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Cano A. Ozgener and Aylin Ozgener-Sherman, C.A.O. International Inc.

Posted: October 14, 1997
Chat With Cano A. Ozgener and Aylin Ozgener-Sherman, C.A.O. International Inc.

Transcript of Live Interview from Tuesday, October 14, 9:00 p.m. EDT (6:00 PDT)

Moderator -- New York, NY at 09:00:00 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
Welcome, all, to our first duet. In the hot seat this evening are Cano A. Ozgener, founder of C.A.O. International Inc., and his daughter--and national sales director--Aylin Ozgener-Sherman, one of the most prominent women in the cigar industry. We've received many a question about the plight of Aylin in such a male-dominated business, so, without further adieu, let's go down that road.

Ralph Davila -- Los Angeles, CA at 09:00:15 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
How is it that you came to terms with working in a male dominated business, with products that are sold almost exclusively to males? Or should I be asking how the industry came to terms with you?

Aylin Ozgener-Sherman -- Nashville, TN at 09:01:16 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
It's interesting, because I get asked this a lot. My usual response is, what major industry ISN?T male dominated? With more and more women smoking cigars, though, it's important that females have a presence in the industry. I get great responses from everyone I work with and the people I come in contact with. If anything, the fact that I'm a woman is refreshing to people. It means the industry is broadening and opening up to everyone.

Fehim Silahtar -- Istanbul, Turkey at 09:02:07 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
I am absolutely delighted to see two familiar names (Turkish names) in a not-so-familiar business to the Turks! Cigars are very in nowadays in Istanbul, Turkey. Almost one year ago the first Casa del Habano store opened in Istanbul. Now Davidoff is almost ready to open its first store here. Would you ever consider putting your know how to use in expanding the cigar biz in Turkey?

Cano Ozgener -- Nashville, TN at 09:03:02 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
Merhaba, Bay Silahtar. Thank you for the question. It's nice to hear from Istanbul. You are very much on target. Cigar smoking is indeed gaining in popularity in Turkey. As you are probably already aware, C.A.O. Meerschaum pipes are hand carved in Turkey--and so we currently maintain an office in Istanbul. And I'm looking forward to seeing C.A.O. cigars become popular there--the most popular cigars in Turkey, I hope. I'll be there to smoke them with you.

Brian D. Moore -- Knoxville, TN at 09:03:59 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
I really love your Gold Robusto. I was wondering what prompted you to move from being a pipe smoker to a cigar smoker? Or do you partake in both?

Cano Ozgener -- Nashville, TN at 09:05:06 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
I'm glad you like our Gold Robusto. That's one of my favorites also. I never really moved from pipes to cigars, as I have enjoyed smoking both for over 30 years now. (But I will say that I have never smoked cigarettes. And, incidentally, I have never inhaled!) As for our business, we remain 100 percent devoted to pipe smokers. The pipe market is very vibrant now. But of course the growth in the pipe market is not as strong as the phenomenal development in the cigar industry.

Kyle Ekinci -- Cambridge, MA at 09:05:49 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
Where do you predict your company is going to be in year 2000?

Aylin Ozgener-Sherman -- Nashville, TN at 09:06:53 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
C.A.O. is celebrating its 30th anniversary next year, and we will have the opportunity to celebrate this occasion with all of our friends at the RTDA convention, which will be held in our hometown, Nashville, Tennessee, next year. C.A.O. has experienced phenomenal growth in the last few years, as it continues to be at the forefront of the industry. We have been expanding our business internationally, and we will continue to do so in the years to come. We're very strong in Japan and Malaysia, Australia and South Africa. We're looking into getting into Germany, England, France and Spain.

Cano Ozgener -- Nashville, TN at 09:08:42 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
We would also like to be in Turkey. I really care about Turkey, because that's the country where I was born. And our international expansion has been very successful so far. One of our associates is going to Japan in a week, for a week of conferences and cigar dinners and lectures about cigars--all of which are new things for that country. Our cigar is very highly received in Japan. So we are actually paying a lot of attention to our Japanese cigar smokers.

Nick Shay -- Bronx, New York at 09:09:22 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
Aylin, did you always know you were going to join your father's business?

