--> Cigar Coop: 2012 IPCPR Trade Show Preview Part 1: The Five Boutiques to Watch

Sunday, July 1, 2012

2012 IPCPR Trade Show Preview Part 1: The Five Boutiques to Watch

Welcome to our 2012 IPCPR Trade Show Preview.  During the month of July, we will provide a preview into the cigar industry's biggest event - the 2012 IPCPR Trade Show that begins on August 2nd.  We're committed to delivering comprehensive coverage to this event.   Over the next few weeks, we'll provide some features of what to expect and not expect when the trade show begins.   Today we open the series with a look at five boutique cigar companies to watch.

The definition of a boutique company can be sliced and diced many different ways.  In the end, there is not a precise definition.  Here is some criteria to consider.  By no means will a boutique cigar brand satisfy all of this criteria, but these are some general guidelines I look at.   This can probably be subject to a lengthy debate. 

-The size of the company is relatively small
-The company does not own their own tobacco fields, and if they do, it is usually a small farm.
-The company does not own a factory, and if they do, it usually is a small factory.
-The company usually has under 5 brands.
-The company does not have a large production of cigars due to their size and/or tobacco limitations
-The company does not do their own blending.
-From a retail perspective, careful consideration of bringing in the line must be considered as usually something needs to come out of the humidor for the boutique to come in.

For our list, we did not include some popular names like Christian Eiroa, Eddie Ortega, Erik Espinosa, and Jon Huber.  These were already established names who have "done it" at other companies before.   We're looking for some of the lesser known names here

In recent shows, there has been a boutique that usually has been the "buzz" of the trade show.  In this list, this is who to keep an eye on as to who might be the buzz of the trade show.  These are listed in alphabetical order.

262 Cigars

262 Paradigm Lancero - scored a 95
The 2012 IPCPR Trade Show marks the first appearance for 262 Cigars.  This is a line that was started by Clint Aaron of Lynchburg, Virginia.   262 Cigars has developed a regional base in areas such as the Mid Atlantic, Kentucky, and Indiana.  262 has released three lines over the past two and half years - the Paradigm, the Ideology, and the limited release Manifesto.  Recently, Aaron has said a fourth line, the Revere will make its debut at the show.

In addition to making cigars that have been well-received by consumers, there is an underlying theme with 262 Cigars.  The name "262" is symbolic of February, 1962 - when Kennedy signed the embargo against Cuba.  There is a story that Kennedy had his press secretary, Pierre Salinger secure him some Cuban cigar before signing the decree.   There is a hypocrisy involved in these actions, and 262 Cigars looks at the on-going hypocrisy 50 years later  especially in light of many government regulations in the cigar industry.

Outlook:  262 Cigars are known regionally and through online media.   At IPCPR, the company will have a chance to establish themselves on a more nationwide level.   Many retailers who have heard of 262 Cigars will now get an opportunity to meet Aaron and learn a little more.   There will probably be many retailers who will discover 262 for the first time as well.   For the folks well familiar with 262, all eyes will be on the Revere which will be unveiled at the show.

Emilio Cigars

Emilo Grimalkin - soon to be rebranded Emilio La Musa
It is quite possible that by next year, we won't be calling Emilio Cigars a boutique anymore.  They have already established more than five blends, but they have also been quietly building a good retailer base.  They are building their own national sales force to support these efforts.  2012 will mark the first IPCPR for Emilio.

Brand developer, Gary Griffith perhaps has utilized online media to the extreme, and he's told me he expects this from the folks associated with his brand.  No doubt if you are following cigars online, you've heard of Emilio.  Griffith has collaborated with some leading blenders and factories in the industry to create his cigars.  The cigars have been received very well.  For 2011, we ranked two of the cigars in the Top 30 and one honorable mention.

Outlook: The interesting thing I see is whether Emilio Cigars can continue to extend beyond the social media circles and reach the "old school brick and mortars" who aren't online.  To some extent from following their progress, they have already made some good progress in this area.  No doubt word of mouth is out there with many of the old school brick and mortars, so they will be paying Griffith a visit.   It is quite possible that by 2013, Emilio will reach that next level of boutique and be mainstay brand that is found in a lot of shops.  Supply and demand will probably play into this, and knowing Griffith he won't sacrifice quality just to land his cigar somewhere.

Griffith will also be launching some new blends at the show, and that will help with his existing base.

Lou Rodriguez Cigars

Lou Rodriguez Edicion Premier
Lou Rodriguez Cigars made an appearance at the 2011 IPCPR Trade Show.  In the past twelve months,  I do feel the momentum has picked up significantly.   The owner Lou Rodriguez is a surgeon based in Greenville, North Carolina.  He is a passionate cigar enthusiast and he serves as one of the Cigar Rights of America ambassadors for the State of North Carolina.

I wrote the following in an article I authored for QC Exclusive on Lou Rodriguez Cigars:

Rodriguez can trace his roots back to Cuba where his father came from.  The brand was launched to honor his father.  As a part of making his cigars, Rodriguez uses the passionate and dedicated work ethic he learned from his father.  At the same time, the brand seeks to preserve a lot of “old school” traditions associated with cigars, while providing a unique flavor that is not your standard “cookie cutter cigar” line.

Rodriguez's line currently includes four blends, with a limited blend called the Lou Rodriguez MF (Mata Fina).  He has plans to unveil a new cigar at the 2012 IPCPR.

Outlook:  I believe word of mouth is out on Lou Rodriguez Cigars.  He is already in 24 States from coast to coast, so the company has shed being a "regional cigar company".  Like Emilio Cigars, I firmly believe that supply and demand will play a role into how many retailers Rodriguez can expand into.  With enough word of mouth, more retailers are going to pay notice to Lou Rodriguez Cigars and see what the company has to offer.

