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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 7)

Levin: There are a lot of inconsistencies. With a lot of the new brands, I'll smoke a cigar and it'll be good. Other times, I won't like it at all. So, consistency is the biggest problem.

CA: Is it consistency in construction or with young tobacco?

Levin: Both. On the other hand, some of the new brands coming out of Miami are pretty good.

CA: One of the controversies that exists in your business is the love/hate relationship between a retailer and a cataloger. For the retailer who doesn't have a catalog business, it's the enemy. For the retailers that have catalogs, it's a way to enhance your business and give you greater market share and dominance. You have the best of both worlds. Do you think other retailers around the country should be getting into that business, or is it just such a sophisticated activity in terms of manpower, investment, inventory and software that it's hard to justify?

Levin: I think that the mail-order business will expand tremendously in the next few years. We've been successful at it because we've always been cigar specialists and we've always had a large inventory of cigars. That appeals to people. We can offer a tremendous number of different brands, different products, where other people in a lot of small stores can't offer that. It's a question of service. If there is a real strong retailer in a specific city, they'll keep their customers if they give good service. But there is a convenience in picking up a phone and dialing an 800 number and getting what you want and having it the next day.

CA: How many retailers to your knowledge are in the mail-order business?

Levin: I think that there's six or seven pretty strong people in that area.

CA: With new cigar clubs and Internet Web sites opening up all the time, where do you see the market going?

Levin: Cigar clubs are fantastic for the industry. The more places people can smoke cigars in a friendly environment, the more places that promote cigar smoking, the better for everybody. It's a win-win situation for everybody. And the Internet--we are working on our own home pages for Holt's and for Ashton, which should be up in January or February. We should have tremendous potential there.

CA: You also have a smoking lounge, right? How popular is it?

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