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Why “Cigar Page?”
Folks are really into sharing these days. The only sharin’ I’m into has a last name of Stone. Hey-oh. So it goes without saying I’m not a big fan of navel gazing and introspection. Then again, I didn’t force you to click on the About Us section, so if you took the wrong exit off the home page, just hit the back button. Otherwise be prepared to waste 5 minutes of your life reading this.
A number of people asked us about the meaning behind the name CigarPage.com. When we started Cigars International 20 years ago we were just a couple of kids in a room. “International” sounded big and established so we said “why the hell not?” So what about Cigar Page? “Page” has personal meaning for us, besides the obvious – that CigarPage.com is a simple web page (for now) with a daily deal. There’s more: before quitting our corporate jobs and starting CI in the spare room of my apartment in the 1990s, “turning the page” was a constant refrain. We grew the team from 2 dudes to 10, then 30, 50, 100, on up to 300, and getting everyone “on the same page” was a well-worn phrase. While never expressed aloud but loud and clear in our company culture was this maxim: “where were you when the page was blank?”
In the early years, cigar makers would not return my calls let alone make time for us or sell to us. Prospective employees turned down our offers. Regardless, we plowed forward and started retailing cigars outside of the norm, like launching the first cigar auction site CigarBid.com, unsuccessfully launched a machine-made only cigar site, mailed 24 different catalogs a year, purchased a site called Cigar.com and revamped it, created hundreds of brands and blends, started CigarFest in our old warehouse in Downtown Bethlehem, opened some stores, and had a bunch of fun. Before you know it we were the largest cigar retailer in the world, outgrowing companies everyone told us we were crazy to compete against….first Thompson Cigar and then our friend Lew Rothman’s former company, JR Cigars. And what do you know, since we were buying $100 million of cigars annually, suppliers who wouldn’t give us the time of day before now wanted to be in our camp. It got easier to attract employee talent too.
Those that took some risks and saw the vision early on – the small core of employees and cigar manufacturers – they were our heart and soul, and that was where our loyalty was. That’s why brands that commanded 25 and 30% market share were only 5 and 8% of our buying until the day I left. We partnered with guys who were smaller, hungry, and creative. Nobodies at the time quickly became somebodies, such as Perdomo, Rocky Patel, Gurkha, Drew Estate, Jose Dominguez, Alec Bradley, Rafael Nodal, and later AJ Fernandez, George Rico, Abe Flores. In some cases we constituted 80% of their business. That enabled them to pay the bills and establish a foundation to develop thriving brands (and 4 or 5 of them even remember that fact today). Employee-wise, we hired passionate people that didn’t necessarily have great resumes. Several kids that started with us at 21 are managing big departments and overseeing massive budgets.
Everyone else got treated with varying degrees of skepticism. “Where were you when the page was blank?” Today it’s blank page time all over again.
Can we do it again?
This time around, we’ve got new challenges. A few things have changed in the cigar world since we started CI in the 1990s, notably:
- The Internet. Yes, that internet. In 1996 our competitors thought the web was a passing fad like the horseless carriage. We sat in a cramped office furiously developing websites, brands, and supplier relationships like gorillas pounding on Samsonites.
- MAP. Minimum Advertised Prices. Most manufacturers and brand owners impose price restrictions on sellers. This removes price competition, and locks in market share for established retailers. Artificially high prices are pure price inflation which comes directly out of your wallet. We’re gonna get creative, we’re gonna discount, and that will disrupt our supply of certain brands at times.
- Excise taxes. Federal taxes on cigars have ballooned. In the 90s it was 4-cents per stick, basically non-existent. Now it’s 50+% of the wholesale value with a 42-cent cap. It’s up tenfold, and will go up again.
- Competition. Our competitors are now either divisions of foreign corporations and run by the suits, or inherited. They’re well-heeled, and they each think they hit triples. But deep down they know they were born on third base. We built it, we will build again, and we’re living rent-free inside their domes. And it means they’re gunning for us, and [cue movie trailer voice]this time it’s personal.
- Google. They control search, despise tobacco, and have cigar retailers by the short and curlies. We are simplynot allowed to advertise. This means it’s harder for new dealers like us to find customers and take market share.
- FDA regulations, state taxes, and other shinola (wait, is it shinola or the other word I always get mixed up with shinola?). Month by month, relentlessly and ceaselessly, the industry is more complex, more costly, and more restrictive.
All of the above means less gunslinging and more control. The cold, white-knuckle grip around our undercarriage and yours continues! As they say, a weary heart cannot withstand fate. That’s why we plan to be bold. As tempting as it is to launch into my William Wallace speech, I will simply ask that you consider joining us. Stay on our mailing list. Give us suggestions on how can we improve? If we have better deals, buy from us. If we don’t, give us feedback. We’ve got exciting things planned which we’ll gradually roll out.
In any event, thanks for your consideration and your patronage. Contact us here.