I think this might be my favorite article to write and publish. It takes a lot of time, but despite what my Twitter account might hint at, I do love the industry proper. There were a lot of things that happened in 2012, many of which aren’t so relevant as far as looking at things in 2012. For some companies, if a do-over on 2012 was offered, it would be taken in a heartbeat. For others, it was a great year, although it’s hard to really say there is a single company to watch in 2013 from a positive or negative standpoint.
In many ways, particularly as I look back at the 2012 version of this editorial, some of the same questions exists for a host of reasons. There’s the questions that will seemingly be mainstays of this list: more limited editions?, legislation, what will the trade show look like this year, etc. There’s others that simply return for just a consecutive year: Fuente’s 100 years, Oliva’s rebound, can SAG Imports keep up the success, etc. Still when I think about the questions I’m intrigued by most heading into next year, it seems fresh.
For the third year running, in no particular order, the 10 questions I have going into next year.
There will be a day, I hope, where this is not a question. While there was a lot of good, up until recently the energy and commitment from the industry publicly seemed to have taken a collective drop. There are a lot of questions going into 2013, unfortunately the FDA is the one question everyone by default has to wonder about. This isn’t a ranked list of questions, but there’s honestly no point starting with anything else.
2. ANOTHER CRAZY YEAR FOR NEW MEDIA?
Call it what you want, but the blogosphere went over a pretty remarkable makeover in 2012. Step forward? Step backward? Who really knows.
It started early with some movement (Barry Stein of acigarsmoker.com to Miami Cigar & Co.) and consolidation (Smoking Stogie, TheCigarFeed and Patrick Lagreid’s contributions to Examiner.com are now halfwheel) and it finished quite spectacularly. Dog Watch Cigar Radio is no more, the long-time face of Nice Tight Ash (Ben Lee) is now at Stogie Review, Christine Morgan is (also) at Mike’s Stogies, Dan Reeve moved from Cigar Explorer to Cigar Press and Toasted Foot is resurrected with new ownership. There are those promising a revolutionary change to the medium: Cigar Evaluations (not launched), Cigar News (“not completed 100% yet”), Newest Cigars (delayed) and this.
And then there are the non-personnel developments. Two of the headlining blogs of the industry (acigarsmoker.com and Cigar Brief) are run by retailers—the former by a retail owner and the latter’s most prominent writer
works for a retailer used to work for a retailer and now works for LFD—and there are a host of others that are involved in the industry, including as reps. There is still no concrete resolution to the—now annual—IPCPR blogger debacle and now there is a significantly livelier debate about scoring.
There are a lot of questions going forward for 2013, but the real question is—are we done yet?
3. PAGING RAÍCES CUBANAS (ET AL.)
Two years ago this was the factory. Now? Despite winning the January prize every manufacturer cares about, this just wasn’t a good year.
At halfwheel, we reviewed nearly 30 new cigars out of Raíces Cubanas in 2012; three scored 90 or above, double (six) failed to receive purchase recommendations (83 and below). Sure, the vast majority were Viajes, but with the exception of a few Alec Bradleys, ~ULTRA~, a new Epernay that doesn’t seem to be in stock anywhere, El Diario and some house brands, what else came out of Raíces Cubanas that debuted this year?
And quite frankly that’s besides the point. There are massive back orders and a noticeable decline in quality out of many of the older staple products from the factory. I don’t honestly think it’s simply a problem in Danlí, but it still doesn’t change the fact that 2012 was not the banner year for Raíces.
4. WHEN WILL THE REP MAKEOVER TAKE PLACE?
Last year I wrote “this was something to watch,” this year it’s time to get the popcorn. There are murmurs growing by the day about what will likely be a major shift in the way some of the noted brands of the industry are represented. I still think there’s something to be said for the growing collection of independent reps for newer and smaller brands, but the area where the movement seems headed is bigger. And then there’s the growing Emilio portfolio. More on that below.
5. SHOULD WE JUST GIVE UP ON COMPLAINING ABOUT LIMITED EDITIONS?
It’s gotten to the point where limited editions seemingly are being crafted simply for the sake of being new and/or limited. I’ve said it before, but from the production side of thing there can be advantages of making limited editions, particularly if there’s a limited supply of specific tobacco. That being said, when a company’s first release is a limited edition I do scratch my head.
