Written by Puff Staff

Monday, 18 August 2003

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clubs and organizationsrtda 2003
special events
Paul Shoberg and Rob Shibata of Top25Cigar recount their experiences at the 2003 RTDA show in Nashville. The show, the cigars, the drive, all a part of an overall unique few days!

It’s Show Time!!!  Anxious to get to the show, we have a couple of mis-starts.  Rob forgets his camera at the hotel.  (Rob gets credit for all the photo’s taken.)  Once in the show, the camera batteries die and we have to go across the hotel to buy some.  Those mishaps out of the way, we begin touring the tradeshow floor, which is not as easy as it might seem.  Everywhere we turn, we see booths worthy of a visit.  For a couple of folks who see cigars as their hobby, this is a pretty awesome opportunity to get the pulse of the industry.

Before we get into the happenings of the show, we want to make sure we do a quick level set as to what the RTDA show means to these companies.  It’s a pretty simple equation, as the RTDA show is all about selling cigars to the retailers.  This thing is all about money.  If you have a booth at the show, it is there to sell your wares.  This is the case from the monsters like General Cigar to the smaller guys like Billy Bob Teeth.  (Yes, they actually do have a booth at the show!)  We mention this for one reason, and that is to help put into perspective what it means for these guys to take a minute out of their busy day to talk with a couple of bums from Top25Cigar.  We don’t generate revenue for them.  Everyone else does.  If you own a business, or carry a quota, you know the impact of this.  It’s for this reason that we want to say thank you to all the folks at the show that took the time to chat with us and share information about their livelihoods.

“Hey there’s Fuente, lets go there.  Oh, there’s CAO, we’ve got to stop and say hi.  Look, there’s Perdomo, let’s check them out.”  We were zig zagging down the aisle, pulled by some strange cigar force towards each booth we recognize.  Finally Paul suggests that we walk the entire show floor like normal human beings and return to the booths we want to visit once we get our bearings.  Rob agrees, thinking, “Easier said than done”.  As we pass the Bucanero booth, owner Robert Spoden spots us and motions for us to come over.

We receive a warm welcome and ask what’s new in the line.  Tampa based Bucanero has several new products prominently displayed and Bob asks us if we want to try them.  Paul lights up the Bucanero Z, a full bodied, box pressed cigar with a blend of Nicaraguan/Dominican filler, Dominican binder and dark Sumatra wrapper.  Rob lights up a Salsa, which has a Nicaraguan maduro wrapper, Indonesian binder, and Nicaragua/Dominican filler.  The third new cigar is Crew, a medium bodied Nicaraguan/Dominican blend with a Connecticut shade wrapper.  The ‘Z’ and the Salsa both draw well and are medium to full bodied.  The Salsa has some spice, probably from the Indonesian binder.   Paul notes that the “Z’ has a robust flavor, yet is very smooth as he updates the Bucanero crew about new features on the T25C website.  We also congratulate them on the positive staff review the Full Sail received.  As we part ways with Bucanero, Bob hands us a couple of Peg Leg’s, a fantastic little cigar that is also new in the Bucanero line.  Bucanero is a nice little company with some good cigars…in fact we have never had a bad Bucanero.  Keep it up the good work Bob.

As we continue on, we run into Luis Sanchez of La Tradicion Cubana based in Little Havana, Miami.  If you ever have the chance to meet Luis, we highly recommend it.  Luis is a bundle of energy and humor, not to mention the fact that he is the creative mind (Mad Scientist) behind some monster cigars.  Luis guides us to his booth where we meet his wife, Lourdes.  Luis shows us his new line of large ring gauge cigars, Las Memories Cubana.  How large a ring gauge you ask?  No cutter made can get around one.  If you don’t have scissors or a punch, you’ll need a logging saw.  Luis tells us they are medium to full bodied and gives us samples to try later.  As we walk away we can’t decide if we are going to smoke them or use them to enter into a log rolling contest.

Luis is a relative newcomer to the cigar industry having given up a successful career as a programmer and manager for the ultra premium Swiss watchmaker Patek-Phillipe in New York.  (They say if you can’t afford a Patek-Phillipe, then you buy a Rolex.)  He is in the cigar business purely because of his passion for cigars.  The proof is in his cigars.  His cigars are well made and consistently do well in the T25C database and staff reviews.  Based on his track record, we expect good things from the new Las Memories Cubana line. 

