Christian Eiroa of Camacho Cigars is a very busy, yet happy man. He joined his father’s company - Caribe Imported Cigars - in 1995 on a temporary basis, but that short-term job turned into a vocation and a calling. Twelve years later, he is now president of the company, which changed its name to Camacho Cigars to reflect the popularity of its flagship brand. In 2000, Christian debuted the Camacho Corojo to immediate success and started a trend for stronger cigars. Not only is he fully involved in revitalizing the Camacho brands, but he has carved out more time to return to his true passions: blending new cigars and spending time with his family. Frank Seltzer recently sat down with Eiroa to get the details on recent Camacho developments and insights on how the industry has changed since Caribe’s humble beginnings over 25 years ago.
SMOKESHOP: You recently redesigned all of the Camacho packaging with new boxes and bands. Why the change?
EIROA: One of the things I asked myself was “how do I get people attracted to the cigar in a different way,” because I really want people to enjoy the cigar. I want to see people’s faces when they try a cigar they really like. As our industry develops, packaging becomes a big part of the process.
Once a company in this industry gets to a level where you no longer have to worry about the normal concerns that entrepreneurs usually have, that’s where you really start enjoying what you are doing because the risks are minimal. The business is big enough now that I don’t have to worry as much - I’m having fun with the brand.
Coca Cola is probably the most recognizable brand in the world and they still change their packaging all the time. So I thought, let me learn from all the big boys who know what they are doing. I wanted to do something exciting. This got me thinking in a whole new way. We had three or four different labels and sometimes it confused people. Now, we have one basic label and theme throughout to make things simpler. When I relaunched the Diploma packaging with its medallion on the box and saw the response, I knew that would also work with the Triple Maduro. I am in a race to outdo myself. I don’t want to go crazy and go off the reservation, but I do want to push the envelope a little bit each time.
SMOKESHOP: Is there a danger that the new look might be perceived as too fancy or expensive?
EIROA: Yes, there is a certain danger in spending too much on packaging, plus there is a terrible danger that consumers will think they are just paying for a pretty box, so we work to keep the price of the boxes reasonable. That way, there is no problem. The new box for the Diplomas only increased the production price by a dollar or so - mainly for the plaques - but that is a negligible amount that we can absorb, so it is no big deal. I really want our customers to feel that when they buy a Camacho they are getting good value for their money.
SMOKESHOP: Tell us about all your new cigars.
EIROA: The idea for the Triple Maduro came from a friend of (retired company principal) Sal Fontana who was down in Honduras to visit me early last year and said “make me an all-maduro cigar.” Basically, I used all wrapper leaf to make the cigar - wrapper, filler, and binder were all maduro wrapper leaf. The guy told me, “hey, you could market this cigar.” I originally thought there was no way I could make the cigar all maduro because I would have to sell it for 90 bucks. But the concept stuck in my head and I got interested in trying to blend this cigar. It took me about eight months until I finally got it right. The trouble in doing an all maduro cigar is that when you have five different thick tobaccos in the cigar, it is tough to get it to burn right. But we were able to do it. The Triple Maduro is all-natural maduro, not processed. By that I mean it is the natural color of the leaves in the wrapper, binder, and filler. It takes a little longer to light than a normal cigar, but once you get it going, it is a great cigar. It may look intimidating because of its dark shade, but it is not that strong a cigar. It is a cigar with complex flavors. One of the main things that I focus on for all my blends is that there is no aftertaste. I want to make sure I can provide a full-bodied cigar with full flavor, and I think we have that with the Triple Maduro.
SMOKESHOP: The newest edition of the Liberty is quite different.
EIROA: We decided to do a barber pole. We had a group of visitors down in Honduras last year and one of them wanted a special wrapped cigar with the barber pole look. I thought it was interesting and I played with it. A lot of manufacturers start with Connecticut shade and use maduro to get the contrast on the wrappers. I decided to use a different wrapper for the second leaf, and it does deliver a complex flavor. We settled on using the 11/18 size.
