An Interview with Ernesto Perez-Carrillo

Owner, El Credito Cigar Co., makers of La Gloria Cubana, La Hoja Selecta, El Rico Habano and Dos Gonzales cigars.

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Carrillo: In Miami, they average about 40 years old. I don't think you find too many of the older generation making cigars today as was the case when my father was making cigars in 1968.
CA: With the explosion of cigar factories in Miami, have you lost many of your rollers to competitors in the last several years?
Carrillo: We lost a lot of people. At one time, we had about 40 rollers, then we lost about 15 to competitors. Because of the new popularity of cigars, everyone is opening up a cigar factory. The first thing they do is try to look for experienced cigar rollers. And I was one of the most visible ones there, so that's where they went.
CA: I assume that was a problem.
Carrillo: It was a problem until I opened up in the Dominican Republic. It was one of the main reasons I opened the factory there. I saw this coming.
CA: How much time are you spending in the Dominican Republic versus Miami?
Carrillo: I spend about 20 days out of the month.
CA: In the Dominican Republic?
Carrillo: Right.
CA: What was it like to open a factory in the Dominican Republic? Did you have a lot of problems in getting started or did it go smoothly?
Carrillo: Quite frankly, it was lot smoother than I thought it would be. And a great part of the reason was that I have a management team working with me in the Dominican Republic who I guess, you know, are great kids--Felix Rodriguez, Olmedo Pichardo and Noemi Perez. They have helped me through the whole process, got me the people to work in the factory. So it wasn't as hard as it would have been if I hadn't had these people.
CA: How about the companies that have been in the Dominican Republic a long time. Did they welcome you as a new competitor, or didn't they want to help?
Carrillo: No, as soon as I came in, I got their assistance. And, like I said, I found no problem in getting whatever help I needed from the bigger companies there.
CA: Any in particular?
Carrillo: The Fuentes. They helped me with molds, presses and boxes to make my first shipments. They were the ones that were really in the forefront to say, 'Whatever you need.' They still are.
CA: With everyone short of rollers, and everyone having big training programs, isn't there the potential for problems in hiring rollers away from other factories?
Carrillo: It has created problems. I couldn't be sure if a job applicant had been working in other factories, or whether they left a year ago, six months ago. But as soon as we found out that these people were not telling the truth, then we just let them go. That's one thing down there in the Dominican Republic; you know everybody respects each other's work. If a worker comes to me from the Fuentes or General [Cigar Co.] or MATASA or wherever, we call them and make sure it's OK to give them work.
CA: If you make 1.2 million cigars in Miami and 6 million in the Dominican Republic, that's 7.2 million cigars, with the majority La Gloria Cubana. Didn't you used to sell a lot of your cigars out of your store?
Carrillo: We still do.
CA: But you also ship to a small group of selected retailers around the country. Doesn't the dynamic change when you increase your production sixfold? In many ways, you've gone from a mom-and-pop operation to real commercial volume. How are you going to deal with that? How are you going to handle the increase in shipments?
Carrillo: It has changed dramatically. It's not easy. As a matter of fact, I'm going to start looking for a building just to handle the cigars from the Dominican Republic. And our shop on 8th Street has gone to a point where we can't handle all the volume.
CA: From that store, do you only sell the cigars made in Miami or do you also sell your Dominican cigars?
Carrillo: No. Right now from the Miami store, we only sell the cigars made in Miami. And that's the way we will keep it.
CA: The cigars you make in the Dominican Republic you're going to ship across the United States?
Carrillo: Correct.
CA: Will the cigars stop in Miami or will you sell directly to retailers all over the country?
Carrillo: They'll be distributed through Miami for the time being.
CA: So you don't have a warehouse there.
Carrillo: Not yet, but we're looking for a warehouse near the 8th Street location.
CA: Before you began production in the Dominican Republic, how many retailers in the United States carried La Gloria Cubana?
Carrillo: We had about 178.
CA: Most complained they got maybe 5 percent of what they needed. Are you going to add retailers?
Carrillo: For the time being, we are going to stick with those retail customers that want more cigars. They've been patient enough to wait all this time and those are the ones for whom we're going to try to maintain supplies for the time being.
CA: So you're not going to expand and increase the number of retailers?
Carrillo: We're not going to increase unless we have the excess capacity to increase.
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