A stained-glass ceiling light in the new Cuesta-Rey Cigar Shop in The Hague.
Jonathan Bell

A new treat in The Hague, The Cuesta-Rey Cigar Shop, is turning the Dutch onto long filler cigars with help from the J.C. Newman Cigar Co

Not only do the Dutch make more cigars of all sizes than any other nation in Europe, they are also an important group of consumers in terms of volume and value. For generations they have traditionally preferred their own style of cigars - the so-called short filler genre, not surprisingly, given the wealth of cigars at hand. Such cigars do not need to be kept in humidors and do not commonly feature wrapper or binder leaf from the Caribbean region. Of course, as in all mature cigars markets, there has been an enduring demand in The Netherlands for longfiller cigars, albeit a small market sector that has remained undeveloped. But recently this has been changing as the Dutch, along with other European consumers, are finding new interest in longfillers of various origins.

The change is clearly manifest in the blossoming renovated or new cigar stores in the cities and the unheralded emphasis on humidors, both in stores and among consumers. Perhaps the most impressive example of this can be found in The Hague, the country's administrative and legal center, with the opening of the strikingly handsome Cuesta-Rey Cigar Shop.

The shop is located on one of the busier streets in the old quarter of the town. As an establishment of 112 sq. meters, it is large for a European smoke shop. Most distinctively it includes a 19 sq. meter walk-in humidor, which is hailed as the largest of its kind in The Netherlands. The store stocks some 300 frontmarks of cigars, covering a range of not only Dutch and Cuban cigars, but also Dominican makes along with brands from Honduras, Brazil, and the Canary Islands. While the store also sells cigarettes, cigarillos, smoking tobaccos, premium pipes, humidors, and other accessories, the focus is first and foremost on cigars.

Sumptuously decorated and furnished from ceiling to floor in fine wood, custom designed and built by noted European humidor manufacturer Hof van Gelre, the shop's quiet elegance is trimmed in gleaming brass and crowned by a large stained glass 'Cuesta-Rey' ceiling window. Little expense was spared in creating the new store, which opened this past spring. It is a small Dutch palace for cigars.

Both the manager and one of the principals in the store, Ilya van Horsen is a young man with one of the world's older pedigrees in tobacco: the van Horssen family has made tobacco its business since the beginning of the 19th century. According to Ilya, the idea for a Cuesta-Rey Cigar Shop in The Hague - the first with such a name outside of the United States, grew because of his family's ties to the Newman family and its J.C. Newman Cigar Co., a leading manufacturer of Dominican cigars, owner of the Cuesta-Rey trademark, and a partner with the Arturo Fuente Cigar Co. Ilya's brother Sasha owns the Longfiller Co., a entirely separate enterprise that distributes Newman cigars along with other products in the Benelux region (Belgium, The Netherlands, and Luxembourg.)

International Presence
Inspired in part by the success of J.C. Newman's Cuesta-Rey Cigar Bar in Tampa, Florida, the shop took a full six years of research and planning to become reality. The long incubation is now proving worth the wait. Opened in April of this year, the store reached its projected sales target set for the first year of operation in only its first two month's of business.

"We are not a Davidoff-style store," explains Ilya. "Although we give strong support to the Fuente line and to Longfiller Company entries, we don't push them. We adhere to the premise that a large selection offering variety and choice is the cornerstone to success in cigar retailing. Our selection ranges in price from $5 to $200."

That said, even with a soft-sell approach, the results for Fuente and Longfiller company products are quite gratifying to Ilya, who is an ardent champion of both. To date the store is stocking and selling about 60 percent of its cigar inventory in brands distributed by the Longfiller Company, valued at over $250,000. Overall, 80 percent of all cigars sold are longfiller, a situation that is completely unique in The Netherlands. Of this business, a full 50 percent of sales are in Fuente brands.

Despite its success, each sale of a moist cigar at the Cuesta-Rey Shop is seen as a small victory. To help emphasize its longfillers, the store was actually located in a spot where cigarette purchasing could be de-emphasized, saving more staff time to council cigar customers. Ilya says that advising clients is a must. More than 80 percent of his clients are Dutch, and most of them know little about longfillers in general or have only heard of those from Cuba. Such a clientele requires extra time and attention, beginning with a learning phase based on personal taste and smoking experience, and that often commences with a milder Dominican.

To build business, the shop advertises in the Dutch edition of Playboy magazine and promotes itself in credit card newsletters and local papers. It also pursues sales to area hotels and restaurants - yes, thankfully, a good cigar is still part of a fine Dutch restaurant's presentation. In the near future promotional plans include initiating cigar evenings and opening up a 50 sq. meter area in the store's basement to accommodate a cigar bar.

Ilya stresses that the full cooperation and help provided by the Newman family was instrumental in getting the new store started. "They are unusual in having the patience to nurture along a relatively small Dominican market, such as we have now in The Netherlands," he comments.

But then again, Fuente cigars have seen strong growth in Dutch sales in recent years, so the support may well be something of a sure bet. Although the entire longfiller cigar sector in The Netherlands currently amounts to only about 1.5 million units per year, in recent years sales have been expanding annually from between 10 and 20 percent. Interest in longfillers and Dominicans is enthusiastic, 'hot' if you will, as evidenced by the Longfiller Company's recent launch of the Cuesta-Rey Pyramid Maduro entry - unique in its class worldwide but truly exotic in The Netherlands. As a direct result of the launch, the Cuesta-Rey Cigar Shop immediately sold out its entire stock of the Pyramids.

Whether they realize it or not, the Dutch have a treat to enjoy in this Cuesta Rey store. The address could well be of note to international smokers as well, particularly to connoisseurs of Dominican cigars, as it is stocked with one of Europe's widest arrays including the entire gambit of Fuente products and extending even to such sought after smokes as the company's Diamond Crown and Opus X brands.

SMOKESHOP - October/November 99