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An Interview with Litto Gomez and Ines Lorenzo-Gomez

Owners, La Flor Dominicana

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Gomez: True. But you should see the funds that they put into the infrastructure. Prefabricated warehouses. They bought trucks from the army. It is going to work fine. There was concern, and that's normal when you see a new thing.
CA: Is there a shortage of maduro wrapper now?
Gomez: No. Connecticut had a little bit of a problem in the past couple of years with blue mold, which has hurt a lot. But 1999 was a blessing for Connecticut and there is going to be a lot of tobacco; everything was perfect. Blue mold is not a very common thing in Connecticut. So, hopefully, going forward, it is going to be great for all of us.
CA: Have you been able to hold your pricing structure this year?
Lorenzo-Gomez: We never raised prices. From day one we have kept the price the same.
CA: Have you been able to hold that level? You haven't had to drop prices?
Gomez: No. We never change them up or down. Because we have been growing and producing more cigars every year, even though the cost has increased a little bit for us, as we make more cigars we still keep the same price level. The company is healthy and so it hasn't hurt us, because we have been growing, but we have never changed the prices.
Lorenzo-Gomez: As a matter of fact, our pricing structure is something that has given us customer loyalty. They have never felt that we wanted to raise the price to make more money because we had fewer cigars to sell. That is something that we said at the beginning. But the first time that Litto went to buy wrapper he said, "I want the best," and from there on we had to continue buying that wrapper. We could have tried other things that were less expensive, but what was there to do? It had to be the best. And we have kept our word on the retail end, too. We said we wouldn't raise prices, and we haven't.
CA: What have you done to keep the brand consistent?
Lorenzo-Gomez: On top of our list of important things is the cigar's consistency. That nothing changes. We try to make it better. And as we start using our own tobacco, you will see an improvement there. Other than that, I'm not sure we are great marketers. We only have four sales reps. We still have work to do on the selling side, which we don't do now.
Gomez: There are a lot of areas in this country where we haven't even tried selling cigars. We still have a long way to go. The only advertising that we do is our ad in Cigar Aficionado. We go to all the Big Smokes because that is our opportunity to see the cigar smokers. They come to you and they say that they smoke your cigar and we get a feeling directly from the cigar smoker. They may tell you, "Hey, keep doing a great job"or they may tell you, "Hey, you made a mistake on this," or whatever. But you get the real feeling from the cigar smokers. You give cigars away and that is a great opportunity for you to show your product to the people.
CA: Have you learned from people in Cuba about tobacco and cigars? Do you see in the future, once the embargo is lifted, that Cuban tobacco will be an important ingredient for your cigar?
Gomez: For our cigars and for the cigars of everybody else that is willing to experiment. I think it would be tremendous. I always learn from the people in Cuba. They do great things with tobacco and they do a lot of things different than what we do in the Dominican Republic. So, it is fantastic to learn new things about processing tobacco. I can't wait until the moment that we can get ahold of those great Cuban wrappers or filler that are well grown, well cured and well processed. There are wonderful things that we can do with Dominican tobacco. But Cuban tobacco is just great. It is unbelievable.
There are a lot of questions. Is the whole system going to fall apart? Or will we suddenly have the opportunity to go there within the present system and try to make cigars there, or try to grow tobacco in Cuba and bring it to the Dominican Republic? For the consumers it is going to be a tremendous thing. And I can't wait until it happens.
For cigarmakers, working with tobacco is what it's all about. We know how tobacco reacts and we know how tobacco works, but year after year crops are different and tobacco leaves react differently. Tobacco talks to you and you have got to know the language that it's speaking. I've tried some experiments, and they are stunning. We are just waiting and watching to see what the changes are and we are going to get our foot in there and start to make friends.
Lorenzo-Gomez: In general it will benefit everybody. I believe that there will be a lot of new smokers for all of us. There are a lot of people who will want to try Cuban cigars because they have never had the opportunity. We are going to get another boom.
CA: As you did with your farm, you also started your own factory two years ago. How is that project going?
Gomez: Basically, the same people who started with us in Villa Gonzales are still with us. We still have the rollers that used to work with us. They don't want to leave us. When there were factories offering them more money, I spent a lot of time explaining to them that they cannot just be thinking about money. They need to think about their families and their future and the long-term relationship. They must continue to be proud of what they do. If anybody tells you that they achieve perfection, it is a lie. It is not about perfection. It is about artistry. Because you can't perfect a cigar. It has a flavor, it has a blend, and it is kind of like a chef creating a dish. With cigars you need the rollers to be concentrating on what they are doing and be proud of what they are doing. You can't make it work as a machine operator because it is never going to happen. They cannot be working unhappy because if they are working unhappy they are not going to blend the cigars properly. You can give them the blend, but they can make all the cigars with one type of leaf and there is no way that you can control it if some rollers want to hurt you. So, you need to be very close to them and work with them and let them know that they should take pride in what they are doing.
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