Interview with Heiko Poerz, the owner and designer of HENK, a luxury design company with a large range of cigar accessories. And even cigars, which made it to the Ministry of Cigars Top 25 of 2019, and Top 25 of 2020.
For those that don’t know HENK, what is HENK? Who is HENK? And why is it called HENK?
HENK is my company (since November 2013) and I was working with the Founder Henk van de Meene (Dutch Origin) from the very beginning in 1991. Together we developed the first and now iconic product, the HENK classic suitcase.
In the past, we were on travel goods. All highly luxurious and extremely functional. Nowadays we also focus on other products. Mostly ones that I’m not satisfied with but have to use it. And so, I and my team try to fix the problems. And often, in the end, we have created a new product.
The company is called after its Founder, Hendrik Pieter Cornelius Van de Meene, Nickname „HENK“.
So it’s a luxury travel company. How does that mix with cigars?
Henk van de Meine and I have been and are great cigar lovers. I have been smoking cigars for 43 years. With my connections and experience, I wanted to create my own brand of cigars. HENK cigars became a project of mine in 2014.
Are you involved in the blending process, or do you let A.J. Fernandez and Didier Houvenaghel blend while you give direction and final approval?
In the beginning, I described the kind of cigar I want to have. Size, color, taste, etcetera. A.J. Fernandez and Didier started blending. It took us 2 years till I agreed to the composition and said GO!
How did you come up with a tattoo instead of a cigar ring? And how will this affect the HENK Maori line when it comes to plain packaging?
The name and the logo engraved in every cigar goes back to the name that Didier and I found on Nikoi Island (an Indonesian private resort island, approx 85km/50 miles from Singapore)
We were smoking the final blends with a mutual friend while thinking of a name. At the sight of the wrapper in this cozy sunset overlooking we noticed the skin color of our friend. He belongs to the Maori ethnical group. And we agreed that HENK MAORI would be a really good name.
Our friend has many splendid traditional tattoos. The meaning and the origin behind the tattoos are fantastic. Especially in connection with the traditional ceremonial dance the „HAKA“, the name was perfect. The New Zealand national rugby team, the All Blacks, dance the Haka before each game.
Since I was also one of the first to laser cigars in Europe, I commissioned the best Maori tattoo artist to create a logo that means happiness, success, and power. The result is now found on every cigar and also as a gold coin on the spectacular boxes.
Plain packaging is a big thing. For the boxes, I think we have a solution, that allows us to get the boxes as beautiful they are. For the cigars, we will wrap an additional band on them, covering the tattoo.
Your cigars rate high at our annual top 25 for 2 years in a row. But from our readers in New Zealand, we had some negative comments on the MAORI name. What’s the story behind that?
Regarding the story, read the previous statement. To all people in New Zealand, I can only say, it was never my intention to blame or shame the MAORI! It was a respectful honor for the MAORI, nothing else.
In what countries are the HENK cigars distributed?
So far we are distributed in Germany, Switzerland, Japan, UAE, and Malaysia. Austria will follow soon, and also the US. And, we have requests from other countries. But due to Covid, it’s not easy to set up everything. Anyhow, we are shipping to all countries also direct.
You release a limited edition each year, what are your plans for 2021?
Our plan is, to come up at the end of the year with a Double Lancero. And maybe something special.
2020 was a big year for HENK if we look at all the new accessories you released. Is that because the travel market collapsed due to the pandemic and you can’t travel yourself? Does that give you more time to invent accessories?
Yeah, 2020 was a great year for our business in general. And also the new accessories started fantastic, like the Bones. We could sell more, but the virus stopped us here. Time to invent new products is not a problem for me. I always have plenty of ideas in my head and have to slow myself down not to create too much.
The goal is to create a new product every month. For the last seven years, we have been working on a very big invention. We have it patented now. This invention will revolutionize the suitcase market and more. It is a wheel system called power wheels®. While walking with your suitcase, the motion of the wheels will power all your appliances in your suitcase. These wheels are also interesting for other products such as shopping carts and e-scooters.
(if so, will we see fewer new inventions when the pandemic is behind us?)
How does designing an accessory work? Do you wake up with inspiration? Or is it a gradual process?
It’s both. I get ideas under the shower, during my travels, and elsewhere. For example, the Bone idea. I had the epiphany on a flight back from Jordan and had it sketched before I landed.
The last one, the cigar picker we created three weeks ago. At record speed, within 8 hours from idea to a real product. All this is possible due to my fantastic team and the 3D printing technology. It’s so amazing what you can create with 3D printing. But sometimes (remember the power wheels, 7 years now!) it’s really not easy and the problem is mostly in simple details. So for example to combine the printed product with other materials.
The design is a part that is there from the beginning. But it’s changing several times due to production or assembly issues. All designs are done by myself and I’m very much thankful, to have learned from the best.
Professor Hartmut Esslinger, founder of frog design and designer of the legendary Apple Macintosh, Sony Trinitron, Sony Walkmen, and many more products. Hartmut also designed our HENK classic.
At the moment we are working together on a very big project for the US and China. And we are talking with some well-known brands regarding a collaboration.
This year we have seen both high-end luxury items from HENK such as the bone and the Meissen ashtray, as well as cheap gadgets. What gives you more pleasure to design?
In general, both are fun. For me, it’s to see that an idea can work. And nowadays we have a competition within the team who is faster in solving problems.
You created the Cigartee, are you a golfer yourself?
Yes, for 33 years now. But the „fever“ is over. It’s a question of time mostly. But together with my wife, I play several rounds and tournaments a year. Even our son is a good golfer (HCP -7) and there is a battle.
Ministry of Cigars has prototypes of the Bone and Minibone, we love them. But did you make any changes before releasing the real thing?
Oh yes! Sometimes when I think it’s ready, we totally change products/concepts. And when we find problems or think we can make things better we change them immediately. When we see us next time, I show you the changes between the first Bone and the actual.
Do you have more things up your sleeve for 2021?
Of course, there are so many products we are not satisfied with but still using because there is nothing better.
Everything HENK does can be personalized with colors and logos, isn’t that a lot of work? And for the simple gadgets, is there a minimum order quantity?
Would you like to have a luxury product and you see it everywhere? And you don’t know is it fake or not? I love to have specific products in my favorite color or material. Why not others? So, this is a major selling point for all of our products. And yes, sometimes it’s hard and as a result, the price is higher.
In general, there is no difference between simple gadgets or luxury products regarding the minimum order quantity. But, for specific products, there could be a minimum order quantity. We hope to avoid it though.
Except for cigars and travel ware, what else is available under the HENK name?
Our idea is that HENK will be a lifestyle luxury brand in the end. But not like Gucci, Prada, or others. We don’t like „bling-bling“. We see us more functional. There are great designers, creating products such as chairs. They looking good, but you cannot sit on them comfortably.
We have plans for a watch, a lighter, sunglasses, sneakers, perfume/aftershave, and many other things. But we have time.
Why Gin and not another alcoholic beverage? Why not a HENK Rum? Or a nonalcoholic beverage
Oh, that’s easy. I love Gin and have an old friend with a very old distillery. So this was the first easy step into fine spirits. We are thinking about other drinks, such as a special Rum.
Is there anything else you want to say to the readers of ministryofcigars.com?
Stay safe and healthy, respect others, nature, and smoke cigars.