The 10th anniversary cigar is going to be a bit different for us. It will have an authentic Corojo wrapper like the Camacho Corojo, the Diploma and the Legendario but my challenge is to make it distinctly different from the other cigars, so I decided to make it “creamy.” I am keeping that in my head, trying to deliver that experience to the guy who tries this cigar. It is a box pressed cigar available in five sizes. The 10th anniversary celebrates the 10th year of growing the authentic Corojo seed since 1997.
Another cigar I am developing probably won’t sell very well, but I don’t care. I’m making it for me. It is the CLE, which stands for my initials, Christian Luis Eiroa. That cigar may not be launched commercially. It is a hammer. There are many nicknames for it but it is the single strongest, tastiest cigar I have ever tried. Much stronger than the Coyolar. It’s like marrying a Diploma with a Coyolar. It is not a cigar for everyone. It is a monster, but I love it. We are only making enough for the gift bags and them some extras for me because I love this cigar so much.
SMOKESHOP: So what tobaccos are you using in all of these blends?
SMOKESHOP: Yes? I take it you are not saying?
EIROA: We’re being very careful this time. I learned a big lesson with the Camacho Corojo. We came out with it and very soon knockoffs were everywhere. It was very hard to take when my friends started copying me. I was extremely disappointed. But it is a very different business from the one I grew up in or the one that my father or Sal Fontana introduced me to. It is a different world today.
SMOKESHOP: Okay, so lesson learned. What else have you learned?
EIROA: I have learned not to rush the cigars. Right now, there is a huge problem for us in keeping production up to meet demand. I learned a valuable lesson before and I guess that is part of maturity and part of why our campaign is “Maturity.” In October 2004, we rushed out the Corojos before they were ready. It was a tough situation but it was all due to my inexperience. Back then, (in 2004) I just wanted to fill the need. We had people calling and complaining that they wanted more cigars. If the customers wanted it, I figured we’d do it. I can’t say I should have known better because I didn’t. The cigars we shipped weren’t the best we could make. We were rushing to get them out. It is all part of experience where you grow up, learn and mature. Those are mistakes you won’t make again.
So now we have the new packaging and we were expecting a 50% increase in demand and instead we got a 300% increase in demand. We are overwhelmed. There is no way I could have expected this kind of increase. If I could have predicted that, I would be playing the lottery. But this time, even with the backlog of orders, we will not ship the cigars until they are ready and we will not be rushed.
SMOKESHOP: You seem more relaxed now, more comfortable in your own skin. Have you changed?
EIROA: Yes. Last year was a real tough year for me on a personal level. It was a year where I achieved utter burnout. I was a 34-year-old workaholic with a terrible home life from being on the road all the time. I got a wake-up call when a friend of mine, a colleague in the cigar industry, had a life-threatening illness. That taught me an important lesson; life is too short. I needed to prioritize, to start having fun again, and to spend more time with my family. I began delegating. I hired Morgan Jones as vice president of sales, handed all marketing duties to Angel Diaz and I decided to go back and do what I enjoyed doing-blending cigars.
SMOKESHOP: So how has that worked out?
EIROA: It is different now and I am very happy. I don’t know how this sounds, but it is bliss. I really enjoy doing the blends. Back when I started I had nothing to worry about, I just had this gut feeling that we could do it and I was doing something that I loved. And now it is kind of the same thing. I have a family now, but I still feel so comfortable doing this because I don’t have many worries anymore. We are on a solid footing. We are very nice to our customers and provide a great product at a good price. So now I just want to have fun with it. People are enjoying our work, but we don’t lose sight of the customer. You always have to provide value. That is the only thing that secures somebody’s enjoyment. Whenever you buy something, whether it’s a car or a cigar, you want to know you got your money’s worth. The packaging, the way it is presented, is all part of that pleasure; it all has to live up to your expectations.
That is what we are doing at Camacho. Value is everything. If you cannot provide value, then you should not be in business.