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
(continued from page 1)
Q: What was your first cigar?
A: That was under the name Bogey's Stogies, "The only bogie you'll ever enjoy on the golf course." We sold our first Bogey's Stogies in '97, until '99. I'm a Florida boy and I thought that people played golf 12 months out of the year in the entire country (laughs). It was kind of a faulty business plan.
Q: So Bogey's Stogies wasn't doing well?
A: I learned how to play Jai Alai in my warehouse, because we had plenty of space. I got very good at Wiffle Ball within our warehouses. Ultimately I met Ralph Montero. We exchanged numbers. He had worked with his uncle Pedro Martín [then the owner of Tropical Tobacco] and he went out on his own. And then the boom was over, and he was having a hard time selling cigars. And so was I. I asked about Ralph, everyone loved him. I said, "I need help." He came to work here in 2000.
Q: Let's talk about what changes you made.
A: I realized we had to get into the premium cigar stores. I said it was time to make a change. Timing is everything. That was the same time Henke Kelner [best known for producing Davidoff and Avo cigars] was looking for some production—everyone's production numbers went down because the boom was over. Ralph said, "I'm friendly with Henke—why don't you give it a shot?" I barely had enough money to buy samples. I had a partner who left in April 1999. When he left, we were very much in debt, over $60,000 in debt, I had about $3,000 in the bank account. I went to my wife and said I don't know if I can pull us out of this mess. I said I'm going to stay in the business long enough to pay off the debt, then I'll just probably get out of the business.
Henke gave me some samples. He wanted to get the name of the factory Occidental out, so I called the cigar Occidental Reserve. We sent out samples to 500 cigar retailers with two cigars in each. I didn't put any prices on them.
Q: You sent out samples, rather than selling cigars. How did that perform?
A: That was the turnaround. We followed up with 500 phone calls. I said, "Could you sell this?" They said, "Yes. How much?" I said, "Probably $3 to $4."
Q: And out of the 500, how many ended up buying the cigars?
A: We probably ended up with 300 customers. That was a huge influx of customers. They were looking for a high-quality cigar that was inexpensive. And we sold it in bundles. People really gravitated to it. We paid off the debt. I said we have a little bit of momentum. It was a pretty exciting time.
Q: When did you first think you could make this work—was this it?
A: No. We had some moments within Alec Bradley's lifespan that have been big momentum pushers for us. Occidental Reserve helped us survive. When we came out with Trilogy, with our triangle press, that was great exposure and great distribution. Then when we came out with Maxx, all these big cigars at one price—any cigar at $5. You could get a 50 ring gauge for $5.
Q: When did you consider the company safe?
A: When we went from survive to thrive? That was Tempus.
Q: When did you launch Alec Bradley Tempus?
A: In 2007. Tempus was the first cigar that had Alec Bradley at the top of the name. That was the line we really wanted to launch AB on top. Every cigar that we did prior to Tempus was mild, mild-to-medium or medium. We never went much above medium. Tempus gave us a more full-bodied cigar, a little more strength, a high level of satisfaction in the flavor profile. It was really the next level of cigar for us. Alec Bradley became the brand with Tempus. We felt the cigar warranted it.
Q: Let's talk about creating that cigar.
A: When we were coming up with Maxx in 2005, Maxx was supposed to be made at the Raices Cubanas factory. We had already seen their Trojes tobacco, we knew it was great. But when we went to launch Maxx, it wasn't ready.
Comments 6 comment(s)
stantine972 — May 2, 2011 9:19pm ET
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Matt Turner — Prince George, British Columbia, Canada, — May 15, 2011 7:55pm ET
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