Interview: Gary Hyams of Gurkha Cigars

Interview: Gary Hyams of Gurkha Cigars

Editor’s Note: WINNER ANNOUNCED!!! Congratulations to E_Fryer16 for his question (Winner receives a Gurkha Prize Pack including 5 Gurkha Seduction Cigars, 2 Gurkha Royal Challenge Cigars, 1 Gurkha Hat, 1 Gurkha Shirt): 

E_Fryer16You mentioned that Gurkha is a family business. How do you keep the family traditions going strong while building your brand and adapting to the changes in the markets?

Gary Hyams: There is something special about a family business and while we are working to expand and grow the business to the next level (both domestically and internationally), it’s important to retain the culture and authenticity that makes the company special.

Recently we had the pleasure of  sitting down with Gary Hyams, CEO and President of Beach Cigar Group Inc, parent company of Gurkha Cigars. Gary has been in the industry for over thirty years and has held some pretty interesting and diverse positions throughout his storied career. Most recently he was the Chairman of CAO international part of the Scandinavian Tobacco Group, but In the last year he left STG, and decided to take on a new challenge. Gary accepted the position of CEO and President of Beach Cigar Group Inc. in the hopes of building on their current success and taking them to the next level.

The following is an illuminating interview with a man who has spent most of his career studying the industry and working in it. Gary was kind enough to talk with us about his new position with Gurkha, where he sees the company in the market, and where they are headed to next:

Cigar Brief (CB): What do you see the role of your company being in the current market place?

Gary Hyams (Gary): I think Gurkha has a very strong brand name that can target a variety of different consumers. We can position ourselves at different points in the market place because we have a variety of blends at different price points. We have the world’s most expensive cigar with His Majesty’s Reserve and other Ltd lines like the Triad, Genghis Khan and Black Dragon, but we also have brands that are high volume lines at reasonable price points such as Evil, Assassin, Vintage Shaggy and Ninja. Overall, we are always striving to be innovative and create a diverse portfolio with unique packaging.

CB: How would you describe your current lineup of cigars, and its niche in the market?

Gary:  As mentioned, I think Gurkha can appeal to a large consumer base because of our variety of blends and price points that cater to all market sectors. Our core brands are all unique, with their own character, and we are placing a strong emphasis on our 3 new brands: Cellar Reserve, Royal Challenge and Seduction, which are all retailer exclusive brands that cannot be purchased online. We did this to further enhance our support for the Brick and Mortar and look to further grow our relationship with these customers moving forward. I also believe there has been a trend in the popularity of cigars from boutique manufacturers. As a family owned business, we look to capitalize on this trend in the marketplace.

CB: What were some of the challenges you faced when you switched from your role at CAO and Scandanavian Tobacco Group to your new role at Gurkha?

Gary: Well I think the first thing is that CAO was originally a boutique company as well but was acquired in by Scandinavian Tobacco Group (STG), a large multi national company, so there was an immediate change in the structure and controls in the way that the business was run. My own background is from a private, family run cigar business in the UK, so I am very familiar with the many additional challenges that a small business can face. Certainly, even though CAO was owned by a large corporate entity, I tried to maintain the unique culture of the company. So, being at Gurkha is like going back to my roots in a way and like all things there are many benefits, but also some limitations, as we do not have some of the financial muscle that is available at large, corporate entities. My main challenge therefore is to grow the business without having available some of the huge resources I had become accustomed to whilst working for a large, multi-national company.

CB: Gurkha has been producing what seems to be a large amount of lines each year. Are there plans to keep this pace, or to start to slow down that approach and create fewer lines with a focus on the limited run model that seems to be sweeping the industry?

Gary: That’s a good question because it’s true in that we do have a large portfolio of brands that have evolved over the years. Certainly, one of my immediate strategies has been to rationalize the range so that we can focus more on what I call the core brands of Gurkha. Having said that, we still plan to continue with some of the Ltd edition brands that the company has become famous for, such as the Triad, HMR, Genghis Khan, Warlord, Black Dragon etc, but our volume focus will certainly move emphatically to the core brands such as Cellar Reserve, Royal Challenge, Seduction, Evil, Ninja, Assassin, Grand Reserve, Shaggy’s etc.

