An Interview With Guillermo León
President, León Jimenes Cigars
From the Print Edition:
Chuck Norris, Jul/Aug 98
(continued from page 12)
León: I would say those are the largest. We also produce Maxius, which we made about 75,000 in 1997, and we'll make 50,000 in 1998. We also have just started making Don Lino cigars, which used to be made in Nicaragua; we plan to make about 750,000 of them. And, we make a private-label brand for Europe called Chambrair; we produced about 75,000 in 1997 and we'll push that up to 100,000 this year.
CA: So, out of the 12 million to 13 million cigars produced in 1997 in your factory, about 9.5 million of them were for León Jimenes and Aurora. Is that right?
León: Yes. It ends up being about a 50-50 split, because in the U.S. we sell more of one brand and here we sell more of the other.
CA: You joined the Dominican Republic cigar association in 1994. After several years of being very inactive, I hear it is beginning to step up its activities again. Can you tell us about what's going on?
León: We worked very hard in the beginning to raise the reputation of the Dominican Republic. I think that objective was accomplished. We always had the traditional manufacturers as part of the original group. And yes, we had some misunderstandings in the group. But when we got together, we'd always talk about the market, and the meetings would last three to four hours. We never wanted it to end. We have all always worked with the same mission in mind: to improve the image of Dominican cigars. We have never changed that goal, nor do I think it will ever change. Now, I don't know if you noticed recently that the boxes have started coming with the organization's seal; we always wanted to do that. There were some reasons that have stopped us in the past. When all the other factories were started, there was a competing association, but we didn't want to create any problems. We waited for all that to pass. As I just said, we were all concentrating on producing the best quality.
CA: Do you think that the image of the Dominican cigar has changed since you got involved in the business?
León: Before the boom? I think that when people speak of premium cigars today, what they think of is the Dominican Republic. They don't think first of Cuba, Nicaragua or Honduras. It's not that those places don't have quality cigars, but the Dominican Republic comes to mind first. We are number one in volume. That shows the consumer has faith in our cigars. It's because we have worked on the quality of our cigars. Our tobacco is as good or better than any in the world today. The growers now receive so many incentives that the quality of the tobacco can't really be improved. In fact, all the tobacco of today can't be compared to what was harvested in the past.
That is what has been the most favorable development for the Dominican cigar. For that same reason tourists go and buy cigars now in the Dominican Republic. I would have to say that it is as big an attraction as the beaches. The Dominican Republic gets a lot of tourism, but we have been receiving a lot more tourists who specifically want to have a look at the process of making a cigar and at tobacco. I can document that increase because of how many more people come visit our factory.
CA: You have one of the largest visitor operations in the Dominican Republic, don't you?
León: That is correct. Last year around 60,000 tourists came to our factory, and we welcome people almost every day. Our factory is something special. We've brought back the tradition of reading aloud in the factory to the workers. The reader recites the news, sports and horoscopes, for example. We've been doing that for a year. That is one of the things that my father always wanted brought back. Excuse me if I go on about this subject, but since almost no one else has it, it's very interesting. The reader is one of the rollers who is elected by the workers, and they pay him. It's great to see, and as a result, we really welcome [tourists] into our factory. When they arrive, we give them refreshments, perhaps coffee, juice, even beer--whatever they like. All that is free and whoever is interested in taking a tour, we are happy to comply.
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