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Written by Kevin Godbee

Tuesday, 08 July 2008

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Cigar Review owner, Kevin Godbee, paid a visit to the offices of Camacho Cigars in Miami to interview it's President, Christian Eiroa.

The cigar business is certainly in the blood of this MBA holding, 36-year old. He was born and raised in Honduras and his father started the original company Caribe Imported Cigars which evolved into Camacho Cigars.

Christian has been the President of Camacho since 1998. During this interview, Christian smoked the Camacho Corojo and I enjoyed the new Camacho 10th Anniversary while we sat on plush leather couches in Christian's richly appointed office.

Christian is an interviewer's dream. He made my job very easy. He is driven, but laid back and relaxed at the same time. The best part for the interview is that he seemed to love answering questions, talking about the business and telling personal stories that relate to the topic. We talked for so long that this interview is divided into two parts.

He was very forthcoming and not afraid to get personal and let us see inside the real person, beyond the macho good-looking Latino guy we see in the Camacho ads.

I began by asking him about his start in the cigar business.


Kevin: I've read that you never planned to work for your father's company, Caribe Imported Cigars, but now you are the President of Camacho Cigars.

- Can you give us a brief history of how you came to be the one running the company that you never planned to work for, and the impetus and evolution for changing from Caribe Imported Cigars to Camacho Cigars?

Christian: I got my Masters degree in '95 from a school here called Nova Southeastern. It was a Masters in International Business. It was the first program that they did. I was working in the finance business before that, which I really enjoyed. I was with a friend of my father's. The name of the company was JM Financial.

I was 22 - 23 years old at the time and I was moving a lot of money for this guy. It was a private company. We started getting nervous and we had a customer that offered to buy us out. We said, yes, we'll sell the company.

So I was on hiatus for a few months and my father said before I started looking for something else, and for a different degree, why not give him a try.

The reason I wasn't too crazy about doing it was because my older brother tried working with my father and it was very unsuccessful. So I said alright, I'll go down there (Honduras) for six months.

I still remember the day. It was a Thursday, June 28, 1995.

I went to Honduras and the one thing that I was excited about was that I just bought a computer and I was dying to test it out. Back then there was no Internet and no email, at least not in Honduras anyway. I thought it was cool that you could type a fax in Microsoft Word rather than hand-write it. (That's a side note.)

{mosimage}I got down there and I started working. I started going through the whole tobacco process and I began to realize that a lot of this stuff was really second-nature to me. The cigar part I didn't get involved until probably 4 -5 months after I was there. I was mostly focused on the leaf. I really liked the sorting of tobacco. Not so much the growing side, but the sorting and the fermentation process.

That is when you really start changing the tobacco.

You can actually manipulate nature to get the flavor that you want. I have to add that I didn't start smoking cigars until '92 and didn't really learn how to smoke cigars until probably '98, when I learned how to blow the smoke out of my nose, how to savor it, etc.

Before that I would smoke 1 or 2 cigars a day to taste them. I don't know how effective I was at the time and I wasn't really that good as far as blending cigars. I hadn't developed that part of it yet. In the future that proved to be one of my favorite parts of the business.

My role became more towards purchasing tobacco because the cigar boom was going on. Our production at the time was sold 18 months in advance. So eventually my job became trying to find tobacco all over the world. I started buying tobacco and I loved it. It was something new to me. I was traveling all over the world doing different things, traveling to different countries and learning about all different types of tobaccos.

It wasn't until one day when I got some samples. We were in Honduras. We were reviewing samples. It was my father Julio, in Danli, Berto who works for ASP, and me.

My father's look was like, "See! The kid really likes the business!"

{mosimage}I remember going through those samples and making my comments and while I was talking I looked up, and this guy Oberto and my father were looking at each other and my father's look was like, "See! The kid really likes the business!" And that was when I knew. I knew I had a connection with my father. The father-son relationship is very important one. When you start becoming an adult, you want to have more stuff in common with your father. I realized that this was the business for me. I really liked it.

Kevin: In 1998 you went from the production side of the business into sales.

- How did your knowledge and experience progress from the time you started in sales to propel you into the company leadership role?