CB: This year saw the release of the Wicked Indie a cigar that was hailed as being part of the new East India Trading Company. In that press release you called it the first in the line of the new subsidiary East India Trading Company. Can you explain to our audience what the chief difference is between the Gurkha lines and the new East India lines?

Gary: I think Gurkha is a unique brand within itself, but from a Marketing point of view, we also wanted to have the option of brining out new, innovative brands that did not always reflect the unique Gurkha image. Kaizad was lucky enough to have secured the trademark for the East India Trading Company several years ago, which origins go back to being the first company who were trading in tobacco. We were able to use this as a vehicle for launching new, edgy cigar concepts at very competitive price points, such as the Wicked Indie, which has an MSRP starting at $4.79. East India is allowing us to explore a different marketing strategy to Gurkha, but we are still retaining the focus on the cigar. We plan further extensions from East India Trading this summer.

CB: Speaking of your lines, with the influx of boutiques have you seen a need to adapt or change your business strategies?

Gary: To be honest, I think the emphasis on boutique brands is really helping us. The way the brand has always been marketed has been very special and the packaging and presentation is totally unique. So, we are enjoying the benefits of this trend, but at the same time looking to explore other avenues that the consumer may be driven to in the future.

CB: What is your main approach to creating and maintaining brand consistency and loyalty?

Gary: Well, I think our main focus here is ultimately the product and to ensure we maintain the quality and consistency of each cigar. This is not as easy as it sounds as premium cigars are organic, hand-made products, so there will always be some variation from batch to batch. The challenge therefore is for us is to work with the best factories and to maintain and improve the quality control and performance of the cigars we produce.

CB: What do you want a customer to walk away with after smoking one of your cigars?

Gary: I think the goal for all cigar manufacturers is for our consumers to have the best smoking experience possible and to become brand loyal and obviously come back for more.

CB: Lastly, are there any new projects on the horizon that you can tell us about?

Gary: Here at Gurkha, there are always new products on the horizon, but this year we are working on a very special project for our 125th Anniversary, which the brand celebrates this year. We are sampling and working on the blend and packaging as we speak and are excited about the year ahead. We also have other new products and line extensions in the works that we will reveal at a later date.

I want to thank you and Cigar Brief for your time and support and look forward to enjoying a cigar with you in the near future.

We just want to thank Gary and the folks over at Gurkha Cigars for taking the time to talk with us and for helping us create the following contest below. Gurkha is an exciting company and a titan in the industry. We look forward to the IPCPR to see what Gurkha comes out with this year. Read on to find out how you too, can win some swag from Gurkha, including a five pack of Gurkha Seduction.

*****Contest Rules & How to Enter: Entering the contest is simple. All you have to do is ask a question in the comment section and the best question will win a response from Gary Hyams himself, and a five pack of the Gurkha Seduction, and some other swag to be announced next week. You can enter as many times as you want, but only the most engaging and thought provoking question will win, so good luck! Contest ends on Friday, March 2nd, 2012****

20 Comments

  1. MichaelBudd February 24, 2012 at 7:20 am - Reply

    How long have you been enjoying cigars? Do you remember your first cigar?  How did you get introduced?  What kind of humidor do you have?

  2. BuzzBlackburn February 24, 2012 at 8:11 am - Reply

    How hard is it to keep a particular line with the same blend year after year, when the product is likely to change with different weather, changing farms and such?  How do the big companies do this, and is consistency really even possible?

  3. MichaelBudd February 24, 2012 at 8:38 am - Reply

    What is the one cigar you would want to enjoy and who would you want to smoke it with?

