IPCPR 2017: FIVE COMPANIES TO WATCH
The IPCPR Convention & Trade Show is important to any company exhibiting, but for some, it’s of particular importance. There are those companies looking to use the show as a launching pad for future sustained success, while others use the show to introduce new chapters in company history or change course.
For all intents and purposes, the trade show marks the beginning and of a cigar year and with that in mind, it’s time to look at five companies whose trade show will be particularly interesting based on what’s happened since the last year.
I cannot think of a company where the show is more important than for A.J. Fernández, the cigar company. While Fernández has always made cigars for other people, his client list has expanded immensely over the last two years.
Off the top of my head, he is now producing cigars for:
- Altadis U.S.A./Santa Clara, Inc.
- Boutique Blends
- Caldwell Cigar Co.
- Espinosa Premium Cigars
- Foundation Cigar Co.
- General Cigar Co./Meier & Dutch
- La Palina
- Nomad Cigar Co.
- Southern Draw Cigars
The list, the growth and the operation are all impressive, but for much of the last year it seems like AJF Cigar Co. has played second fiddle to the cigars A.J. Fernández makes.
Since last year’s trade show, the cigar company, not the factory, has introduced no new national products, while four new brands from Altadis U.S.A. and its sister company, Santa Clara, Inc., have been added to the market with notable marketing campaigns featuring Fernández. I wonder if the amount of products being made for other people is helping or hurting Fernández’s own cigar company.
The production and publicity are certainly positive, but if you are a retailer and the A.J. Fernández representative walks in the store trying to get you to buy the new look San Lotano, you very well could tell them you don’t need it: you have 15 other lines made by A.J., none of which are sold by AJF Cigar Co.
So far the company has indicated they will have two new lines: a new version of the immensely popular New World, which should sell very well, and updated packaging for San Lotano, which is a huge question mark for me.
Is this the end?
The company, formerly known as House of Emilio, once served as the distribution company for as many as nine brands at one time with a variety of sales representatives throughout the country. Now, the company has three brands it distributes: Black Label Trading Co., Nomad Cigar Co. and Emilio, which is owned by the Zucca family who also owns Boutiques Unified.
Black Label and Nomad are both solid brands, certainly more relevant than most of the brands that once made up the House of Emilio banner, but the model doesn’t really work with just two, err three, brands. Furthermore, it’s not even clear whether Emilio itself is an active brand. And if it is, it’s clearly not that active given I’m having to question it.
It’s not that the model is particularly poor, especially in today’s climate. There’s been consolidation amongst brands and there’s been some effort by some smaller brands to join forces; however, it’s hard to imagine Boutiques Unified serving much longer in its current form without some massive changes.
Drew Estate, a company that built itself by—amongst other things—making splashes doesn’t feel like it’s had a splash of late. I don’t think this is a Swisher problem either. As I mentioned when I reviewed the All Out Kings, it’s been since IPCPR 2012 since we’ve really seen an entirely new brand from Drew Estate. In the years since there have been a variety of extensions to its core brands such as Herrera Estelí, Undercrown and My Uzi Weighs a Ton. But a big splash there really hasn’t been.
All Out Kings made a splash, but it’s made by, not sold by Drew Estate.
There seems to be a new chapter at Drew Estate, it’s got new leadership, a new sales strategy and we the effects of Swisher are starting to make it into retail stores. For all the success that Drew Estate had, the company was very much willing to admit at times it was disorganized.
While consumers probably won’t notice the changes, retailers certainly will. It’s going to be curious if the new, more organized Drew Estate is a big enough change to be a splash in and of itself.
OSCAR VALLADARES TOBACCO & CO.
No brand has blown up in the last two years quite like Leaf by Oscar.
While the brand has Valladares’ name on it, it’s actually not his brand. That being said, Valladares’ own brands have been popping at stores around the country at a decent rate and he’s begun to make other moves of his own. He now handles importation and fulfillment for two other brands out of his Houston warehouse and the Oscar empire seems to be growing at a decent pace.
Trying to define what a good show might be, let alone predicting which company(s) might have a good show, is challenging. However, it’s Vegas and if I had to place a chip on someone’s number for a good show, it would be Valladares.
Jochy Blanco has long been one of the behind-the-scenes forces of the cigar business. He’s a prolific tobacco grower in the Dominican Republic and owns a sizable factory, but his introduction into the frontline of the American cigar industry has been a relatively new venture.
While much is made about the emerging manufacturers in Nicaragua or even Abe Flores’ PDR Cigars, whose factory is in a property owned by Blanco, Jochy Blanco could be the cigar industry’s next big thing, or next bigger thing.
I’m not sure La Galera will be the brand that ultimately takes Tabacalera Palma into the next level, or the next next level, but Blanco has everything needed to enter that space: a plethora of brands, mountains of tobacco, an established factory and the other resources and knowledge that so many others lack.
I have no doubt that in five years, maybe even three, Jochy will be a household name in established cigar shops, and I have a feeling this trade show will be the start of that springboard.