I stepped out my door this morning and was greeted by the dark cold. The air was chilly enough to make my breath visible—it looked like I was having a Cohiba before breakfast. Fall is here in the northeast.
I think about the weather on occasion, but it's always on the mind of cigar guys like Eric Newman, the president of Tampa's J.C. Newman Cigar Co. When he asked "How's the weather?" over the phone last week, he wasn't making idle conversation, but looking for business insight.
You probably know that severe weather can wreak havoc on cigarmakers and tobacco growers, whether it be hurricanes, tornadoes or floods. But even something as seemingly innocent as an extra cold winter or a very late spring can have a negative impact on premium cigar sales.
Eric described how the United States cigar business has become quite subject to weather in recent years. Warmer temperatures, no snow in months that typically have snow, a lack of rain on weekends—that type of weather is good for the cigar business. When it gets very cold, when it snows quite a bit, that slows business down.
The reason? The great outdoors. More and more people in the U.S. now have their regular cigar—whether it's daily, weekly or monthly—in some outdoor spot, such as a golf course.
"The business is so dependent on the weather," said Eric, a longtime cigar industry veteran. His company owns the Diamond Crown and Brick House brands, among others, and J.C. Newman has been selling cigars for well over 100 years.
"With all the smoking ban legislation, we're so dependent upon good weather," he said. "If you talk to a manufacturer everyone tells you the same story."
Cigar smokers are quite unlike cigarette smokers. The typical cigar aficionado smokes when he or she relaxes, not out of habit. With many indoor smoking spots gone, that spot of relaxation is often an outdoor spot such as the golf course or on a beach. If your regular golf game is rained out, maybe you don't smoke that Fuente you had saved for the 10th hole. If a cigar lover doesn't have his regular cigar on Friday, said Newman, "that doesn't mean he smokes two on Saturday to make it up."
This is a rather new phenomenon. "The seasonality has gone 180 degrees," explained Newman. "In the early days, 40 years ago, spring was good business and fall was good business when you headed toward Christmas. But summer was not. People were on vacation, it was too hot, and they were traveling. Now it's flip-flopped."
"It's almost like we're the opposite of the ski slope business," Eric said. "When the weather gets crappy these guys are jumping for joy. When they're happy, we aren't happy. When we're happy, they aren't happy."
So the next time you hear that golfers in the northern U.S. are being blessed with an extra-long season due to a mild winter, know that it's not just good for their handicaps, it's good for the U.S. cigar industry as well.