We pass booth after booth of small companies selling pipes, smoking accessories, and unfamiliar cigar brands.  We also see several e-commerce companies and wonder aloud “What about the brick and mortar rule?” since the RTDA has a rule that you must have a physical storefront to be a member of the RTDA, and even attend the show.  We’re not sure how this plays for the myriad of Internet companies with booths…oh yeah that’s right…we’ll wink at the rules if you’ll become a RTDA show sponsor…which simply means your willing to dish out more cake to the RTDA.

We also hear one common thread throughout the show, and that is the relative dissatisfaction with how the show is run.  We hear from many booth owners that the RTDA dictates their booth location, requires monies 12 months up front, and generally caters to the bigger organizations present.  None of this should come as much of a surprise in today’s business climate, but in the relatively family oriented, small business feel that is the cigar industry, this pains many folks.

 L to R - Paul Shoberg, Cano Ozgener, Jon Huber, Rob Shibata in front of the display for the new CAO MX2.

Next we come upon the CAO booth.  This year’s booth is larger than a year ago and crowded with retailers.  Company founder Cano Ozgener along with son Tim, daughter Aylin and staffers are busy servicing customers.  We are greeted by CAO’s marketing guru Jon Huber, who shows us through the booth.  New to the line is the new MX2 (maduro times 2), which sports a Nicaraguan, Honduran, Dominican and Peruvian filler blend, a Brazilian binder and a triple fermented Connecticut broadleaf wrapper.  Whew!  We both smoke samples and are very impressed.  The MX2 was one of the best new cigars we smoked at the show.  Also new is a sampler of all 7-cigar lines and 2 new flavored cigars.  The Criollo and Maduro lines have new, contemporary packaging as well. 

Jon is excited about CAO’s new factory in Nicaragua.  With their own factory, CAO has taken another step towards controlling quality and developing new cigars.  Cano takes time for a photo op with us and with his typical humility, attributes CAO’s successes to their manufacturing partners and CAO customers.  Since Nashville is home for CAO, they are throwing a party.  Cano invites us, along with 10 busloads of customers, to attend.

At the Drew Estates booth everyone is busy, but one of their sales representatives takes time to talk to us.  The big news is the release of the La Vieja Cubana – The Early Years line.  Drew Estates is coming full circle since this was the company’s original line of cigars.  One of the most challenging aspects of the RTDA show for us, is that we are often smoking relatively fresh cigars that may not be the best of what a company has to offer.  We loved the original La Vieja Habana line, but “The Early Years” leaves an odd taste on our palate.  On the flavored cigar front, 4 new flavors have been added to the Acid Krush Classic line.  And in a surprise move, Drew Estates is making a line of flavored cigars for General Cigar.  These new cigars are Kahlua infused…Paul seems to think the free shots of Kahlua are more appealing than any cigar samples, and proceeds to make sure he has properly tested the Kahlua. 

As we leave, we see Mayorga coffee in Drew’s booth, but no Mayorga cigars.  After noticing Mayorgas absence we also note that CTI (Caribbean Tobacco Inc.) and La Luna are missing from the show.  La Luna is still around, but CTI went out of business…another casualty of the economy.

We went to the Prometheus booth, as we did last year.  And like last year, Prometheus did not have time to talk to us at the show.  So we have nothing new to report about the company or their products.

The same can not be said about Colibri.  Very helpful and friendly, Allison Lally the Colibri Director of Advertising offers up information on all the new Colibri products.  If your a lighter fan, you know how this goes.  Lighters just keep getting cooler, fancier, and more fun to play with each year!

 L to R - Alex Diez and Rolando Reyes Jr. of Puros Indios by the display for the new Cienfuegos.

We got a surprise when we enter the Puros Indios booth.  There is Rolando Reyes Jr., son of renowned Puros Indios owner, Rolando Reyes Sr.  Rolando Jr. was working for CTI when we saw him last year, but has apparently returned to the family business after CTI’s demise.   We speak with Rolando Jr., his brother in law and nephew Alex Diez about P.I.’s latest release, a more robust line called Cienfuego.  “The line is just being released.” they tell us excitedly.  “In fact we don’t even have any samples because the cigars are hung up in customs.”  They give us some Cienfuego literature and tell us we’ll receive samples of the new line.  In addition to Cienfuego, there will also be a new shape, the Piramides #3, added to the regular line.  This is one of the cigars we most look forward to sampling.  If it capitalizes on the quality that Puros Indios is known for, and the master blending of the Reyes family, this is likely to be a giant hit.

