Alex Svenson: Congratulations on your promotion to President of Drew Estate. Can you tell us how you came to be President?
Michael Cellucci: I met Marv and Jon in 1999 while living in Manhattan. I was waiting to go back to school to finish out a degree in Physical Therapy at NYU. A family friend who invested in the company introduced me to the guys because I was a cigar guy who needed work and they needed an inside salesman. I started in early 2000, just as ACID was beginning to ship. By that November they offered me the position of Inside Sales Director. Over the years, I developed our philosophy as a sales organization, worked closely with Jon and Marv on product development and marketing, and became a partner in the company in 2004. I was named Vice President in 2007 and for the last couple of years I’ve focused on overall corporate strategy and company growth.
AS: What was your first priority for Drew Estate in your new role?
MC: To bolster our U.S. operational side. We’re revamping our warehouse to allow for more growth and we’re implementing new systems and technologies to run more efficiently.
AS: Drew Estate has always been known for its infused products. In the past five years you guys made a name for yourself in the premium segment, especially with Liga Privada. How’s your new venture coming? What will the future bring?
MC: As our company matures, not only from a knowledge standpoint, but also from a financial standpoint, we’re becoming very adept at selecting, sorting, and working with some of the best tobaccos available. When I say “we” I really mean Nicholas Melillo and Steve Saka. They’ve put in a lot of work honing a specialized skill over the years. The resulting products: Undercrown, Liga Privada, T52, Dirty Rat, and Flying Pig – I think all speak for themselves. As for the future, we will continue to take chances that our peers will not. We will continue to make blends that are meant to satisfy the enthusiast before satisfying the bottom line.
AS: Speaking of Liga Privada, it seems like everyone wants it and no one has it. What’s so special about that cigar and why can’t you meet demand?
MC: It’s so special because that cigar was blended to smoke, but not necessarily to sell. When you create a cigar with your business in mind, you may make certain decisions based on availability of raw materials, how efficiently your rollers can make it, and how much it costs to make. When you remove those constraints, you’re immediately free to make a cigar you feel is perfect in every aspect: taste, burn, construction, and overall experience – just not perfect for business. But at the end of the day, when you create a product that you believe is so special, it’s an easy decision to go to market with it. We increased our production of the entire Liga family tremendously over the last two years. We still, however, found ourselves in a backorder situation. For 2013, we’ll see a significant increase in Liga availability.
AS: Many people don’t realize it, but ACID is one of the top three brands sold in the U.S. What do you attribute that to?
MC: I was a young guy in the construction business building houses when I first started burning cigars. I would walk into a tobacconist with my work boots on, covered in dirt and whatever else; I would see all these brands that were real aspirational brands. They all pitched this idea of wealth and luxury, and stuffiness. I was a poor kid from Philly so that idea never resonated with me. When I met Jon and Marv and saw what they were doing with ACID, I immediately got it. I knew there had to be other people who had my same experience and we needed a cigar company who made products for us. ACID has always been an approachable luxury for everyone. You don’t have to be part of the upper 1% to have a company make a luxury product you can appreciate. I’m proud to say Drew Estate has been instrumental in the industry, being more accepting of such ideas, and paving the way for those who came after us. Thirteen years ago you would never see motorcycles and tattoos in cigar ads; you only saw suits and guayaberas.
AS: So there has been a lot of buzz about ACID being offered in a new package called G-Fresh. Can you tell us a little about that?
MC: G-Fresh is an exciting product. For years, cigars have been sold at golf courses, gift shops, convenience stores, and restaurants. Historically, manufacturers have been leery about their products being sold at these outlets, just as leery as the consumers have been about buying them. The fear has been the same for both groups; the cigars were not stored properly. As a cigar manufacturer, that idea is unacceptable. It is our duty to ensure that every cigar sold is one that has been properly cared for and is a cigar worth plunking down hard earned money to enjoy. So in 2010, I set out to solve this problem and in summer of 2011, we launched G-Fresh. G-Fresh is a package that holds a single cigar in a vapor barrier bag, each with a Boveda humidity pack inside ensuring 69% humidity. We’re able to guarantee a full year of freshness in this package.
AS: Drew Estate ranks among the top five companies in terms of volume in U.S. sales, yet you’re one of those five who don’t grow your own tobacco. Is this a strategic decision?
MC: Our factory is fairly unique in that we have so many different blends we roll. That coupled with our sheer volume of tobacco consumption makes it more sensible to buy from the large tobacco growers across the world; ensuring a large selection of raw materials. Instead, we focus on pre-industry; buying tobacco at a raw state and working each bail to our exact specifications. We are actually in the process of constructing a state of the art 60,000 square foot leaf processing facility next to our manufacturing facility in Esteli. This will allow much greater flexibility in developing new blends.
AS: When you are not running one of the industry’s largest companies, what do you do in your free time?
MC: Free time? I read about that in a book once! Honestly, I have a growing family. I have a 4-year-old son, a 2-year-old daughter, and currently my wife is eight months pregnant with twin girls. Most of my time outside of the office is spent being Dad, which couldn’t be cooler. When I do get some down time, I can be lured with anything involving scotch, golf, or contact sports.
AS: Where will Drew Estate be in five years?
MC: I believe we have one of the strongest cores of talented and visionary employees that I’ve ever seen. I’m proud to say that I’ve seen a group of passionate kids who couldn’t pay their own rent, come together and develop into astute, conscientious businessmen who never lost passion in their journey. I see a future for Drew Estate that does not reside in premium cigars alone. As for what those other areas are, well we’ll just have to wait and see.