Welcome to our 2013 IPCPR Trade Show Preview.  During the next five weeks, we will provide a preview into the cigar industry’s biggest event – the 2013 IPCPR Trade Show that begins on July 14th.  Over the next few weeks, we’ll have a weekly preview from an industry standpoint.  In between, expect lots of announcements and previews from the manufacturers.   Today we open the 2013 series with a look at five boutique cigar companies to watch.

When we look at our definition of a boutique company, we are looking at it more from a business point of view as opposed to a cultural point of view.  Our boutique focus will be on the emerging (and not necessarily new) boutique companies as opposed to established ones.   This year, we made a decision to pick five different companies than from the selections from 2012.

First up, we provided guidelines for defining a boutique company.  As we said last year, this is not a precise definition.  They are the criteria we used for this article – and are more slanted from a business perspective. It caused a lengthy debate last year.  It is important to know that these are guidelines and a boutique cigar company will not satisfy all of these criteria:

-The size of the company is relatively small
-The company does not own their own tobacco fields, and if they do, it is usually a small farm.
-The company does not own a factory, and if they do, it usually is a small factory.
-The company usually has under 5 brands.
-The company does not have a large production of cigars due to their size and/or tobacco limitations
-The company does not do their own blending.
-From a retail perspective, careful consideration of bringing in the line must be considered as usually something needs to come out of the humidor for the boutique to come in. 

Each year, there has been a boutique that usually has been the “buzz” of the trade show.  In this list, this is who to keep an eye on as to who might be the buzz of the trade show.  None of these picks are rookies to the IPCPR, but they truly are emerging and exciting companies on the rise. We list these selections in alphabetical order.

Ezra Zion Cigar Company

Ezra Zion Cigar Company made its debut at the 2012 IPCPR Trade Show, and people took notice.  However, it really seems like this company has gained a lot of steam since the trade show.   Late last year the company entered into an agreement to be distributed by Emilio Cigars.  The company has also had an aggressive grass roots social media marketing campaign.   They have been featured on many media outlets – including catching the attention of Cigar Dave earlier this year.

The company launched in 2012 with two cigars – the Inception and Honor Series Reagan.  The Inception since has been re-branded as Jamais Vu.  Both cigars have been sought after by many retailers.   The company is not resting on their laurels and have done some aggressive and exciting expansion plans in 2013.

These expansion plans seem to have been received by the marketplace with enthusiasm and excitement. The company recently added the limited edition Tantrum to their lineup and announced line extensions to Jamais Vu and Reagan. Earlier this year, on CigarChat, the company mentioned plans to extend the Honor Series and a there has been talk of another new blend for the trade show.

Outlook: This company will be very busy at the trade show.   Like many boutiques that have built a strong online media base, the big question is how will they translate this to the cigar retailer that doesn’t care about Twitter or Facebook.  The momentum certainly is there and enough word of mouth will have retailers coming to the booth.

Iconic Leaf Cigar Company

This is another company that made its debut at the 2012 IPCPR Trade Show and will go to the next level.  Last year, right before the trade show, we were the first to talk about a cigar from this newcomer.  At the trade show, the company had a lot of activity at their booth and still had yet to release a cigar.  This year, they got a year under their belt.  They’ve released their first cigar to – the Recluse (an honorable mention on our 2012 Cigar of the Year list) and it received high accolades.  The new Recluse Draconian appears to be another winner.

This is a company that has all of the right ingredients for success.  Their blender is a 24 year old superstar in the making in J.R. Dominguez.  We’ve talked to Dominguez at the 2012 IPCPR Trade Show and earlier this year.  He is a young man with vision and talent.  They also have their own factory – Leyandas Cubanas.

The company is doing things all of the right things to.  They are incorporating entubado rolling, they are utilizing a two year fermentation process consisting of 8 fermentation cycles (once every 90 days flipping over the pilons).  They are incorporating innovation with the unique Kanu vitolas and now have folks awaiting the unique Sidewinder vitolas for their new Recluse Draconian blend.

Outlook: “The Recluse is loose” was a slogan for the company.  Iconic Leaf is now known quantity. and online media is a buzz with these guys.  They also appear well-poised to bridge the gap to some of the non Twitter/Facebook retailers.  The company will kickoff the 2013 IPCPR unveiling the new Recluse Draconian Sidewinder vitolas to the world.  I expect their booth to be a hub of activity.

Primer Mundo Cigars

Primer Mundo Cigars is no newcomer to IPCPR. They have been at the IPCPR for several years.  However, for Sean Williams and his company, he appears to have finally gotten over the hump and is ready to go to the next level.

