Since 1994 Robert Spoden at Bucanero cigars has been re-writing the standard of how cigars are made, shipped, and sold. With a no expense spared method of shipping, storing, and aging in Spanish cedar, Bucanero has put the pressure on the larger manufacturers who sell cigars at higher prices. In addition, Bucanero’s retailer-less method of sales has allowed for that savings to be passed on to the customer. Speaking of the customer, Bucanero’s customer service is unparalleled. Robert’s unique business model complements his unique cigar selection well. With tobaccos grown in 10 different countries, you will not find a more complete line of cigars anywhere.
Robert Spoden took the time to sit down and answer some questions I had about Bucanero Cigars.
Straight Up Cigars: Hi Robert. Can you give us a brief history of Bucanero and some of the challenges you faced when you were a new boutique manufacturer?
Answer: Our country was founded on small businesses many years ago. Today our cigar industry for the most part has been transformed. Similar to just about everything out there. Large publically traded tobacco companies now control the majority of cigars that are made and exported to our country. As is the case in all large corporations the bottom line is the over riding factor in how the cigars are made. When you produce 10’s of millions of cigars annually something has to change. Today there are so many cigar brands housed under a select few large corporations. Most now seem to under the control of European Conglomerates. Ask yourself have they changed from the cigars you once enjoyed years ago?
That trend is continuing today with mergers and accusations creating even larger entities.
Small family owned cigar companies since the cigar boom of the 90’s pretty much have disappeared. With that I believe has the passion in making fine cigars. It is hard to compete with limited resources when nationally branding a cigar line. The costs to do so limit’s a small company’s exposure to cigar lovers. But the internet levels the playing field. It is why we went direct via the internet.
Straight Up Cigars: Is there any one thing, or combination of things, that you feel has been the secret to Bucanero’s success in an industry that is full of other premium cigar manufacturers?
Answer: I measure success by the way our cigars are enjoyed by our growing customer base. Not by the quantity of cigars we produce and sell. Customer service and customer satisfaction is our priority. People today want value. Cigar lovers today have been inundated with slick costly advertising campaigns promoting the best cigars ever made. When in fact most are high volume low aged stogies. I look at my company as a “cigar micro-blender” not a boutique, similar to a beer micro-brewer. In most cases beer micro brewers can only be found in small regions of our country. Their distribution is either local or regional. We have an advantage since all that covet a Bucanero cigar can purchase our blends nationally buy buying our cigars online via our web site www.bucanerocigars.com and do so at true wholesale prices. That is our advantage true value for outstanding well aged cigars that are blended with unique high grade tobaccos. All from small tobacco farmers (finca’s) that hold no commercial interest to the large corporations due to the limited quantities available upon harvest.
Straight Up Cigars: Has the decision to cut out the retailers and sell direct to the customer given Bucanero an edge over the competition?
Answer: We may be the only cigar manufacture out there that went internet direct to stogie lovers after selling exclusively to retailers for 17 years. For many years we only sold our cigars to retailers coast to coast. Our cigars had a high retail cost to cigar lovers and our brand always was known as a hard to find quality boutique priced in the $9 – $12 dollar range ( plus taxes). Since we make so many different blends most retailers would only stock a small amount of facings. Most retailers do not promote small brands and most cigar lovers rarely venture into the unknown when buying their cigars from a retailer’s humidor. Unless directed by the retailer to give one a try. With large manufactures products lining the retailer’s shelves it only makes sense in what he or she promotes. It is really good business sense to promote products where most of your money is tied up in inventory. I can’t blame them one bit.
Today for those have discovered one of our Bucanero blends online or for the ones who had smoked Bucanero’s in the past via a retail store purchase most all have become loyal customers. All have the opportunity to purchase one of our many blends and do so at considerable savings.
Straight Up Cigars: How do you feel about some of the industry trends such as the increased use of ligero leaves or the shorter and fatter vitolas? Are these fads or are they here to stay?
Answer: Our industry is always changing. Years ago a 60 gauge cigar was a rare sized cigar. Today it is a popular size. Years ago mild cigars seemed to be the norm. Today medium body and full body cigars have gained considerable market share. Larger cigars seem to burn cooler. Most should have more volume of smoke as they contain more tobacco. Smaller size cigars even in the same blend have slightly different characteristics than let’s say a 6 x 54 belicoso. Churchill’s once a favorite due to the length of leaf employed now seem to have faded from their glory years.
Straight Up Cigars: What is your favorite, and least favorite, part about working in the cigar industry?
Answer: The lows: Crappy cigars that are marketed down the throat of cigar consumers. Over taxation. Smoking bans. The ongoing attempts to destroy the cigar lover’s passion via FDA regulations.
The highs: The freedom without corporate compromise to make our cigars like the good old days when a cigar should be something special. As it is a moment in time to enjoy ones passion without any disappointment.
Having the opportunity to build friendships with our customers and taking the time to do so.
Straight Up Cigars: Anti-tobacco groups seem to be getting bolder and more relentless by the day have you felt any effects from the smoking bans and law changes? As a cigar manufacturer, what are your thoughts on the looming possibility of strict FDA regulation on the cigar industry?
Answer: If the FDA regulates the cigar industry only the largest publically traded cigar/tobacco companies will remain. Think about how happy they will be when this industry is handed to them on a sliver platter.
FDA will require independent lab testing of each cigar blend. The cost as such today can exceed $300,000 per blend. We make 22 blends. Do the math.
This process normally takes a couple of years. In many cases you must first complete the process and get the FDA approval before you can sell your products. To accelerate the testing process via an independent lab major additional expenses must be incurred. The end result, cigar lover’s selections will greatly diminish. A monopoly will occur such as what exists today in Europe. The retail cost of cigars will dramatically rise.
Cigars that are hand made have no finite mixture of a man made substance. They are made from the tobacco plant. In most cases nothing is added to the mix such as cigarettes. No chemicals are added just Mother Nature’s tobacco. Each year as in all cases Mother Nature creates a slightly different strain of plant. Look at wine and how one year to next the wines flavor varies. How in the hell can they test that?
Maybe this is all by design. Cigar smokers should take this head on as a grass roots endeavor. Regardless if we are driven out of business cigar smokers are a brotherhood. Do not allow them to quietly steal your passion!
Straight Up Cigars: What can we expect to see from Bucanero in the near future?
Answer: We have been testing a line of new blends. To date we have rolled over 725 new test blends. When we finally select the ones we feel are winners we will introduce them on our web site. We are not in a rush to bring out new blends and entice our customers with sell the sizzle before you sell the steak advertising. As a small company we have to hit the bull eye. No flops and then quietly remove it from the marketplace.
Isn’t that the way it should be?
Straight Up Cigars: Thanks for your time Robert and we wish you continued success!
If this interview has left you feeling motivated to spend 5 minutes of your time fighting FDA regulation, visit the Cigar Right of America website to quickly send a petition to your politicians!