Ocean State Cigars

Ocean State's J. Grotto Series
Ocean State Cigars is not a new company and not new to the IPCPR.  Ocean State Cigars was founded by Paul Joyal.  Much of their tobacco has a significant proportion of Honduran tobacco in their blends. This is key because in my opinion, I felt Honduran tobacco made a nice renaissance in 2011.  The company offers two blends, the J.Grotto, and the J.Grotto Reserve.  There is also a new cigar called the J.Grotto Silk that will be launched at the trade show.

It's safe to say that Ocean State Cigars are mostly found in the New England States, however the company made a press release earlier this year announcing its national ad campaign.   I've been impressed with the blends the company has released, and with more of a national focus, I think the company is poised for growth.

Outlook: While companies like 262 Cigars and Emilio Cigars are known in online media circles, Ocean State Cigars is still a quieter player on this front.  However, the cigars have been very good and I think this could be the type of cigar that will impress a lot of people - thus, I feel Ocean State Cigars can be more of a player than in recent years.

RoMa Craft Tobac

Adrian's CroMagnon Cranium
Earlier this year, RoMa Craft Tobac was launched as a collaboration between Michael Rosales and Skip Martin.  This collaboration combined the operations of their two companies, Costa Rican Imports, LLC and Galveston Bay Tobacco, LLC.  Two collborative efforts, the CroMagnon and Intemperance have garnered a lot of attention in the online community.  So far, most of the distribution of the CroMagnon and Intemperance has been sold through Martin's online Hava Cigar Shop.  I've also read that part of the mission of the company has been to build their brick and mortar distribution.   It is also worth noting that RoMa Craft Tobac owns their own factory.

I would anticipate the goal at the trade show would be to begin to continue to build the channels into the brick and mortar segment.  Given the popularity of the blends in the online community, this would be a natural progression.

Outlook:  Martin has established a popular presence in online media, so his brands are becoming well known in those circles.  Like companies like Emilio, I believe it will be key to penetrate some of the old school brick and mortars.    I do believe the cigars have now built up a good word of mouth where they will see a lot of activity at their booth.   Like many of the other boutiques, supply and demand will play into the equation.


  1. Thanks for including us in this list. To be thought of with Gary, Lou and Clint is humbling.

    Let's see how we score on your checklist:

    -The size of the company is relatively small
    ....(Check. Our revenues will be < $1 Million in 2012 and Mike and I are the only employees in the US).

    -The company does not own their own tobacco fields, and if they do, it is usually a small farm.
    ....(Check. We aren't farmers, but Mike does have some great farmer's daughter stories.)

    -The company does not own a factory, and if they do, it usually is a small factory.
    ....(Check. We own Fabrica de Tobaccos Nica Sueno in Esteli, Nicaragua, a 2400sf factory that employs about 20 people.)

    -The company usually has under 5 brands. ....(Check. Intemperance (EC and BA) and CroMagnon/Aquitaine.)

    -The company does not have a large production of cigars due to their size and/or tobacco limitations.
    ....(Check. We currently produce <20k cigars/month our maximum capacity in our current facility is <40k cigars/month.)

    -The company does not do their own blending.
    ....(Nope. Not only do we develop all of our blends, we purchase and oversee processing of more than 15 different varietals from 8 different regions. We currently have more than $500k in tobacco inventory to support our production for all of our blends for at least 16 months at a time.)

    -From a retail perspective, careful consideration of bringing in the line must be considered as usually something needs to come out of the humidor for the boutique to come in.
    ....(Check. This is very true and it highlights how important social and new media is to getting exposure with savvy retailers who value and know how to position/sell boutique brands. As of 7/1, we are currently on the shelf of/or in transit to 35 retailers in 15 states from Florida to Hawaii, but our distribution is concentrated in Texas at this time.)

    Unfortunately, our limited production also limits the number of retailers we can be in. We believe we have selected some of the most progressive, innovative and engaged retailers in the country to partner with. IPCPR sales will be very limited as our production is 90% sold out through the end of the year, but our goal will be to find a few more key retail partners for 2012 and identify who our next phase retailers will be for 2013.

    Thanks again for highlighting RoMa Craft Tobac.

    Skip and Mike
    RoMa Craft Tobac

    1. Thank you very much for reading the article and for taking some time to provide some additional context on RoMa Craft Tobac. It is greatly appreciated. Looking forward to following your journey forward in this great industry.


  2. Great post, Will. I have to say that I have experience with only two of these brands - Emilio and RoMa Craft - and both are way at the top for me. Another criteria you might consider is how connected to their customer base these companies are. I know from personal experience that both Gary and Skip are as hands on as can be when it comes to interacting with their customers.

  3. As a retailer that carries 4 of your 5 selections, I really appreciate the people you have highlighted here, and please notice I didn't say "companies". I said people for a reason, because I consider all of these brand owners friends, and I wouldn't have it any other way. These guys are the wave of the future, and B&M's that aren't on this bandwagon are way behind the curve. Integrity in all of their interactions and the best customer service in the industry are the hallmarks of all these people, not to mention the best cigars you can find. Great article.

  4. Thanks Coop for your kind, yet honest assertions. We do our best to delight as many customers as possible. All the folks mentioned above are great folks, and honor the industry with their efforts. We deeply appreciate the support.

    Working hard...shunning sleep :)

    Nate with Emilio Cigars.

  5. Thank you Will. It is an honor to be included, and we look forward to continuing the measured growth that has been the hallmark of the Emilio brand all along. Our foremost priority in all this is to build lasting relationships with fine retailers who understand that what we have to offer is far more than the cigars themselves.

  6. Gary, Skip, Clint, and Lou are definitely hommies that should get some special loving at the IPCPR this year. They hustle and put out great product. Much love and respect.