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During these unprecedented times, CIGAR.com focuses on our community of cigar enthusiasts, bringing interviews right into your home with some of the most prolific names throughout the industry. Visit our CIGAR.com Facebook Page for the full-length Virtual Herf Seminar with Robert Holt of Southern Draw Cigars.
JJ: Good morning CIGAR.com, we’re here live with Robert Holt from Southern Draw Cigars. Robert, thank you so much for joining us.
RH: Hey, I’m honored brother Joey, good to see you sir.
JJ: This is the first human interaction I’ve had in six or seven weeks, so you know it’s a very different world that we’re living in here. As we get into it today as we wait for people to join us, why don’t we start? If you want to just give a quick background of Southern Draw Cigars for the people that might not know, introduce who you are and what you guys do.
RH: Absolutely, I appreciate it. It’s my first time on CIGAR.com, and of course the live Herf Seminar is a great new path to sharing information and fielding questions, so I appreciate the time. For those that don’t know about Southern Draw, we are a family-owned business—a family of veterans, a family of inspirations and ultimately Sharon, my wife and I and my son, along with a good list of our family members across the country, started this a number of years ago. We actually took the brand into full production and full-time—from a marketing/production process back in 2014; so last year we celebrated our first five years, aka the Lustrum, that we shared with the market. We made it through the first milestone.
I’m not going to use the term “boutique” if you will, Joey, because I think if you go back to the origin of the word—sometimes represents a niche market, a very specific target market or product, or an ability to justify high prices, right? And we’re neither; we feel like we have a good spectrum of our core blends, our value lines in the Quickdraw, in our charity lines 300 Hands, and our IGNITE program, so we feel like we’re not defined as boutique. Probably not a place that we want to be pigeonholed into. We’re in this for the long-run of creating the best handmade premium cigars possible for the fairest price. With that, part of our mission most people know is a very charitable, very giving mission—not that a lot of brands in this industry are not. They certainly are, they’ve taught us a lot—we wanted to spend some time in fellowship, sharing our faith and sharing our products and our story with our retail partners, the media and, of course in the end, the consumers.
JJ: Absolutely. Congrats on the five years. It’s crazy how many brands come and go in that time, and I think one thing that Southern Draw has done really well and that you guys are lucky to do—it speaks to the cigars that you put out—is you’ve been able to maintain a consistent release schedule over those five years, and constantly add these new best-sellers to the line. How do you balance that need to release new stuff, but also make sure that people are trying your original cigars?
RH: Well number one when we say five years, and we’re in the sixth year as a full-time, full-production business, let’s not discount the eight years before that took the planning. Planning what the brand would be, what our strategy would be, identifying our partners—both in the raw materials, the production, the packaging, the branding side—what the roles and responsibilities of the family would be, that took a good eight years before we ever put a cigar on the market. The result of that was really a very firm, 15-year plan that said we’re going to focus on three things, and try to do those three things well when it comes to the brand.
Again core line meaning consistent, sustainable releases of the best-selling vitolas. In our case we started out with Robusto, Toro, Gordo in the core line—the core line for most people now at this point has evolved from the Kudzu and Firethorn Rosado to the Rose of Sharon, Jacbo’s Ladder and, of course the most recent which is, the Cedrus—the Sumatra blend. We wanted to focus on those core blends and sizes, traditional packaging, and the 10 and 20-count boxes and bundles to make sure we have a good spectrum from the mellowest to the fullest-bodied.
The second piece of that strategy was value line. We have a lot of people that have limited time, limited budgets, and we want to introduce them to the best possible product that we can put out on the market for a fair price. The Quickdraw line was born in 2015. Overtime we’ve had a variety of sizes in that Quickdraw line, but most importantly, a value-priced Connecticut, dark Habano—which is right down the middle for most people—and of course we want to celebrate Pennsylvania’s own Broadleaf. But in that $5-$6 range, a good premium cigar that lasts 30 or 40 minutes seemed to meet a demand in the marketplace that allowed us to really bring that value proposition to the table. I think that’s tough for smaller companies to provide—a diverse line of value cigars at a fair price—and keep the quality where we have.
First and foremost was charity. We wanted to make sure our brand was associated full-time from January 1st to December 31st of each year of giving, and leading by example in a sense that our family has desires to support certain charitable contributions in the marketplace. We wanted to use something special, something new, we didn’t want to create a one-off. We don’t believe in putting cigars into production that we don’t intend to sustain for the long-term. And that being said, the Lustrum is the only limited-release cigar Southern Draw’s ever released—and that was to honor the anniversary series of course. But the IGNITE program is really focused on domestic military, first responder-oriented charities. The 300 Hands is a real focus and a celebration of the humble, hard-working hands of Nicaragua. The people that are involved in the farming, processing, production, packaging, and distribution of all Southern Draw products. Being able to give to the needs within those communities is quite essential for our brand. That was an eight-year planning to get to those three phases of where we are today.
JJ: I think that’s something that’s pretty commendable and pretty impressive. You touched on a couple points I want to loop back to real quick. One of the points you touched upon is with the consistency of your cigars, and that’s something that you hear a lot of people talk about. How do you guys go about that quality control to ensure when you’re smoking, let’s say a Firethorn, that you’re getting the same flavor profile, the same quality every time?
RH: First and foremost, you kind of open the door to talking about our partnerships and relationships that have made this possible for us. We don’t show up on the doorstep as a gringo-owned little cigar brand from Texas and just make great cigars on our own. You can’t do it under your own steam. We have been blessed to have access to some of the greatest raw materials on the planet. We have the pleasure of, early on, working with AJ Fernandez Cigar Company. When you go back six or seven years when we first started production, it was certainly a different scenario than it is today—everyone knows AJ Fernandez. For us, we started by working on blends that, for me, were inspirations. Were meant to share a personality, were meant to thank and acknowledge very influential people in my life, and that starts from the Kudzu, Firethorn, and continues to every cigar we make.
For the full-length Virtual Herf Seminar with Robert Holt of Southern Draw Cigars, visit our CIGAR.com Facebook Page.
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