As we discuss the popularity of their cigars, we ask them why they don’t produce more of the double maduros.  “Wrappers.  It’s hard to get all the wrapper we need to make the double maduros” they tell us.  They seem surprised when Rob tells them the double maduro is all he smokes in the P.I. line.  They tell us Puros Indios isn’t content to sit on past successes.  They are reviewing production and distribution with an eye to the future.  Perhaps that will be part of Rolando Jr.’s job.  The family agrees to a future interview with Rolando Sr. and Jr.  We look forward to seeing what changes occur in one of the most consistent, affordable, and popular cigar lines in the market.

La Flor Dominicana has a new release: Chisel.  The full bodied cigar looks like a torpedo with a flattened cap, just like a chisel.  The young lady attending the booth tells us that the top and bottom of the flat portion should be punched rather than cutting the cap.  “Novel idea,” we think as we try and light the cigar.  But as Rob rolled the cigar in his mouth, he began realizing the limitation of a flat cap.  To get an idea, close your mouth around a tongue depressor and try to roll it in your mouth!  Paul cuts the cigar, and instantly comments about potentially putting the Chisel in the woodwinds section of his favorite orchestra.  Smoking this is like having a reeded instrument in your mouth.  Not working for Paul.  The cigar seems quite young and nasty, so we’ll reserve judgment until we can smoke a Chisel with a little more age.

According to exhibitors, show traffic seems to be down although exact numbers are hard to come by.  15-20% is a common estimate.  In general, top brands seem busy, but pipes, accessories, and no name brands appear to be slow.  The show is in Las Vegas next year and sure to draw more people.  Booth position is critical though.  Exhibitors who have 16 or more booths in 2003 get first pick for their booth location in 2004.  Those with less than 16 booths have to take what they get.  The RTDA show is the best cigar trade show in the in the industry and the RTDA knows it.  The more both space the RTDA sells, the more money they make whether the show is well attended or not.  Just good trade show business…for the RTDA, not necessarily for the exhibitors. 

Kurt Van Keppel, President Xikar, and Associate working with customers at their booth at the 2003 RTDA.

Our next stop was Xikar.  These guys simply rock.  Kurt Van Keppel is the president of Xikar, the maker of surgical instruments for us cigar smokers.  If you have never tried any Xikar cutters, punches, multi-function tools or utility knives, your doing yourself a gross disservice.  We don’t notice any new products at the booth, and spend most of our time chatting with Kurt.  If there were new products, we missed them.  Xikar is another example of a company in this industry who wants to meet their customers. They stand behind their products with one of the best warranties.  If the activity at their booth was any indication, you will be seeing a lot more Xikar products at your local tobacconists in the coming months.

The Humidor Store - This Florida outfit builds commercial humidors for retail stores.  Plain or fancy, they appear to have something for every budget.  Just released for this show is a personal cabinet type humidor with a wine cooler built into the bottom.  The standing cabinet is made of wood and glass on top and solid wood on the bottom.  The upper glass portion is for cigar storage while the bottom houses a 32-bottle wine cooler.  There is also ample storage for wine glasses and wine accessories storage.  Very nice, just don’t buy the display units from the show…they have Paul’s drool on them as he imagined how they would look at his house.

The CAO party is the biggest bash in town tonight.  10 busloads of people are taken to the Wild Horse Saloon in Old Nashville.  The Wild Horse is a 3-story bar with a stage and dance floor.  There is hot food, cold drinks, and all the cigars you can smoke.  A Neil Diamond impersonator provides the entertainment and is a dead ringer for the real Neil Diamond. 

 A Neil Diamond impersonator at the CAO Wild Horse party.

Paul sits stumped, smoking his Criollo while pondering why you would have a Neil Diamond impersonator at a party in Nashville.  Eventually his confusion passes as he focuses on the lone single dancer among all the couples on the dance floor.  This “50 something” gentleman seems to believe he has perfected a dance that is one part martial arts, one part Harry Potter while casting a spell, and one part…well I suppose Neil Diamond.  His refusal to allow any of the scantily clad “CAO Girls” dance with him makes Paul all the more concerned for his well being. 

The Ozgeners and staff meander through the crowds of customers making sure everyone is having a good time.  Thanks for the great time Cano.

Next up - Part Three - Our final day at the show.

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