Christian: The knowledge of manufacturing, the knowledge that I gained in the factory, I was in the factory from 1995 to 1998 ... The boom expired in November of '97, at least for our company ...  '98 was a tough year. It was probably April or May of '98 that I moved to Miami and I remember being in the Office in Miami, our older warehouse  ...  Sal Fontana was there, a lady named Barbara Henry, who used to run the operation was there also, and they decided to send me off on the road with the reps.

So I remember going to the Continental (Airlines) counter and paying $3,500 for a plane ticket to 12 or 13 different cities. That was about a 14-week road trip.

I began to learn the market, I began to understand it. In '98, there was no GPS, only Rand McNally maps. I began to learn what the market trends were and I began to really understand it. It really took me 2 or 3 years not to learn it so much, but to get a pulse on it.

Kevin: I guess there a lot of opportunities to learn when you travel around the country and talk to a lot of people.

Christian: Lookit man  ...  you can sit and theorize all you want  ...  until the rubber hits the road, you don't know what it is.

So, could you imagine knowing 60% of what you need to know, (you can never claim know it all), but knowing how the processes work, knowing what you're cable of, understanding when someone tells you this is exactly what I am looking for, and I know what I can do, I know what the factory is cable of and then being able to deliver exactly what the guy is looking for  ... This type of understanding gets lost a lot now.

As the industry keeps consolidating, and there begin to be more executives and less tobacco / cigar people, it's going to continue to get worse because ...

...  it's not doom and gloom what I am saying  ...  what I am saying is there begins to be a separation between the executive in the US and the guy running the factory in Honduras, and a simple in between guy doesn't cut it.

You need to have a direct understanding of what is going on in the market, and what the market is demanding to deliver what the market wants.

Kevin: You still go to the factory?

Once a month.

Kevin: What type of travels do you do in the US?

Christian: Oh man! We're on the road for 35 weeks a year! I am very fortunate that my wife, Alexandra, we have three boys, she is very understanding. It's tough at first. It's tough to keep a "regular family" a "regular life", but eventually you learn to do it, or actually the wife and the family learn to deal with it. They are very understanding.

It's almost like a selfish position for me. They are very understanding that you're out there doing what you're doing. You're so focused on growth  ...  I guess it's a pretty common story  ...  you focus so much on growth that you kind of leave other things behind. But the biggest thing you learn with maturity is to balance and realizing the family is more important. Every time you see them they are taller, bigger. Tomorrow is my oldest kid's graduation from Kindergarten. It's tough man. I've missed out on so much. I've only taken him to school five times because I'm never here.

You start missing out on more things. The balance is important, and with maturity it brings on more balance.

You start learning more things about life and about the business as well.

It might sound crazy to connect personal life with the way you blend cigars, but we are in fact creating something and it all depends on our mood. I was in a mellow mood and I developed a cigar like the 10th Anniversary. The time I was involved with that cigar I was looking for something medium-bodied, not "balls out" (laughter) like the Corojo. I was looking for something to relax with, to chill  ...  I kind of equate it with listening to music. Sometimes you want to listen to something mild and sometimes you want to listen to something like "Rage Against the Machine" or something like that.

Baccarat The Game CigarKevin: Baccarat was the biggest seller back in 1998, and still was the reported best seller in 2005. How does Baccarat rank now, and what are the current best sellers?

Christian: It's interesting that a lot of people don't realize we changed the name from Caribe Imported Cigars to Camacho Cigars because it was an easier name and Camacho was our fastest grower. Baccarat is still our best seller. By the way, it is "Baccarat The Game". Baccarat Crystal forced us to call it Baccarat The Game.

Baccarat is still our best seller by far. It outsells Camacho, it outsells the entire Camacho line almost 2 to 1  ...  in units of course. Baccarat is very big. It's a mild cigar. It's got a sweet cap on it and its consistent man.

Kevin: So it's really always been a mainstay and still is now.

Christian: Yeah man. That's our bread and butter. We could lose Camacho tomorrow, and our company would still be profitable. It would be smaller, but it would still be profitable.

Kevin: Do you personally develop the cigars your company sells?

Christian: I get more involved in developing the Camacho-types. It's pretty well-known that I like fuller-bodied cigars. There's only so many tricks you can play on the palate. It's almost like you're cooking a steak on the grill, or if you're a vegetarian, when you're preparing your dressings for your salad  ...  (outburst of laughter from Kevin) and then Christian responds - I don't think we have any vegetarians in the cigar business?

Kevin: I know of one.

