For Sharon, coming into the premium cigar industry from the perspective of a consumer and then making that transition to becoming a brand owner was an eye-opening and rewarding experience. Sharon says that the opportunity to truly experience and understand the process that is required to create a premium cigar—from the seed to the first ash that falls into the ashtray—has been fulfilling for her. She has a passion for documentaries and learning how things are made, especially premium cigars. Southern Draw’s 300 Hands brand, which references how many hands it takes to sow a seed and create a Southern Draw cigar, was a cigar project that was a direct result of learning about the cigarmaking process.
“What we have learned about the people, their families and their communities will remain in our hearts forever,” Sharon says of the 300 Hands project. “We can now share their stories and join our family, retailers, consumers and media to offer love and support in the communities of Nicaragua and other tobacco-growing regions.”
Sharon says that she feels blessed and appreciates the fact that so many people that could be considered competitors have offered their knowledge, insight, contacts, support, and love to her and to the Southern Draw family. It’s due to this support and openness within the premium cigar category that Southern Draw has been able to avoid damaging pitfalls and potential failures. So rather than competitors, Sharon refers to the premium cigar industry as a community that has embraced Southern Draw with open arms and accepted it as a family brand. Sharon has learned that what she and her husband are trying to create with Southern Draw is not a hobby but a business that can support the Holt family as well as the community and those in need. Sharon says that Southern Draw has given her family a purpose and that the company may ultimately make cigars, but in actuality its main business and focus are the people it serves and makes cigars for.
Focus on People
Since launching Southern Draw Cigars, Robert has learned that he’s no longer the battle-tested soldier he once was. Instead, he describes himself as an average guy who has little to offer on his own. As a business owner, he’s learned the value of his relationships in business and how the right ones can have a big, positive impact on communities.
“Unfortunately, that took me decades to accept and allow the weight of the world to be carried equally by others,” he admits.
When launching his company, Robert chose to be the face of the brand, a role he stayed in for years before realizing the value of letting others involved in the company be seen and heard. This goes back to people being at the center of his brand and its focus, and the people who are creating the cigars and working to make the company successful are now seen and treated as the true stewards of Southern Draw Cigars. Today, Robert relies on Sharon, whom he calls the gentle heart and firm hand of the company, to help him build the brand and promote it to the masses.
Robert attributes the best business advice as also having come from his wife—faith, family and hospitality are what will make a business successful, though it may not be the best advice for pure monetary growth as much as it is a lesson for how to live life in general. Being self-aware and being self-disciplined and able to establish priorities are also important for those seeking success. Entrepreneurs should have both long-term and short-term priorities, and they need to review and remind themselves of those priorities each day, week, month and year.
Robert encourages retailers and cigar enthusiasts to give Southern Draw Cigars a try. The company’s portfolio is diverse, the responses have been positive from those who’ve smoked the various Southern Draw cigars, and the company has seen an average growth of 150 percent each year.
“Southern Draw Cigars’ products are consistent and sustainable, and each cigar is based on the commitment to our brand identity,” says Robert. “In the end, we are a mission-first brand, and together we can ignite some good via charity and promote hospitality. Our retailers and consumers have as much ownership in what we support each time we sell a cigar.”
Southern Draw Cigars may be boutique in nature, but it’s a company led and built by heart and emotion. Faith plays a big role in their family and in turn the company itself. In the past, Robert admits to prioritizing the wrong things in his business and having to deal with the consequences that have hurt not just Southern Draw Cigars but his family as well. He has learned, however, to prioritize his faith and Christian values within his family and business and to stay committed to the path he has chosen. Today he’s the chief evangelist of Southern Draw Cigars, focused on and committed to sharing his faith, family and traditions with the help of some inspired, colorful and unique cigars.
This story first appeared in the March/April 2020 issue of Tobacco Business magazine. Members of the tobacco industry are eligible for a complimentary subscription to our magazine. Click here for details.
– Story by Antoine Reid, senior editor and digital content director for Tobacco Business Magazine. You can follow him on Instagram @editor.reid.