I’ve yet to walk into a humidor and see a wall full of limited edition or small batch cigars. The staples of humidors time and time again are regular production releases, the stuff on the table is the limited stuff; and oftentimes it doesn’t seem to be moving. Every week I hear manufacturers and retailers complain about the flood of limited editions as if it is the bane of each’s existence. And yet, the amount of limited editions grows every day.
I think at this point complaining about limited editions as a category is near the definition of insanity, particularly given the people complaining are the people enabling the problem. Instead, some creativity to the category, like prereleases as regional editions, a la Tatuaje, would be nice.
6. WHEN WILL NEW BRANDS REALIZE $10 IS NOT A GOOD STARTING PRICE POINT?
There are a lot of new brands, I mean a lot. The story is roughly the same every time and that’s fine. The problem is the price. I know the economics are hard, particularly since few own their factories—really who besides RoMa Craft and the already established Christian Eiroa and Erik Espinosa, but that doesn’t change the fact $10.00 is not a good MSRP for a new brand.
Humidors are crowded, there are plenty of new brands and trying to get into a retail store—let alone have success—is difficult, at $8.00 retail. $10.25 for a Robusto?
7. HOW “BIG” WILL EMILIO BE IN 2013?
I got a call from a retailer last week, they asked what Emilio was. It’s not the first time I’ve had this conversation. This retailer—like nearly ever other one I’ve had this conversation with—was based neither in the Northeast, nor Southeast. That’s relevant information given brand owner Gary Griffith’s other job as premium cigar manager for Delaware Cigars makes him a noted figure in the former and National Sales Director Nate McIntyre’s work in the latter is also known. Emilio is a company growing, including based off a plethora of distribution deals, which have become the butt of friendly jokes online, but I think it’s fair to ask—what will 2013 be like for Emilio?
Like it or not, Emilio is one of the biggest questions I have for 2013 based on what took place this past year. In the midst of a lot of growth, there were public setbacks and 2012 including a theme of product delays, chief among which was La Musa Mousa, the new branding for the successful Grimalkin line, a top five cigar on the 2011 Consensus 25. (Cigars are ready when they are ready, but this was an occurrence with Draig K and both versions of La Musa.)
Emilio is arguably the most exciting company in the industry: tons of its own lines, new brands “every other week” to distribute, social media galore and the door for many people to get into the business as independent reps. 2012 showed an aggressiveness that was arguably unparalleled and it was fun to watch, online. And for 2013, the assumption amongst some, including yours truly, is this will be a lot more crowded next year. Griffith has stated previously there will be limits to growth, but there are some major areas of the map, including markets like Chicago, where the portfolio isn’t offered locally.
8. WILL NOT DISCLOSING INFO BECOME VOGUE?
Call it selfish, but a large part of me hopes this backfires a bit. I agree so often cigars are judged by everything other than how the cigar—you know—actually smokes, but the concept of suppressing information as a good thing is plain scary. I think readers would be shocked about how reluctant manufacturers can be about cigars, even over basic pieces of information like, say, where the cigars were made or how many were made.
I think the staff of halfwheel will agree, nothing is more frustrating than talking to a manufacturer about a product we got a press release for that they won’t answer questions about. It is absurd and something we combat seemingly every week.
9. HOW CRAZY WILL FUENTE, MY FATHER & TATUAJE MAKE 2013?
It’s the delayed 100th anniversary of the former and the tenth anniversary of the brands of the Garcías and Pete Johnson. Fuente promised a lot, virtually entirely delayed until 2013. Johnson keeps adding to his list of things to do in 2013 with resurrections of some of his most sought after releases. And it’s hard to believe My Father would do just a single 10th anniversary cigar.
10. WHAT WILL IPCPR 2013 LOOK LIKE?
Ever year it’s the same story: retailers complain about the lack of “value,” manufacturers boast about “best sales year ever” and somehow attendance is through the roof? It seemed a lot less crowded this year and like a lot less business was being done, but it’s not like I’ve done the math. The return to Vegas should hopefully see some more attendees, here’s to hoping they aren’t all here for this.
I voiced my thoughts about how to keep the trade show relevant a few years ago, the pendulum seems to be swinging further and further away from the level that seemed healthy to me, this surely doesn’t seem like a positive side for the trade show proper.
Update (December 31, 2012): Updated to include Anthony Cantelmo’s new employment with LFD.