A Conversation with Alan Rubin
The founder of the Alec Bradley Cigar Co. talks about the reversal of fortune that put his smokes near the top.
From the Print Edition:
Matthew McConaughey, March/April 2011
Alan Rubin wasn't born into the cigar business, and the timing of his debut—1996—hardly guaranteed success. The cigar boom had already reached its zenith, and when his first smokes were ready for sale a year later they entered a market with far too many cigars and too little demand.
Soon deep in debt, Rubin told his wife he doubted whether he could make this industry work. Today, the 49-year-old has established a firm foothold as the head of a boutique cigar company that consistently delivers high scores. His smokes have appeared on Cigar Aficionado's Top 25 list in three consecutive years, and in 2010 his Alec Bradley Family Blend T11 scored 94 points.
In January, senior editor David Savona met with Rubin in Dania, Florida, at the headquarters of his small company, and over Alec Bradley cigars they discussed Rubin's journey through the cigar industry.
David Savona: Let's go back to the beginning. Tell us how you got into the cigar business.
Rubin: I was in another business. I was an importer of fasteners. I had an opportunity to sell the company. Whatever I wanted to do next I wanted to be passionate about.
Q: Were you in business with anyone?
A: It was with my dad, I joined him after college. It was a business that sold to cabinet companies. After Hurricane Andrew hit south Florida I changed the direction of the company to do hurricane fasteners.
Q: Was that a higher-margin product?
A: No, it was lower margin, but with a lot of volume. Our business was growing quite rapidly. We ended up selling. I didn't know what the next business was going to be. I wrote down a list. No employees, no inventory, something I could control. I got none of that.
Q: So how did you decide on cigars?
A: I was introduced to cigars when I was in my early 20s. I fell in love with the tradition. I always loved machinery, taking nothing and making something. I saw how you could take these leaves and make something out of them. Cigars had a history that technology couldn't make better. It was the fact that you couldn't do it quickly—you had to slow down. Even though it didn't hit anything on that list, the industry drew me in.
Q: Why the name Alec Bradley?
A: Those are my kids' names. And my dad told me always start the company with the letter "A", because it's at the start of the Yellow Pages. I never forgot that he told me that.
Q: What was the name of the company your father owned?
A: All Points Screw Co. My father has a lot of wisdom. When I was 10 years old I was in grade school and I was walking in line to lunch and I saw my father's delivery truck at the school. When I looked at the top I saw "Gloria Alan Industries." And I realized Alan was for me. And I never forgot the feeling of pride. I decided that if I could ever do something great in the cigar business I wanted my kids' names to be on the company.
Q: When did you start the cigar company?
A: I sold the other company in 1996, and I incorporated this business two months before the deal went through, and I went to the RTDA [the annual cigar trade show]. A friend of mine was a retailer and I walked the show. I loved the ambience. I couldn't get anyone to make a cigar then. I eventually found a small manufacturer in Honduras. It didn't work out very well. He was taking my money and not giving me product.
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