The company has done a masterful job at building its lines by aligning themselves with some of the best factories in the world.  They have a solid core line made at Plasencia.  Their limited production Little Havana Series (made at Miami’s El Titan de Bronze) has garnered many accolades – including the the 2012 Clase Reserva winning the #18 Cigar of the Year in our countdown.  However, it is the alliance with Abe Flores and PDR Cigars that is going to take the company to the next level.  The La Hermandad has been a very successful cigar – and its come out of the PDR Cigars factory.  The Costa Fuerte will be the follow-up from that factory.  But perhaps the most strategic move has been for Williams to bring in PDR Cigars to handle his distribution.

Most likely the launch of Costa Fuerte along with the possible return of Clase Reserva will be the centerpiece of Primer Mundo at the trade show.

Outlook: Each year I’ve been to IPCPR, I’ve seen more and more activity and Primer Mundo Cigars. 2013 will be no different.  The success of the PDR Cigars connection is going to pay dividends for Williams in 2013 and his brand is now going to be solidified as a force in boutique cigars.

Reinado Cigars

Reinado Cigars is a company that has been around for a few years.  The company is based out of New Jersey and was founded by Antonio Lam.  The first release was a solid cigar called the “Reinado”.  Reinado Cigars at made at the Agros Tobacos factory in Condega, Nicaragua.  Last year, Lam set his sights on launching his second blend, the Reinado Grand Empire Reserve (GER).  The GER was launched at the 2012 IPCPR in a single size – a 5 x 55 box-press robusto.   The GER was received to many accolades – including as as we gave the cigar an Honorable Mention on our 2012 Cigar of the Year list.  Our assessment of the GER was “With the Grand Empire Reserve, Reinado Cigars raises the bar and takes things to the next level.”

Going into the 2013 IPCPR, Lam and his company are going with their strengths.  They realize they have something special with the GER line, and are planning numerous line extensions to the brand – making it a full-fledged line.  Reinado’s differentiator is their “unique fermentation process”, which Lam has kept top secret since launching the company.

Lam has really taken to social media over the past year, and has gone on an aggressive marketing campaign.  He’s been masterful at not only letting people know about his brand, but has also done a great job at making a personal connection to his consumer base.

Outlook: The Reinado Grand Empire Reserve can be considered a huge hit for Lam.  The nice thing is that Lam still has a solid core line in his self-titled Reinado line.  While GER is getting all the buzz, the show is going to afford Lam an opportunity to show many of his new customers his solid core line that has been around for a while.  The line extensions to GER will create excitement to those that loved the box-press Robusto.  Like many of the boutiques on this year’s list, Reinado will face the challenge of crossing over to the traditional retailers who are not social media.

Viva Republica

While Nicaragua seems to be getting all of the focus around boutique cigar companies, the fact gets overlooked that the Dominican Republic also plays a key role in the boutique cigar game. This is the case with Jason Holly and his company, Viva Republica.

Holly owns a shop in Northeast Pennsylvania called El Humidor.  Like many retailers, Holly got  “the bug” to move into the manufacturing game.   Shortly before the 2012 IPCPR Trade Show, Holly announced the launch of Viva Republica and his first cigar, Rapture.  Viva Republica Cigars are made at Guillermo Leon’s La Aurora factory in the Dominican Republic.

Viva Republica is the classic marriage of bringing together old school traditions with a modern spin.  On their web-site the describe themselves as “…a cigar brand born out of the desire to bring new ideas to an industry steeped in tradition. By partnering with the Dominican Republic’s oldest factory, La Aurora, we have the resources to create blends using tobaccos that most small boutique brands cannot get into their hands.” The La Aurora factory has the old school tradition and the company’s “revolution” theme is the modern theme.

Since the trade show, the Rapture has caught the attention of many cigar enthusiasts.  There is been a second blend, Guerrilla Warfare in the works.

Outlook:  Viva Republica has been very careful about not growing too fast.  Given the Rapture has been well-received, this will help the company attract business.   In recent years, we’ve seen very small boutiques such as 7-20-4, Elogio, and RoMa Craft Tobac have enormously successful shows. The foundation of the company and the products being produced will help Viva Republica be a boutique to watch.

Our 2013 IPCPR Trade Show Preview will continue next Sunday June 16th, 2013 with Part 2.

Other Parts to this series

Part 2Five General Things to Look For
Part 3: Spotlight on Five Entities “Telling a Story”
Part 4: Around the Show Floor (1st Installment)
Part 5Around the Show Floor (2nd Installment)
Part 6Predictions for the Five Hottest Cigars
Part 7Around the Show Floor (3rd Installment)