Glen Case has always enjoyed a good cigar. Case spent 18 years working in the financial services industry before he entered into the cigar industry as a sales representative. It was his time selling cigars that inspired him to start his own business: Kristoff Cigars, named after his son, Christopher. When Case started his company almost 13 years ago, he did so thinking it would become his full-time work. Case came to see cigars as a means of breaking down barriers and bringing people together to talk about life and solving the world’s problems.
With Kristoff, Case set out to create a nationally and internationally recognized brand of cigars. He recognizes that while some strides had been made to achieve those goals, there’s still a lot of work to be done. Yes, he sees a future for Kristoff and the premium industry as a whole—even with the hurdles set forth by the changing economy and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Case offered his thoughts on startups, lessons learned from his pre-cigar jobs and advice for entrepreneurs who have interests outside of their current line of work.
Tobacco Business: What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned while launching Kristoff?
Case: The biggest lesson learned in launching a cigar company was truly understanding and appreciating the artistry behind blending and manufacturing a cigar. Quite frankly, many of the cigars I introduced during the first 18 months failed miserably—none of which were under the Kristoff name. It wasn’t until I introduced the first Kristoff blends—the Original Criollo and Maduro—that [they] really started to put me “on the map.”
What skills or lessons learned from working in the financial industry have you come to rely on while working with premium cigars?
While the financial services industry is obviously very different, many of the skillsets I developed over the years were transferable to the cigar industry. Understanding and managing profit and loss of a company, creating an effective business plan, product and business development, marketing and human resources—all of these skills are essential in being able to effectively run a company.
What advice would you give other startups in the tobacco industry?
There are several things I would advise a new startup to do. The first would be to never lose sight of the quality, consistency and availability of your product. Any inconsistency in a cigar, or any product, is a recipe for disaster. Moreover, consistently short-supplying the market is an easy way to lose support of the retailer; they are not going let a customer leave their store without making a purchase just because they are out of a particular brand or blend.
Another piece of advice is you need to be out there selling and promoting your product. This is a highly competitive and saturated industry, and you need to be out visiting retailers, meeting consumers and doing events to get your cigar in people’s hands. This means a lot of windshield time and time on planes, but you have to do it. While there are several other pieces of advice I could give, I’ll finish with the economic and management side of the industry. Make sure you are well-financed—there are significant upfront costs in getting started, as well as ongoing costs to maintain and grow the business. I’ve seen it happen too many times where someone gets into the industry only to fail because they did not have the cash flow to sustain the business. Effective profit and loss management is critical to the viability of the business.
Lastly, this is a business, and it needs to be managed very carefully. Here, too, I’ve seen people get into the industry because of the mystique and the perception that if you start a cigar company you’ll be rich and famous overnight. Sadly, it’s not true.
– Interview by Ben Stimpson
This story first appeared in the July/August 2017 issue of Tobacco Business magazine. Members of the tobacco industry are eligible for a complimentary subscription to our magazine. Click here for details.