Aylin Ozgener-Sherman -- Nashville, TN at 09:10:51 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
Ever since I was a little girl, I've been a part of this industry. First because my father has been in it for many years, and then because I grew to appreciate tobacco products. So I feel that I've been very lucky to be raised in this industry and to have the knowledge that I do. I don't claim to know it all, and every day there is more to learn. Just out of college, I wanted to work for a large corporation. So I did that for about a year--and then I was ready to become involved in the family business again, which I always knew I would do. Even as a little girl, I was pricing pipes and learning to appreciate pipes and other tobacco related products. Friends found it a little unusual, which I guess it is--but they were always very interested and very curious about it themselves. But all in all, it's wonderful to work in an industry that allows the freedom to enjoy life to the fullest.

Scott Dorbert -- Marshfield, WI at 09:11:28 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
Has blue mold affected your crop this year?

Cano Ozgener -- Nashville, TN at 09:12:26 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
Thankfully we did not have the misfortune of having to deal with the blue mold. It did not affect our production in those countries at all. But the price of the tobacco will probably go up in the coming years--and that may affect us. The same is true with the effects of El Nino. While we haven?t been directly effected, we may bear the burden of indirect effects, such as higher prices.

Mehmet Erktin -- Istanbul at 09:13:25 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
Have you considered opening a branch in Istanbul? Istanbul'da puro ve aksesuarlari pazarinda büyük bir bosluk var. Selamlar.

Cano Ozgener -- Nashville, TN at 09:14:13 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
Merhaba, Bay Erktin (by the way, shouldn't your name be spelled Ertekin?), before I answer, I should translate the second part of your question for everyone. You say, ?In Istanbul there is a big lack of cigars and cigar accessories.? As for your question, If you know somebody who wants to open up a branch in Istanbul, let me know. I'm very much interested in making our products--cigars, humidors and pipes--popular in Turkey.

Noel Cooper -- Columbus, OH at 09:15:56 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
How long do you expect the cigar boom to last? And how will you be prepared to adapt to the decline in cigar smoking?

Aylin Ozgener-Sherman -- Nashville, TN at 09:17:09 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
The cigar boom, as you refer to it, will inevitably taper off. Nothing can continue to grow at the rate our industry has been growing over the past few years. I will stress, however, that I believe cigars are definitely a trend--and not a fad. The difference being that, while we may not see the same exponential rate of growth in the industry that we?ve been experiencing, I believe that we will continue to see cigars as a fixture in today and tomorrow's lifestyle.

Elvia Ornelas -- Benicia, CA at 09:18:15 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
What is your nationality, and where are you guys from? Also, how and why did you guys decide to do cigars? Of all the cigars I have tried, the C.A.O. Gold are my favorites.

Cano Ozgener -- Nashville, TN at 09:19:45 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
I was born and raised in Istanbul, Turkey. I received a degree in mechanical engineering at the American College in Istanbul. Then, in 1961, I came to the United States to enter Columbia University's engineering master's program. I graduated in 1964, with my master's degree and a professional degree in engineering. Dupont Chemical Corporation hired me out of college, and I was eventually transferred to Nashville, Tennessee. And that is where I live today. As for your second question, C.A.O. has always been successful in the pipe and humidor business--and I've always had a deep love for cigars. In 1995, when the cigar boom was in full swing, I felt it was time for C.A.O. to make the jump. I recognized the need for relaxation in this fast-paced, stressed out world in which we live; and a good cigar allows one to take the time to relax and enjoy the finer things in life.

Bigger Ash -- Nashville, TN at 09:20:16 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
Aylin, you look like your mother. I remember how shy you were when you were little. What do you do for the company? And what about Timmy? Is he with the company?

Aylin Ozgener-Sherman -- Nashville, TN at 09:21: 01 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
I'm the director of national sales, so I'm very much involved with sales of our products nationally. Also I'm involved in training our sales representatives. I'm not so shy anymore. But you?re right, I was very shy when I was little. My brother Timmy is in charge of sales on the West Coast. He's very involved in smoking events, especially in California. Also, he's involved in public relations events for C.A.O. We were the cigar sponsor for the Fox Sports Major League Baseball All-Star cigar party. Also, we co-sponsored the Fox Sports Super Bowl party in New Orleans.

Che Bowers -- Atlanta, GA at 09:22:39 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
What is the reason for producing your brand in two different countries? P.S. Thank you for this wonderful brand, I thoroughly enjoy C.A.O.!!

