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An Interview With Robert Levin

Owner, Holt's Cigar Store, Inc., and the Ashton Brand
Marvin R. Shanken
From the Print Edition:
Danny DeVito, Winter 96

(continued from page 6)

Levin: It's not getting any better. But every manufacturer is trying to increase production. Consumers for the past year or so have gotten used to the fact that they may not get their first or second choice. I always tell my people, we have to try to substitute whatever alternatives I have on the shelves. If someone comes in for something we don't have, you have to have the right product or substitute. It's a huge problem.

CA: Are the established brands that you've done business with for years, are they giving more product than last year?

Levin: Absolutely. Every manufacturer increased production. And because of our long relationship with a lot of the manufacturers, I think they are taking pretty good care of us. We're getting a lot of product in. It just goes out the door much quicker.

CA: If the demand for established brands is unsatisfied, are you buying a lot of new brands? What has been the consumer reaction to their willingness to experiment with new products?

Levin: I'm buying a lot of new brands. But I try to be selective in what I'm buying. I really don't feel good about selling brands that I don't feel have the right quality for the price. It's not even a question of price, it's a question of quality.

CA: What has been the reaction from your customers when they try these new brands?

Levin: I think you get a very mixed reaction. I think the major manufacturers for the most part make the best cigars. They've been at it the longest, they have tobacco, they have everything that's needed to make a quality product. A lot of the new players in the market, they don't have that. They don't have the tobacco reserves, they don't have the inventory and they don't have the experience. It shows in their product.

CA: One of the criticisms is that a lot of the tobacco in the new products is young tobacco. When the established manufacturers are able to increase shipments, which I understand should happen as early as 1997, do you think many of these new brands will stay on the market or will they not be able to survive?

Levin: I think the cream will rise to the top. If the producer is making a good quality product, it will last. The ones that are poor quality will go by the wayside.

CA: What are some of the main problems you see in the new brands?

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