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CAO--A Family Affair

CAO Offers Pipes, Humidors and Cigars. But Founder Cano A. Ozgener's Most Important Product is His Children
Shandana A. Durrani
From the Print Edition:
Michael Douglas, May/Jun 98

(continued from page 3)

The Ozgeners would eventu-ally like to distribute their own brand of pipe tobacco. But for now, they are concentrating their energies on a 30th anniversary cigar, to be unveiled at the RTDA convention this August in Nashville. They won't say too much about the brand except that it will be a full-bodied limited-production cigar.

"We are considering a few factories at this point," Ozgener says. "There are a number of factories that can make good cigars. It has a high-quality wrapper and an interesting binder and filler. To me, puros [cigars made from the tobacco of a single country] are not important. My purity comes from the best flavors. If I can find a wrapper from Cameroon, and I am not saying that it is from Cameroon, and combine it with Nicaraguan filler and Honduran binder, then it is OK. What I am after is exceptional-quality tobacco, and that is why I have been working very hard the last few months."

CAO has also been working hard at public relations and promotions. Its PR campaign has been so successful that CAO humidors have appeared in such movies as Silent Fall and The American President, and one of its meerschaum pipes was used in The Freshman. The company's cigars were featured at high-profile events such as Fox Sports' parties for the 1997 Major League Baseball All-Star Game and the 1998 NHL Hockey All-Star Game. In addition, CAO crafted custom-made humidors expressly for the 1997 National Basketball Association champion Chicago Bulls.

"It was a joint idea [between Bulls management, ring manufacturer Jostens and CAO]. This was the first time that the championship ring was offered in a humidor," Ozgener says. "One of my ideas was to make humidors with team logos on them. [Jostens] said, 'Let's have samples [of humidors] and we'll see about something.' They presented the idea to the Bulls [and they accepted] and then we worked with the ring manufacturer and the Chicago Bulls organization. We even put cigars in the humidors for the team."

CAO promotes its products in other ways as well, but not always with unanimous approval. The company received some flak for its controversial ad campaign, which features cigar-smoking semi-nude or all-nude women models, hands and legs strategically placed. While some people in the business don't like the campaign, Cano Ozgener defends it.

"We wanted to be on the cutting edge," he explains. "I gave him [David Ravandi, the ad designer] free opportunity. He came out with the first version of the advertisement and I showed it around the office, and almost everybody didn't like it. Aylin hated it and my wife threatened me with a divorce. Only two people liked it: Murat and me. We went with that ad. And we got unsolicited remarks like 'Your ad is beautiful.' When that happened, it was an eye opener."

Though CAO may push the boundaries with its advertising, it will never compromise its integrity, says Aylin. "We have stringent quality controls," she says. "We have been in the humidor business for about seven years now, and if you look at a humidor we made in the beginning versus now, it's a real difference. And the cigars, too. From our first batch until now there is a definite improvement."

The commitment to quality has made CAO a success, accor-ding to Cano. Now 61, he looks back on his life with pride and a sense of accomplishment. "To be able to do something that you like as a business is great. I have my son and daughter working with me and young people working for us, so I am contributing something to the younger generation and I am contributing something to this country also."

His children share their father's sentiments. "We have always believed in supporting people," Aylin says. "Even at those times when sales were downhill and the tobacco industry was in need of something to help boost it, he would still support the carvers. He never put anybody out of business and did not fire anybody. That is something that I respect and something that I learned: not to get into something just to make more money, but to help the same people that have helped you."

Murat adds: "When I go and try to push products, it almost isn't about making money, it is about wanting to continue this thing that my father started. When I talk about my father and how he started this company, I feel a degree of pride. Some people say, 'It is cool that you feel this way about your father.' I am proud of what he started and I want it to be strong. It is great when you have that sort of feeling and a sort of reciprocal feeling, too, in a family business."

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