Cano Ozgener -- Nashville, TN at 09:23:28 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
First, thank you for your kind compliments. The reason for producing C.A.O. cigars in two different countries is simply one of choice. When you dine in a fine restaurant, you want to have choices: would you like filet mignon, leg of lamb or lobster? I chose Honduras to produce our first blend because of the availability of good quality rollers there. You can have the finest tobacco in the world, but without the best rollers you will not have excellent or consistent constructions. As for our Gold Line, we chose Nicaragua because I believe the soil in Nicaragua is the finest in the world for growing tobacco. Many people forget that there was a time when Nicaragua was second only to Cuba in the quality and numbers of cigars produced.

Anthony MulHolland -- Las Vegas, NV at 09:24:22 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
I find that my wife prefers flavored cigars. Do you believe this will be a trend that grows? Since flavored cigars are gentler on the palette. I think it will. Also, do you have advice for women entering the cigar industry?

Aylin Ozgener-Sherman -- Nashville, TN at 09:26:03 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
While C.A.O. does not offer a flavored cigar, I see that there is a niche for it. I think that flavored cigars will continue to enjoy their own market. So if you want to smoke them, I say go for it. And I say go for it to anyone who wants to enter the cigar industry. It's a great industry to work in, but it is still completely male dominated. So, right now, the more women that hop on the better. My advice to women thinking about entering this business is, learn as much about the industry as possible. And have fun. With hectic work schedules and families, women need an outlet just as men do. That?s why I love to be able to appear at, or host, female smoker events. It's a lot of fun to be able to sit around with a handful of women and talk and enjoy a cigar

Joe Aveni -- Milford, CT at 09:27:17 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
Are the woods used in your humidors of any particular type? And does the choice of the wood makes one humidor a better selection over another for retaining the freshness of the cigar?

Cano Ozgener -- Nashville, TN at 09:27:59 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
The woods we use for C.A.O. humidors are various. We have our standard line that utilizes furniture grade cherry, mahogany, oak and walnut woods. We also use more exotic woods, such as Birdseye maple, Coco Bolo, Lacewood, and Sapele, to name a few. What is important for retaining the freshness of cigars is the actual interior of the humidor. The interior, in my opinion, should be covered with Spanish cedar--because of its aromatic qualities--thus enhancing the aging and the flavors of the cigar. And I prefer that the Spanish cedar interior be totally raw, sanded with very fine sand paper, and not finished at all--because finishing it destroys the purpose of using Spanish cedar.

David C. Oxley -- Montclair, VA at 09:28:27 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
What are your thoughts regarding: (1) the increased pressure by the anti-smoking movement on tobacco policy in the United States; and (2) the extent to which potential tobacco policies will effect the cigar industry? Kind regards.

Cano Ozgener -- Nashville, TN at 09:29:22 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
The United States is a wonderful country in which the basic principle is freedom. That's why I selected this country to make my home. To try to take away this freedom of choice from anyone who enjoys a cigar is ridiculous. We, as cigar smokers and as citizens, have a responsibility to pay attention to our rights and to exercise them. If we are stripped of our rights to smoke cigars, what's next? One positive in this, however, is the resurgence of smoking lounges and cigar bars, which serve as an indicator in opinion of what the public wants. People will do what people choose to do. Look at Prohibition. It didn't work.

Gary Patterson -- Colorado Springs, co at 09:30:21 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
What are the chances of cigar prices in general being dramatically reduced in the next one to two years?

Cano Ozgener -- Nashville, TN at 09:31:14 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
That's an interesting question. There will be many currents which will determine the prices in the future. On the one hand, poorly made cigars will be difficult to sell in the market--thus there will be all kinds of sales and reductions for these low-quality cigars. On the other hand, because of the blue mold, cigar tobacco prices will be inching higher. So in a few years that should drive the price of good quality cigars higher. And, of course, when and if Cuba opens its doors, or is accepted by the United States, that will be another variable to influence the price of cigars. Generally speaking though, American and international companies have provided consumers with excellent quality cigars at very good prices. I'm proud that C.A.O. is among these producers.

Jim Mesko -- Pittsburgh, PA at 09:32:28 PM EDT on October 7, 1997:
I am thinking about starting to smoke cigars and am looking for a little advice. I would like to start with a mild cigar with good taste. What do you suggest?

Aylin Ozgener-Sherman -- Nashville, TN at 09:33:31 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
Jim, I will suggest two cigars for you. The C.A.O. Petit Corona and the C.A.O. Gold Corona. Both of these are excellent choices for someone searching for a mild cigar with good flavor. The difference between the two is that the Petit Corona has more of a creamy spice tone, while the Gold has more of a spicy character, with hints of vanilla accents. Let me also suggest trying various beverages to accompany your cigar and enhance the flavor experience. Most importantly, Jim, be sure to enjoy and savor your cigar. Find a comfortable chair, watch the sunset, watch the snowfall, or watch the Steelers play on Sunday. Whatever you choice, make sure to relax and enjoy.

