customers, both old and new, will realize they don’t have to overpay for a quality cigar.
CB: How much does changing technology play into your production and marketing strategies (i.e. social media)?
George Rico: From a production standpoint technology hasn’t affected us too much. We are a very traditional cigar manufacturer who still uses wooden molds. However technology has allowed us to better streamline the manufacturing process and deliver the best product, in the shortest time and most importantly – at the best possible price.
Social media is something we have completely embraced. We have always had an open door policy with our retailers and consumers and this just allows even more transparency. Both groups of people have a live setting where they can get instantaneous answers to questions, provide us with valuable feedback and share the over-all experiences they have had with our product to ensure we are doing everything we can for them.
CB: With the influx of boutiques and the large companies consolidating have you seen a need to adapt or change your business strategies?
George Rico: Our business practices and philosophy haven’t changed regardless of the uprising of boutiques or the consolidation of larger companies. We have, and always will, just continue to do our thing.
CB: What is your approach to creating and maintaining brand consistency and loyalty?
George Rico: Wanting to maintain consistency drives our operations. As a fully vertical, and family ran operation, we can monitor all aspects of our process first hand. We grow our own tobacco, hold our rollers to higher standards and we hold ourselves accountable from start to finish. Once we have the final product we do draw tests, burn tests and make sure the flavor profile is just right. Taking all these steps ensures our consistency and it turn we are able to put out a product that the consumer can count on. This is what earns trust and loyalty.
CB: What do you want a customer to walk away with after smoking one of your cigars?
George Rico: A box! In all seriousness we are just proud to be part of their smoking experience. We strive to make sure all of our customers walk away with satisfaction and the realization that it’s not always about packaging or price – it’s about the hard work that goes behind it. Hopefully they know that we gave 150% effort as a family in making their cigar and they are confident in continuing to choose our lines.
CB: (Bonus Round) If you were facing an executioner’s squad and had an opportunity to smoke one last cigar, what would it be?
George Rico: This is a really interesting question because I have actually thought about this quite a bit. If I were facing the squad and about to take a bullet I would want to smoke nothing less than my private Ecuadorian lancero. This is the same cigar that we released as one of the Zulu Zulu offerings (blue box).
Ready to win a 3 pack of the latest test blend from Gran Habano: the Corojo #5 Maduro 6×60 CZAR’s? And for a good taste comparison two regular ‘ole Corojo #5 Cigars? All you have to do is leave a comment on our George Rico interview, asking a question you would like to have answered by him. The most interesting question will win this 5 pack of cigars along with his answer to the winning question! Contest ends Saturday, January 7th with no limit to the amount of questions you can ask – so start entering!