Date: February 2020
Author: Inspector Z

The boutique discussion goes on. Last week, we published an article about boutique cigars and suggested to get rid of the term. That inspired the BCA podcast ‘Protecting the legacy’ to a full episode. Go check it out. It’s a quite new podcast but offers great insights and I love to listen to them.

While listening to the podcast, it was clear that my points were misunderstood and didn’t get over clear. So I decided to write this article, a follow-up. Let me make clear first, that my article wasn’t a jab at the Boutique Cigar Association. As I wrote in the article ‘Don’t get us wrong, we support the idea of the Boutique Cigar Association’. And we do. We think it’s great that there is an organization for small and medium-sized cigar companies. An organization that helps them, combines their powers and lifts some load off their backs. In one of the Protecting the Legacy podcast they mentioned sharing a pavilion at the PCA trade show, making it possible for smaller companies to have a presence at the trade show for an affordable price. Those are great things. The article is in no way an attempt to throw a wrench in a working machine that the BCA is, as Dr. Kafie Kafie wonders in the podcast.

The Boutique Cigar Association is also at the forefront of the fight against the legislation. How could any cigar aficionado not support that? While small companies alone won’t stand a chance, being organized in the BCA, they have a voice. Also, the effort of the BCA to educate both legislators and consumers is honorable. That’s what we try to do too. And I hereby extend an olive branch to the BCA, we are open to work with you guys and offer a platform for educational articles. 

Where we did go wrong was by adding the logo of the Boutique Cigar Association to our article. That caused confusion and was interpreted by some as an attack on the Boutique Cigar Association. In hindsight, that was a poor choice. A big mea culpa to the Boutique Cigar Association for that.

What is my point?

My point is that boutique used to mean something, but it doesn’t anymore. It’s been diluted and adds no more value. It’s now at the point whereby branding yourself boutique may even start to work against you. And that’s because too many run of the mill cigars are labeled as a boutique. Even when there is nothing boutique about it, except being made in lower numbers.

I can create a boutique brand without even having to leave my house. Register a name, have a designer come up with a cool logo. And then reach out to one or a few big factories such as Plasencia, A.J. Fernandez, My Father or NACSA. Now, I’m not saying anything bad about those factories as some of my favorite cigars are made there, but they are not boutique factories as they produce millions of cigars a year. I can ask them to prepare some blends for me. They ship me the test blends, I pick one that I think will do best. Have several hundred boxes made in a few sizes and done. I have my ‘boutique’ brand. And brands like these screw it up for the true boutiques.

I know a thing or two about tobacco. I have more knowledge than the average cigar smoker. But do I know enough to create my own blend? No! Hard no! And yet, I have met brand owners of so-called boutique brands that had a blank stare as soon as you go a little deeper into tobacco. These guys aren’t boutiques, they aren’t even tobacco centric. Not there is nothing wrong with that, but don’t use the label.

Of course, there are other small brands, even made in those big factories, that deserve the label boutique. They fly down to Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica or the Dominican Republic. They spend months learning about tobacco from some of the great, experienced people in the industry. And then take a try at blending. And for each of the blends, they spend weeks down at the factory. But they are being dragged down by the smaller companies that use ‘boutique’ as a marketing trick.

The podcast

Every morning I go for a long walk. About 8 kilometers/5 miles. That takes about an hour and a half. And during my walks, I like to listen to podcasts. When I heard this specific podcast, I knew I had to respond. So I wrote an article, probably the longest I had ever written. The trio claimed my article was contradicting itself, yet their arguments were contradicting in my opinion. So I wrote over 1000 words, responding to everything said. But I decided to not publish the article. I will be joining the podcast soon, to discuss this subject with Armen, Gaby, and Kerr. That’s more gentleman-like and civil than replying in a written article. Words on paper or a screen could be interpreted wrongly, only creating more animosity.

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