Luciano Santo -- Brasília, Brazil at 09:34:58 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
It's almost impossible to find your cigars in Brazil. Do you have any plans for distribution in South America?

Aylin Ozgener-Sherman -- Nashville, TN at 09:35:44 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
Yes, we currently have a number of standing orders from Sao Paulo, Brazil, for our soon-to-be-released cigar four packs. I?d say you can expect to see C.A.O. cigars in South America before the end of 1997.

Matt Borax -- Tallahassee, FL at 09:36:11 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
This question is for Aylin. Aylin it's very interesting to see a woman making her presence felt in the "male" tobacco industry. But even more interesting is that you represent a different demographic than the previously predominant "older, more affluent" cigar smokers. Does your age give you a very different view of the industry, or the culture surrounding cigar smoking? I'm 27 and I started smoking cigars seriously about one year ago. Do you see a new direction for marketing cigars to our generation?

Aylin Ozgener-Sherman -- Nashville, TN at 09:37:45 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
Matt, in my opinion one does not necessarily have to be in a certain income bracket to enjoy a fine cigar. In fact, that's the beauty of cigars--for $5 to $10 anyone can enjoy "the good life." Cigars give virtually everyone, regardless of demographics, the opportunity to relax and enjoy a luxurious item. As for marketing ideas for a new generation of smokers, C.A.O. cigars are breaking through the barriers by having a presence everywhere--from elite private smoking clubs to the hippest bars nationwide. We want to be the cigar that bridges the gap and is pleasing to every level of cigar smoker.

Jeff Bryant -- Hagerstown MD at 09:38:22 PM EDT on September 30, 1997:
Being a novice cigar smoker, I am curious about humidors. What are the basics I should look for in selecting one?

Aylin Ozgener-Sherman -- Nashville, TN at 09:39:12 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
There are definitely some basics to look for when selecting a humidor. Remember that your humidor will be responsible for storing and aging your premium and valuable cigars. So be careful with your selections, and look upon it as an investment. Look for solid wood construction, and a liner that will allow your cigars to breathe and mature--such as Spanish cedar or Honduran mahogany. Also, look for a good seal between the lid and the box.

Jeff Bryant -- Hagerstown, MD at 09:40:02 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
Do you foresee the lifting of the Cuban embargo in the near future? And if that does occur, what effect do you think it would have on the short and long term sales of popular brands smoked in America today?

Cano Ozgener -- Nashville, TN at 09:41:30 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
When the Berlin wall fell, I expected the Cuban embargo to end. That didn't happen--but it's still inevitable that it will soon. And when that happens it will be another boom for the cigar industry. C.A.O. will be one of the participants in that. It is difficult to say what direction the boom will head in, but all of the current major manufacturers will be represented in Cuba one way or the other. What I believe will be interesting to see is how consumers will react to paying $20 to 30 for a single cigar. Initially they will have to pay these prices for Cuban cigars.

Aylin Ozgener-Sherman -- Nashville, TN at 09:42:01 AM EDT on October 14, 1997:
Also, in my opinion, when and if Cubans become legal, they will be very popular at first--because of the fact that they haven't been legal for 30 years. But I think many people will then realize that these are very full-bodied cigars--and that they're just not for everyone, particularly not for people who aren't used to smoking. So I think that they'll be selling quite well at first, but then they'll probably taper off.

Sarah Mead -- Los Angeles, CA at 09:43:33 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
Aylin, any thoughts on the recent surge in cigar smoking among 20 to 35 year old women? Do you think the old boys club is dead? Do you find any prejudice towards you in this male-dominated industry?

Aylin Ozgener-Sherman -- Nashville, TN at 09:44:53 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
Those are good questions. There are indeed more women smoking between the ages of 20 to 35, and I think that's great. I think it's fine when the men get together to smoke cigars at their events--but there are women now who are getting together in the same way. I'm glad to see that. They're sharing cigars with their friends. But as for prejudice, I don't really see as much of it as people seem to think. If anything, people find it refreshing to see that I'm involved in this business.

Fieromike -- Cleveland, OH at 09:46:12 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
Your magazine ads are quite spectacular. Who inspires the ads?

