The savvy businessman who saved catalog company Thompson Cigar has passed away. Robert Franzblau, 93, died yesterday morning at his home in Tampa, Florida. Franzblau was best known in the industry for purchasing Thompson Cigar Co. in 1960 and turning the struggling business into one of the largest cigar mail-order operations in the country.
When he purchased the company, Thompson was making natural-wrapped figurados—not what the U.S. market was interested in at the time. Rather than manufacture cigars, Franzblau redirected Thompson’s focus by contracting companies such as J.C. Newman Cigar Co. (then known as M&N) and others to make cigars for him, particularly candela cigars, green smokes that were extremely popular. The move proved to be successful and Thompson grew. Franzblau had no experience in the cigar industry, nor was he a smoker, but he was savvy enough to know the first rule of business: give the customer what he wants.
“He was the first person to be really successful in the mail-order business and was a pioneer, an innovator,” said Eric Newman of J.C. Newman Cigar Co. “And a lot of people copied him. Bob wasn’t a smoker but that’s an advantage because you buy what your customers like, not what you like. He had a real passion for the business.”
Franzblau turned Thompson into an enormous player in the online and catalog retail world, and it was one of the leading retailers of cigars, such a powerhouse that tobacco giant Scandinavian Tobacco Group purchased the business in 2018 for a reported $62 million in cash.
Robert Franzblau is survived by his daughter, Alix Franzblau, son-in-law Ron Sherman; his son and daughter-in-law, Carlo and Beth; and three grandchildren, Max, Olivia and Ethan.