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Interview: Frank Llaneza of Villazon

A discussion with the president of Villazon & Co., makers of Hoyo de Monterrey and Punch.
Gordon Mott
From the Print Edition:
John Travolta, Jan/Feb 99

(continued from page 3)

Llaneza: Well, most of the major manufacturers, like Corral and Perfecto Garcia, bought the tobacco directly and warehoused it. But we had limited resources so we bought the tobacco through Mr. Oliva, and we told him what we could use and he would hold it for us. He helped us an awful lot.

CA: You're talking about Angel Oliva Sr., whose sons run the Oliva Tobacco company today?

Llaneza: Yes, he was my teacher, my mentor.

CA: Yours and a lot of other people's.

Llaneza: Yes. He helped a lot of people in the cigar business, because he was a fellow who started from scratch. But we kept working with him as other factories in Tampa began to slow down their production. We were able to keep increasing our production.

CA: How large was your production in the early 1950s?

Llaneza: We were making only about 10,000 or 15,000 cigars a day, and we built it up to about 25,000. That was a big production at that time.

CA: How much of that was handmade?

Llaneza: I would say two-thirds of the production was handmade. And the rest was short filler. So it wasn't that many cigars. But then we started moving on up and making more cigars. We got different customers. The selling trends changed. The major manufacturers had jobbers [small wholesalers] at that time. It was very difficult for a small factory to add volume or to even compete with these big jobbers. Our only solution was to go to the clubs and have direct sales to the retailers. That turned out to be a blessing to us because the majority of the jobbers eventually went out of business. The retailers became strong enough where they could buy big amounts of cigars and warehouse them in their own humidors. The retailers became more powerful.

CA: At that time, in the early 1950s, were any of the brands that you owned what you would call national brands?

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