Christian: That smokes cigars? He's actually in the cigar business!?!

Kevin: He's a CPA, but he used to work part-time in a cigar shop and is a moderator right here on our site on Cigar Review. Guys are always talking about grilling steaks and stuff and making fun of vegetarians, forgetting he is one. (Laugher).

Christian: Oye vey! What's his name?

Kevin: Stan.

Christian: See Stan, I didn't forget you! I don't discriminate!

Anyway, so we already know what we want the cigar to taste like. When you get the final product, which takes months  ...  the Triple Maduro took me 8 - 9 months. The 10th Anniversary was about 10 months.

With the 10th Anniversary, we actually had the final product in December. I did a test sampling with my sales people in January, and then I lost the blend just like that.

{mosimage}Sometimes cigars don't travel well. They don't smoke the same when you travel.

Kevin: So you developed a blend, you had the taste that you wanted, but then it changed?

Christian: Yeah! It changed! There's a guy that used to work for Tabacalera Española. Now Altadis ...  now Imperial ...  (laughter) his name was Javier Plantada and he told me a saying, "Cigars don't make good travel companions". You can smoke a cigar down in the factory and it's going to taste different when you smoke it in Miami or if you smoke it in New Jersey, or wherever you travel.

Plus the situation you're in (affects the taste). You could hook up with Pamela Anderson and you're smoking a Producto (a machine-made cigar) and that's going to be a good cigar! (Laughter).

Maybe Pam's a little too old for some readers? Maybe we should say Lindsay Lohan? (More laughter). Pam's a little beat up so that takes away a couple of points. (Both of us still laughing).

Kevin: This relates well to what you're talking about right now, you were saying 8 - 10 months for a cigar. From the time you conceive of the idea for a new cigar, from concept to commercialization, is that what you are referring to with the 10 months?

From the time you come up with the idea to the time it is on store shelves?

Christian: I've already started working on the cigars for the years 2009 and 2010. Why? Because the more blends you have out  ...  today's market is very interesting for the smoker  ... the market is so demanding and there are so many good cigars out there, that you have to stand out.

You're looking for that "wow" effect when a guy tries your cigars. He's only going to try it for the first time once. There's no excuses (for a bad cigar).

The mind-boggling thing for us in the industry, on our side of the table, is the fascination people have toward Cuban cigars.

They are more tolerant of imperfections, bad draw or whatever.

Kevin: Because of the mystique?

Christian: Yeah. We're fascinated. It's something about branding that's just amazing. If a guy picks up a Camacho 10th Anniversary and it bit him, or whatever, the guy will never smoke it again. We tried studying these patterns and we gave up because there's no way of duplicating it.

So, you start working on a blend. First you taste every single leaf that you are going to put in there. Consider them condiments. You are going to taste 100% of leaf 1, 100% of leaf 2, 100% of leaf 3, etc. Then you begin to know exactly what the mélange, the blend is going to be once you out it together.

When we start working on a new experimental seed, or we get samples from a supplier for raw materials, I already know  ...  I say damn, I wonder if when this next crop comes out, I can blend this with that, and that with the other ... and see what comes out.

So we're already looking for these things. We actually develop a cigar from the moment we put a seed in the ground. Which makes it very different.

We don't go to a local leaf supplier and say give me these and give me those and make the blend. We actually grow the stuff before we blend it. Once you have it blended, then you say ok, now we have it.

The cigar I'm working on for next year is called the Camacho Plus.

I want the cigar to be very similar with the reddish wrapper, like you see on a popular Cuban cigar which shall remain nameless. I can't wait until the tobacco is ready to start sampling it. We can't talk about it in detail or too far in advance as you never know how the tobacco is going to turn out. I am just fascinated with that reddish color, the Colorado color is very hard to get.
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So now you're looking at the wrapper. You have to remember, cigar smoking is ...

The delivery of the product is everything. I learned a lot from watches. You would never buy a Rolex in a plastic bag. When you go to the jewelry store the lighting is done so they sparkle and they put it on the black velvet. When you open up the box and see the watch, it is a beautiful sense of accomplishment.

... So you have this beautiful Colorado wrapper ...

Part II of the Camacho Cigars Interview

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Comments 

 
0 # RE: Camacho Cigars Interviewcigar50 2013-01-10 22:52
Thanks for the advice! It is also good to add a little pizazz to your cigars by customizing them.

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