Banking on Equity: George James’ Vorieo Cigars

    After spending years working in the corporate world, George James brings the lessons he’s learned to the premium cigar world with Vorieo, a brand built through awareness.

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    While figuring out the magic number of sizes didn’t take long, the actual development of the blends was a different story. James began his blend creation by first identifying the type of cigars already on the market that he enjoyed smoking. From there, he tried creating different blends that reminded him of the cigars he’s smoked and fallen in love with over the years. Once he had some samples in hand, he had a panel smoke through them and provide him with feedback. That feedback helped him make adjustments to the blends that weren’t considered ready for market until the entire panel gave their approval.

    The Vorieo 1KVI:XXIX Gold maduro stands out as James’ personal favorite from his company’s portfolio. This particular blend was inspired by the Bible verse 1 Kings 6:29 that reads, “And he carved all the walls of the house round about with carved figures of cherubim and palm trees and open flowers, within and without.” Vorieo 1KVI:XXIX Gold maduro has a dark and oily wrapper leaf grown in Indonesia and long filler tobaccos that deliver a smooth, bold array of flavors meant to stimulate the entire palate. A popular Vorieo cigar in retail is the Junkanoo, which is named after a holiday and festival created by enslaved African American and Native American descendants.

    “Junkanoo is very popular amongst retail,” says James. “It’s a barber-stripe pole Habano and Connecticut wrapper that has been combined together. I think it’s a middle ground for the novice smoker; that’s why it does well. On the other side, it does very well because you have connoisseurs who are looking for something that’s a little bit bolder but smoother at the same time.”
    Rounding out Vorieo’s premium cigar portfolio is the Duck & Sun and the Vorieo 1KVI:XXIX Platinum. Each blend can stand on its own, and together all of Vorieo’s products are priced to allow the retailers to make money. Part of James’ initial research was centered around pricing in the premium cigar industry. What he realized was that a lot of products were, in his opinion, overpriced and left the retailer with little opportunity to make money. That’s something he wanted to change with Vorieo.

    “I just basically went around and did some due diligence, looking at what everyone was pricing their stuff at retail,” he says. “I decided that since [the retailers] are going to be the brand ambassadors, I want them to have something that they can make money from. A majority of the retailers make about 50 percent gross margin on my product, and 50 percent gross margin is pretty good in the industry, because on average, when they actually receive the product, it’s already like 40-50 percent, and then they have to tack on another 20 percent. It’s not like that with my cigars. They’re making a huge amount of money.”

    Vorieo is also going to stand out in humidors because of its distinct branding. James grew up around Moundville Archaeological Park, which is located along the Black Warrior River in Alabama. Native American imagery could be seen throughout this area, and James wanted to bring some of those images into his cigar brand. He also was inspired by what he read in the Bible and what he saw during his travels to Egypt. To bring all of these designs and inspirations together into a cohesive design that would have an impact among cigar smokers, James turned to Humberto Areas, founder of Cigar Package Design, for help.

    “It wasn’t easy at first, but he listened to what I wanted,” says James. “We established that I wanted to create a luxury but modern brand. I wanted something that would touch the heart of people but at the same time tell a story.”

    Creating a strong brand that retailers and consumers would get behind was only part of James’ go-to-market plan for Vorieo. He knew that in order for it to be successful, he had to make sure the right processes were in place to support Vorieo’s growth.

    Positioned for Growth
    James is very selective when it comes to which retailers he decides to partner with. Before bringing on new accounts, James interviews each retailer to make sure his vision aligns with theirs. This is key, he explains, because if you don’t establish a good relationship with a retailer and don’t define how you want your product to be presented and merchandised, it’ll easily get lost once it’s brought into a store. In addition to setting some clear goals and expectations at the start of any business partnership, James has also created different tools and resources for the retailers to use that will help them become more familiar with his products and will assist them in selling Vorieo in their stores. Part of this is accomplished through enhancing shelf talkers with the addition of QR codes.

    “Education is very valuable,” he says. “I created the Vorieo cigar catalog, which is available on the website. The catalog provides each consumer with a detailed description of my brands. When the retailer communicates to the consumer, that adds value. I’ve noticed that sometimes the retailer and their employees are overwhelmed with trying to remember all the brands they carry but especially when trying to remember the details of a new brand. I decided my best solution for educating everyone was creating a QR code since we are moving more toward technology and everyone has access to a phone. Anyone that wants to know more information about Vorieo’s cigars can just scan that QR code that takes them directly to our catalog. That’s where the education starts.”

    Anticipating customers’ needs is how James stays competitive, and it’s also what adds value to his brand’s name. Social media and swag are additional tools James uses to create brand equity. Whether it’s connecting with consumers online or offering them a chance to represent the brand by purchasing and wearing a Duck & Sun hat, these actions all build awareness and make Vorieo an easier sell for both retailers and consumers.

    “Brand equity” may not be a term heard often in the cigar world, but it’s how many of the industry’s biggest players have built their businesses. James understands the importance of building awareness around a brand and has put in place a strategic plan to make the world well aware of Vorieo and what it has to offer. From its distinct backstory rooted in Native American and Egyptian culture to its keystone pricing that offers retailers generous profit margins, Vorieo is established and positioned for growth.

    This story first appeared in the May/June 2022 issue of Tobacco Business magazine. Members of the tobacco industry are eligible for a complimentary subscription to our magazine. Click here for details.

    – Photography courtesy of Vorieo CigarsStory by Antoine Reid, senior editor and digital director for Tobacco Business Magazine. You can follow him on Instagram @editor.reid.