  4. MichaelBudd February 24, 2012 at 8:44 am - Reply

    What do you think is the biggest cigar myth that smokers buy in to?
    What advice would you give a novice smoker? Occasional smoker? 
    What was the best advice ever given to you?

  5. SirAxman February 24, 2012 at 12:27 pm - Reply

    Who comes up with the unique packing concepts & designs at gurkhacigars ?

  6. SirAxman February 24, 2012 at 12:29 pm - Reply

    Who comes up with the unique packaging concepts & designs gurkhacigars ?

  7. Lyle55 February 26, 2012 at 9:34 am - Reply

    Why is it  a struggle to find a Gurkha cigar that has a nice consistent draw? In the larger ring gauge cigars.
     

  8. DecrepitReeve February 26, 2012 at 7:06 pm - Reply

    Only one store in my area currently carries Gurkha cigars.  I have wondered whether this is by design or if stringent requirements must be met before a brick and mortar store is allowed to carry your product?

  9. DecrepitReeve February 26, 2012 at 7:28 pm - Reply

    I starting smoking Gurkha Black Dragons in 2007 when they were released to a wider audience. What influenced the change from the harsher more full bodied smoke that the Dragon used to be to the more flavored cigar it is today? Has this caused people to move away from the Gurkha line? 

  10. DecrepitReeve February 26, 2012 at 7:30 pm - Reply

    I starting smoking Gurkha Black Dragons in 2007 when they were released to a wider audience. What influenced the change from the harsher more full bodied smoke that the Dragon used to be to the more medium bodied cigar it is today? Has this caused people to move away from the Gurkha line?

  11. DecrepitReeve February 26, 2012 at 8:00 pm - Reply

    You mentioned quality control, what sets Gurkha’s quality control apart from the other companies it competes against? Also what qualities does Gurkha look for in its factories it decides to go with?

  12. jason55555 February 27, 2012 at 12:45 pm - Reply

    Now in the cigar industry there is obviously a certain amount of new challenges, there is a glut of different cigars in the market, and with the current economic crisis sales are far from easy. How are you facing some these problems? We obviously see a new approach with the Wicked Indie can we see same price adjustments coming to Gurkha.
     

  13. jason55555 February 27, 2012 at 12:45 pm - Reply

    Wow over thirty years in the cigar industry, what was the biggest chance you took, besides becoming CEO and President of Beach Cigar Group Inc.
     

  14. jason55555 February 27, 2012 at 12:45 pm - Reply

    What was your first groundbreaking quality Gurkha, that showed that you were taking a step in the right direction as a ultra premium brand.
     

  15. DecrepitReeve February 27, 2012 at 6:28 pm - Reply

    When you meet a long time cigar smoker who has never tried a Gurkha, what approach do you personally take to sell them on your product?

  16. E_Fryer16 February 29, 2012 at 10:11 am - Reply

    You mentioned that Gurkha is a family business. How do you keep the family traditions going strong while building your brand and adapting to the changes in the markets?

  17. majordan March 1, 2012 at 10:53 am - Reply

    With the amount of anti-tobacco zealots/legislation on the rise, what do you feel is going to be the single biggest challenge for the Cigar industry over the next 3-5 years? What role do you foresee/hope you (and by extension BCG) will have in addressing this challenge?

  18. CigarBrief March 6, 2012 at 10:12 pm - Reply

    Congratulations to E_Fryer16 for the following question; “You mentioned that Gurkha is a family business. How do you keep the family traditions going strong while building your brand and adapting to the changes in the markets?”
     
    Gary has chosen your question as the winning question and has given the following response; “There is something special about a family business and while we are working to expand and grow the business to the next level (both domestically and internationally), it’s important to retain the culture and authenticity that makes the company special.”
     
    We here at Cigar Brief thank all who participated and want to let you know that we will be having more Gurkha contests down the road!

  19. E_Fryer16 March 7, 2012 at 6:04 am - Reply

    Thank you so much! Great article and love the website! Huge fan of Gurkha cigars. Who do I contact to send my shipping address?
    Again thank you so much!

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