Cano Ozgener -- Nashville, TN at 09:47:35 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
Thanks for that question. Everybody in my organization was against those ads, except for me and my son! We tried to have fun with our ads. That was the basic principle. We wanted our customers to stop and admire them. So we went to Hollywood and came up with these 007-type advertisements. We've gotten tremendous feedback, too. At Cigar Aficionado Big Smokes, people come to our booth and shake our hands and say, "Those are great ads." That's why we've continued with our ads up until now. Next year, though, we'll be changing the format a bit.

Will Savage -- Nashville, TN at 09:48:02 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
You mentioned that you'll be "celebrating with all your friends" next year at the cigar trade show here in Nashville. Do you plan to host a big ol' bash to show off our world-famous hospitality?

Cano Ozgener -- Nashville, TN at 09:48:43 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
You bet. The plans are in the works. There are a few ways that we can go about this celebration. It will be a surprise. But don't expect any country music performers!

Brady Hogan -- Springfield, VA at 09:49:18 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
Marvin's column on the Web site this week discusses the growing trend of vintage-dating cigars (like wines). Any plans for a C.A.O. Vintage?

Cano Ozgener -- Nashville, TN at 09:50:16 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
We are thinking about it. As a matter a fact, I had the idea to do a vintage about a year ago. And there's a possibility that we will do it. Next year is our 30th anniversary--so that would be a great time to bring out a vintage.

Jodie Turnbull -- San Francisco, CA at 09:51:20 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
Nestor Plasencia makes your cigars, right? In a facility as large as Nestor's, how do you control the production of your brand? Are there specific rollers who work only on C.A.O., or does that change pretty much at Nestor's whim? I've heard he makes more than 30 brands. Do you worry about getting enough personal attention?

Cano Ozgener -- Nashville, TN at 09:52:10 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
Quality it very important to us. We put my name--my initials--on the cigars. So I'm very particular about these issues. We have a special arrangement with Nestor Plascencia. Although he has many other brands, he will tell you that C.A.O. is a very special niche for him. And there are special rollers to make our cigars. We also have the director of product development and quality control regularly going to Honduras and Nicaragua to check on quality control and make sure everything is going smoothly.

Beth Israel -- Paramus, NJ at 09:52:49 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
I've heard people pronounce your name "ciao," as in "ciao, baby!" Any thoughts?

Cano Ozgener -- Nashville, TN at 09:54:00 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
I have an odd name. It's part Turkish, part French and part Armenian. An unusual name has its advantages--because people remember who you are. But, of course, there are some difficulties, too. But I'll speak to you regardless of how you want to pronounce my name.

Julie Jalbert, age 8 -- Boston, MA at 09:54:48 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
My daddy wanted me to ask you this. When you hosted that baseball All-Star party, were any of the players smoking cigars? If so, which ones (players, that is)? Hopefully some of them ditched their yucky Skoal habit to stick with stogies!

Cano Ozgener -- Nashville, TN at 09:56:01 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
Yes, there were some All-Star players smoking the Gold Churchills. Some big home run hitters and even Hall of Fame players! And although we would like to boost our image by saying which stars were smoking our cigars, we should respect their privacy and not say their names.

Paul J. Sorrentino -- Beloit, WI at 09:56:57 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
Why is the figurado style cigar more expensive? Is it the type of tobacco used, or are they just more difficult to manufacture?

Aylin Ozgener -- Nashville, TN at 09:58:07 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
You have to be particular about how much tobacco goes into figurados. It's hard to find the rollers to do it. They have to put more time into it, and it becomes a bit more expensive. Plus, the reject level is higher. So all of that combines to make the figurado a bit more higher priced.

Paul J. Sorrentino -- Beloit, WI at 09:59:05 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
How do you plan to break into the Spanish market, I was in Madrid this summer and the Cubans and Canary Islands brands are very popular.

Cano Ozgener -- Nashville, TN at 09:59:55 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
The Spanish market presents its own problems. Every international country has its own regulations and also marketing problems. We have very good contacts in the Spanish market, and we are counting on their distribution system. We know that Cubans are very popular there, as are the Canary Islands cigars. However, we believe there is a demand--however small--for our cigars.

Moderator -- New York, NY at 10:00:45 PM EDT on October 14, 1997:
We apologize to you and to the Ozgeners for the problems that slowed this chat down. But we thank you all for visiting, and we thank the Ozgeners for being such gracious chat hosts. Please begin submitting questions for our next chat, on October 28th, when our guest will be cigar industry veteran Manuel Quesada.

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