You may have been willing to walk a mile to smoke a Kent, but would you fly a few thousand for something better?
Last month, a group of inveterate cigar smokers headed down to Honduras to spend four days enjoying the hospitality of cigar manufacturer Rocky Patel. It was dream trip for the folks who have this hobby, with factory tours, cigar rolling and the opportunity to spend time smoking and relaxing on the itinerary. This isn’t the first time Patel has brought cigar smokers down to his facility, and he isn’t the only manufacturer to do so. In fact, this is probably the hottest marketing tool in the business right now.
Cigar travel of this sort is the latest step in an interactive marketing progression that I first saw in 2008, when I began to attend in-store cigar dinners at De La Concha. It was followed by a wave of sponsored in-store cigar lounges in 2009, as manufacturers wanted to get their brands closer to customers in an attempt to overcome the salient challenges to luxury marketing and sales in a nasty economic environment. Yet, the need to get closer to the customer still burned hot, especially as tobacconist shelves filled with a wider variety of cigar lines from existing manufacturers and even more brands.
Bringing customer to the source, doubtless, is powerful. In addition to the excitement of hopping on a plane, dashing off to Central America and smoking a seemingly endless supply of cigars, the education is substantial. On my trips to the My Father Cigars factory in Esteli, Nicaragua and the La Aurora Cigars factory in the Dominican Republic, I was exposed to the intricacies of the cigar-making operation, from growing to shrink-wrapping, and my fellow travellers and I were even able to put ourselves to the test at the rolling tables.
The experiences do vary by manufacturer. At My Father Cigars, a trip arranged by Miami Cigar & Company, we toured the farms of legendary cigar roller Pepin Garcia with his son, Jaime, before heading over to his new factory and stepping through the entire manufacturing process. We applied wrappers to cigars … but only after the master himself showed us how it is done. Meanwhile, La Aurora Cigars walked us through a blending and rolling seminar that included rolling entire cigars from scratch, under the tutelage of Jose Blanco.
Across all of these trips – including those by Camacho and Drew Estate – the one consistent factor is fun. In addition to steeping yourself in the cigar-making process, you’ll find your nights filled with camaraderie, rum, Presidente beer and plenty of puffing. Think of a trip to your cigar shop back home stretching well into the night.
The trend shows no signs of slowing down. More and more cigar manufacturers are bringing customers to their factories and turning tours into getaways – and person-to-person marketing opportunities. For less than the price of a full-page ad in Cigar Aficionado, they can turn a dozen cigar smokers into vocal brand advocates, knowing fully that the tales from a single trip will be retold many times over for months into the future.
Think about it: stories from My Father Cigars, for example, were told by a customer to other customers … in a cigar shop … where cigars from My Father are sold. The unprompted promotion couldn’t be closer to the point of sale.
For cigar smokers, it’s a vacation and a rare opportunity to see every aspect of the craftsmanship often assumed and discussed. For cigar manufacturers, it’s the opportunity to increase brand loyalty and revenue. And, the retailers become heroes to both by connecting customers with the opportunity offered by the manufacturers.
Doubtless, there will be more trips in 2011. The cigar market continues to get tighter, a situation amplified by unsympathetic legislation. Those who cut and light, however, are no less enthusiastic. Would I walk a mile for one of Eddie Ortega’s 601 cigars? Probably. Would I fly a thousand miles to see one born? Absolutely.
Disclosure: I paid for my trip to My Father Cigars and was comp’ed for La Aurora. My opinions, however, are my own.
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