The local B and M's are very service oriented. In order to get repeat customers they make it a point to know what we like. They also may offer a full line of accessories such as cutters, lighters and humidors.
The large catalogue companies thrive on hundreds of lines of cigars and usually a lower price point.
I have been very fortunate to deal with both local stores and the big boys of the cigar world. Recently I have developed a relationship with a cigar on line service that offers a unique hybrid of service, choice, and very good prices.
Cigarscity.com is a newer cigar catalogue company which is doing a great job of providing a nice mix of well known and boutique style of cigars. I submitted several questions to Anthony Welsch of CigarsCity.com to get their viewpoints of their aspect of the cigar business.
When did you start you on line service?
We got our start about three years ago - we started building the CigarsCity.com site out, getting our humidor space operational and then ultimately started to buy inventory. Especially early on it was important to find products we could compete with the bigger retailers on when it came to price.
Who is your competition? What makes you different from your competition ?
I think this is an interesting question because there tends to be a lot of brick and mortar versus online talk among cigar lovers and I don’t see the world that way. I think there is room for both the B&M’s and online shops like us. We’re going to do all we can to give you a great experience and make it as personalized as the tobacconist down the street but we know there’s always going to be value in camaraderie and often, that comes from the local B&M.
What challenges do you think are the biggest to overcome in the cigar industry?
There’s the obvious threats and challenges of increased regulation but ultimately, I think it goes deeper than that. I don’t know when exactly it happened but somehow cigars became taboo and almost “dirty” in the eyes of many in the American public. Most cigar fans I know are perfect gentlemen so I don’t know where it came from but one of our biggest challenges is convincing the American public that premium cigars are not the same as cigarettes.
How do you pick what cigars and accessories you sell?
Sometimes it feels like we’d be better off closing our eyes and throwing darts than our current method. There are generally two ways to get us to carry you. The first is to have an amazing product that delivers consistent value. If a new blend comes to the market and it’s unique or strikes us as fantastic - there’s a good chance we’ll be interested in carrying it.
Now, that’s not foolproof because palates are different. So, if a brand can show us that they’ve already grown a following and they’re reputable from a sourcing and quality standpoint - they’d have our ear and could ultimately earn a place in our humidor.
What trends do you foresee in the near future ?
I think this comes back to the threat of FDA regulation. If we can avoid unfair regulation, I think you’ll see the boutique world of cigars continue to grow. It should present some great opportunities for cigar smokers to try new blends and hopefully get the most of their cigars. If regulation comes into play - things could get very sterile for a while. I don’t think any of us will quit smoking cigars, it just won’t be as interesting since new products will be severely limited.
What do you smoke as an every day smoke and special occasion?
One of my “go-to” cigars is the Crowned Heads Four Kicks I also really enjoy the Joya Antano 1970 series. I’m not nuts about overbearing cigars and the balance both of those cigars brings is excellent. I am really impressed with Caldwell’s Blind Man’s Bluff as well.
As for special occasions - I generally look for something I haven’t had before if I’m in the $20-$30 range; so I don’t really have a “go-to”. Arturo Fuente's Opus X series as a whole is a pretty safe bet for special occasions. Of some of the newer releases - Sobremesa is in that $12-$15 range and a little steep to be an everyday smoke but the cigar itself is absolutely wonderful and incredibly smooth.
Why do you like cigars and what type of people smoke cigars?
One of the reasons I love cigars is because they are so contrary to everything else in today’s world. I’m just as bad as everyone else - my television is on, I have my computer screen in front of me and I’m constantly on my phone; Everything is rushed. With cigars - you’re forced to slow down.
I don’t know that it’s fair to say there’s one type of person who smokes cigars so I’m hesitant to put a description to them. We’re lucky in that we’ve earned the business of all types of men and women - from stock market investors to guys who work blue collar jobs like doing landscaping in the summers. I can say that I envision cigars as a pastime for gentlemen and today, I think that rings true - I’ve never sat down with a group of guys to have a cigar and felt like I wasn’t among a group of gentlemen.
What advise would you give to a novice smoker and an experienced smoker?
To a novice smoker - I’d advise them to tune out their friends, reviewers and everyone else and just pay attention to identifying what they like in a cigar. I wouldn’t say the Urban Fishing Pole is guilty of this but if you look at some of the casual cigar forums, some cigar fans tie masculinity to cigar strength and I think that’s a mistake. It can cause people just getting into cigars to dive too deep, they don’t have a good experience and then they lose interest.
For experienced smokers, I’d encourage them to never get stuck in a rut or fall into an old stand-by. It’s one thing to have a go-to cigar that you know you’ll enjoy - it’s another to completely stop trying new things. There are a lot of great new cigars that are introduced every year - a lot of times they come from guys that are fairly unknown. Don’t be afraid to give them a shot - 9 times out of 10, you’ll be happy you did.
Are there too many brands and choices in today's market?
Sometimes I think so as we’re creating product pages and paying to have photos taken of cigars for our site, haha! I’m not sure that you’ll ever convince a customer that he or she has too many options. Options mean power for cigar smokers. They can get a cigar that offers exactly what they want and competition generally will make prices very competitive. In some ways, it can be overwhelming but ultimately, I think most of us would rather have the option of many cigars than be saddled with a handful to pick from.
This is an interesting question as it relates to us as an online cigar shop. We’re lucky to have earned customers in rural areas and we can give them options they might not have close to home. Some have a local cigar shops that are more of a convenience store / gas station than tobacconist. I know that the online world has seen a lot of criticism from the brick and mortar world but there’s no denying that a chunk of cigar smoking public has benefitted from the world of online cigars.
Is the opening of Cuba going to impact your business and how will you cope with this? Do you see this as a plus or an negative issue?
If and when Cuba opens, it absolutely will impact our business and I think all cigar smokers in the United States. I think in the long-run, it’s going to be a big plus as it will drive a ton of interest toward cigars on the whole. My fear is that many of these “cigar-curious” Americans will only be interested in Cubans and won’t take the time to learn about some of the great Dominican, Honduran and Nicaraguan brands out there. My hope is that even a temporary increase in the popularity of cigars will make cigar smoking more accepted by the general public and alleviate some of the political pressure we face today.