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Big Smoke Saturday Seminars: Brand Builders

Nov 17, 2010 | By Andrew Nagy
Big Smoke Saturday Seminars: Brand Builders
Sjodin Photography
Erenesto Perez-Carrillo, Jonathan Drew and Rocky Patel address the crowd.

Building a successful brand is the key part of any product strategy, especially in ultra-competitive business markets such as the cigar industry. After all, profits are made by relationships with the customer, which brand names help to secure and maintain.

So it was fitting that Cigar Aficionado addressed the topic of cigar brands in its third Saturday seminar, moderated by executive editor Gordon Mott and senior editor David Savona, by inviting three of the industry's best innovators, Ernesto Perez-Carrillo, Rocky Patel and Jonathan Drew.

Ernesto Perez-Carrillo, former owner of the iconic El Credito Cigars Inc. in Little Havana as well as the La Gloria Cubana and El Rico Habano brands, is now working with his son Ernesto Perez-Carrillo III and daughter Lissette on building a new brand called E.P. Carrillo.

Sitting to Carrillo's far left was Rocky Patel, owner of Rocky Patel Premium Cigars Inc. and one of the most recognizable faces in the industry due to the fact that he spends about 300 days a year traveling to promote his cigars and various events.

Rocky Patel
Rocky Patel talking about the decision to change his cigar's name.

"He could give George Clooney's character from Up in the Air a run for his money," joked Savona during his introduction.

And in between Perez-Carrillo and Patel was Jonathan Drew, owner of Drew Estate and the man behind Acid, Liga Privada and Chateau Real cigars.

Mott opened the seminar by asking what makes building a brand today different from the 1990s, when the three panelists each became a player in the world of cigars.

Perez-Carrillo, who burst onto the cigar scene in 1993 after Cigar Aficionado gave his La Gloria Cubana Wavell a high score, took the reigns.

He spoke about how in Little Havana, where his El Credito Cigars was located, people were loyal to the cigar. They wanted to smoke well, and nothing else.

"Today," he compared, "consumers expect something new from the manufacturers. It's not just about the cigar, but also the brand, the story and the marketing."

Perez-Carrillo continued by saying that a new brand, like his E.P. Carrillo, has the fortunate position to be able to take chances, innovate and experiment.

"You just need good tobacco, which luckily I have no shortage of," Perez-Carrillo joked.

Patel went further by saying that today's cigar consumer was comparatively more sophisticated than a smoker in the '90s.

"Cigar Aficionado has done a good job to educate the consumer," Patel said. "And cigarmakers going on tour also are personally educating consumers about their cigars, the flavors, the blends and tobacco in general."

This sophistication, Patel said, was what he thinks about when he is developing one of his many line extensions.

He then compared the cigar world to wine production. "Like wine, it's about blending now. Creating something that is new, unique and flavorful to consumers."

Newness is a concept that is right up Jonathan Drew's alley. Drew, along with his partner Marvin Samel, created Acid cigars, a brand of smokes that have been "infused," as Drew says, with natural oils, herbs, botanicals and even red wine.

Jonathan Drew
Jonathan Drew, the owner of Drew Estate.

A huge moneymaker in the cigar retail world, the Acid brand is known for its artistic packaging (the logo is a silhouette of Scott "Acid" Chester), memorable cigar names and ability to defy traditional cigar norms.

"I believe if you have good tobacco and are doing something that is truly innovative ... then that's when you will get the [consumer] response," said Drew.

Mott also addressed the importance of the name of a cigar brand, something Patel knows well. In 2002, he made the decision to put his own name on the cigars he created.

"Everybody in the office laughed at me," Patel chuckled, as did many in the audience.

Patel explained that it wasn't hard to change the name of his cigar because he had acquired the control he desired and was producing a product he had envisioned.

"We took complete control of the tobacco—the fermentation of it, the blending of tobacco, the way cigars were rolled, how we bought it, cured it," explained Patel.

As the seminar closed and the attendees were told lunch was now being served, some chose to stick around to get their pictures taken with Patel, Perez-Carrillo and Drew.

"All part of the branding," said one man.

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