Gatekeepers of the cigar community. The cigar industry has been growing over the last decade. The production numbers are not up to the level of the crazy cigar boom of the mid-1990s, but they have been steadily rising and are higher than ever, with the exemption of that boom. So it’s unavoidable that people who want to make a quick or easy buck are drawn to the cigar industry. Some with the best intentions, others just to create a cheap product and sell it with a high margin.
Now, as consumers, we are overwhelmed with new brands, new blends, new names and new faces that seem to appear regularly. That’s why the industry should act as a gatekeeper. That goes for all levels of the industry. For manufacturers, for distributors, retailers but also for us, cigar media. And at all levels, there is room for improvement.
The lines of defense
The first gatekeeper should be the manufacturer. But there’s a catch 22 for them. Should a manufacturer turn down a client that wants a cheap product? For manufacturers, it could be a great opportunity to get rid of excess tobacco of lower quality and even make a buck or two. For the more established factories, it’s easier to say no. They have the revenue anyway and making a low-quality product can hurt their reputation. But the smaller factories may not be in the luxurious position to say no. So we can’t trust completely on manufacturers to be the gatekeepers of the cigar community.
Then what is the next line of defense? That’s the importer and distributor. In our opinion, they should be the main gatekeeper of the cigar community. They are in the best position to do so. They should do the research. Who is the manufacturer? Where does the tobacco come from? Who’s the blender and what are his references? Who are behind the brand. Not just look at the prices and the labels. But do research and most importantly: smoke samples. And not just one, smoke several and let others try the cigars too for feedback. That way bad products will be filtered out. Of course, this is also not a foolproof line of defense. Brands can act as their own importer and distributor. Some distributors are greedy as well. Or don’t want to do the homework, thinking that they can sell the initial order anyway. There are plenty of examples of distributors working with bullshit marketing brands all over the world.
Tobacconists and media
The third line of defense should be the tobacconist. They should to a little bit of homework too. Not rely completely on the distributor and sales reps. Google some basics. Don’t just think ‘I’ll get a box or two and sell them anyway to people that want to try something new’. Protect your customers. They will spend the money anyway, so better have them spend it on a quality product from a good company. Looking just at a sale and the margins are short term. Maybe you get a dime more on a cigar like that, but losing the trust of your customers can cost you much more in the long run.
And then there are cigar media. The part of the industry where Ministry of Cigars falls under. We are part of the line of defense as well. But we all could do a better job, that includes us. We could and should be holding companies that bring out inferior products responsible. We all try, some bolder than others. But on the other hand, it is an industry of relationships. And cigar media depends on sponsors, so there will always be a little caution. As for Ministry of Cigars, we changed out review scoring to be a little more critical. If that’s enough, time will tell. But we do realize that we have our responsibility, and keep reminding us of that.
And, after all the lines of defenses are passed, a lot of the bad has been seeded out, then it’s up to the consumer. Hold brands and companies responsible. Be honest, be fair but let companies know if their products are not up to standard. Warn other cigar aficionados. If those bad cigars don’t move, then they will disappear anyway.