The goal of this interview series is to do a multiple part series on the Cigar Industry. We are talking with as many key players as we can about their take on the industry and where it is headed. We are excited that our readership will get to enjoy this hopefully illuminating series.
First up in the interview series is the affable and consummate gentleman, Bruce Lewis, VP of Sales and Marketing for Toraño Family Cigar Company. We met Bruce in Vegas and immediately appreciated the warmth and knowledge that Bruce exuded about the industry and his company in general. We are really excited to bring you Bruce’s perspective on the industry and how Toraño fits into that picture. We would like to thank Bruce for taking the time to talk with us and thoughtfully respond to our questions.
CB (Cigar Brief): What do you see the role of your company being in the current market place?
BL (Bruce Lewis): Whilst Toraño Family Cigar Company has gone through quite a number of changes in the past year, our philosophy in terms of the product that we strive to deliver to the consumer and the high level of service we aim to offer, has not.
As far as the changes are concerned, we have taken back control of our distribution and changed our company name slightly to highlight the fact that we are one of the few remaining cigar companies which is still family owned and has a rich history and heritage dating back to 1916 with origins in Cuba. We have made a number of key hires in the organization, launched five new brands which have been well received by consumers and, through our marketing efforts, have transitioned to become a company which not only has a rich heritage but also a more contemporary look and feel.
However, what has not changed is our focus and commitment to providing the consumer with a consistently high quality cigar at an affordable price point. The Toraño family has always enjoyed the reputation for being innovative blenders and I believe we have continued to show this through the new brands we have introduced, namely Exodus 1959-50 Years, Single Region – Serie Jalapa, Master, Loyal and Vault.
Overall, we want to be viewed as not only a reliable and highly regarded cigar manufacturer, but we also want to be seen as a great distributor offering a high level of customer service. Our recent appointment as distributor for Graycliff Cigars is a sign of our commitment to this.
CB: How would you describe your current lineup of cigars, and its niche in the market?
BL: We offer a wide variety of brands from the milder Casa Toraño and 1916 Cameroon to the fuller and richer Vault and Exodus 1959 – 50 Years. So regardless of whether you prefer a milder, smoother cigar or a richer, more full bodied cigar, there is a Toraño blend to cater for every taste and occasion.
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?
BL: The one thing I find extraordinary about the US market is that the average consumer here is incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about cigars. They also understand that they don’t need to break the bank to buy a truly great cigar. With all the economic turmoil coupled with increased State and Federal tobacco taxes over the past two years, we have definitely seen an increase in demand for cigars which are priced well below $10. As far as the most popular price point is concerned today, we see $5 – $8 being the sweet spot. Some manufacturers have wisely changed their strategy to cater to these shifts in demand but to be honest, even before the downturn in the economy, most Toraño brands have always been offered at around $6 – $8. With that said, we did launch Master last year with a price point of $5.60 – $5.90 and a new brand in August called Loyal which is amazing value for money at $4.95 – $5.50 per stick. We called this brand Loyal as we are remaining loyal to the Toraño philosophy of providing outstanding value to cigar lovers. Our goal for Loyal is to provide consumers with quality, consistency and value.
CB: How much does changing technology play into your production and marketing strategies (i.e. social media)?
BL: Social media plays an extremely important part in our overall marketing strategies. In the past year, we have become much more active in communicating to consumers through Facebook, Twitter, Newsletters, Press Releases and our website. One of our goals when we took back the distribution of the brand last year was to communicate more effectively and frequently with both consumers and the trade and hopefully people have noticed that.
CB: What is your current take on the political landscape around cigar rights in the US? How have you guys participated in the fight?
BL: It is indeed an ongoing battle in which every manufacturer, including Toraño, plays an important role.
CB: With the influx of boutiques have you seen a need to adapt or change your business strategies?
BL: We consider ourselves to be a family owned, boutique brand. All the brands we have launched in the past year are price protected, thus creating a level playing field for all retailers who sell these brands. We do not strive to be the Budweiser’s of the industry and saturate the market with our brands. Rather, we want to have a strategically strong and visible presence in the market by working closely with retailers who are committed to our brand and want to partner with us to continue to grow it.
CB: What is your approach to creating and maintaining brand consistency and loyalty?
BL: Once again, it goes back to our philosophy of providing the consumer with an outstanding product at a great price point. If you do this consistently, it quickly generates brand loyalty.
CB: What do you want a customer to walk away with after smoking one of your cigars?
BL: If they smoke it alone, I want them to feel totally satisfied with their experience. I want them to feel that it was hard earned money spent wisely and they would have no hesitation buying another one. Our absolute goal is to provide enjoyable and memorable experiences to those who smoke our cigars. I like to think that this is the way we bring a little bit of pleasure and joy to others.
If they smoke our cigar in a group setting, I want them to remember that occasion for the great cigar they smoked and the wonderful company they smoked it in. Life is all about these types of occasions and moments.
We understand that there are many great cigars on the market so when a consumer chooses to smokes one of our cigars, we want them to feel totally confident they made the right choice.
CB: (Bonus Round) If you were facing an executioner’s squad and had an opportunity to smoke one last cigar, what would it be?
BL: It would have to be the cigar which the CIA created for Fidel Castro…something with enough chemical explosive so I could throw it at the firing squad after lighting it!