***Following is a rough transcription of the dialog from our interview with Marc Keiser. It is not exactly word for word.***
Seth- Hey everyone this is GoodFellasCigars.com and we are here today at the Golden Leaf in St. Paul Minnesota with non-other than Marc Keiser himself, the founder and owner of Marco V cigars. Glad to have you here today Marc.
Marc- Appreciate you guys having me. Thanks for stopping by.
Seth- To start off; tell us who is Marc Keiser and Marco V cigars for the people out there watching right now who may not know much about you or your company.
Marc- Yah, its – I’ll give you a little bit of background on the business. Essentially we founded in 2009. But the business plan was written at the University of St. Thomas. and it was in that program that where we learned how to write the business plan but, it was also to put together components of the business and after that it took about four years and we developed the blends and we launched in 2009 and now we are sitting at about 140 retail locations nationally caring our product. Just launched our first Marco V cigar lounge and have some complementary products as well.
Seth – Alright, what really inspired you to create your own cigar company?
Marc – Marco V is essentially established on three basic components. The first one is rooted in the passion for cigars like I have, like you guys have as well. I can remember as a little kid reading the industry trade magazines even before I was smoking cigars, fascinated with the art, the culture, and it was even then I knew it knew it was more than just getting a buzz or blowing your head off with a supper strong cigar. It was more about sit’n around kind of like we’re doing right now and the community of cigar smoking.
Nick – Definitely
Marc – So when I started smoking cigars I kind of knew what cigar I liked and which brought us to the second element that is trying to find a cigar I’d like to smoke in a shop like the one we are sitting in here today. As you know in Minnesota along with other states they’re very taxed abused and so I wanted to go into a cigar shop find a high quality cigar sit down, smoke for an hour and a half and also give my money to small business owners as well. Unfortunately I could not find that cigar at I price that I thought was reasonable. The cigar I like was the sixty ring gauge cigars that had some power and some strength to it and the price and the retail location with the taxed was not what I thought it should be.
So I did what a lot of cigar smoker do and went to buying online and what I found was that the quality couldn’t be guaranteed. One out of every three cigars would blow up on me or else I would get a big canoe. And so what I wanted was to into a shop sit down for about an hour smoke the cigar and patronize the small businesses.
The third element was a deep seeded passion for entrepreneurship. So I went to school as an entrepreneur, went to school to learn how to write a business plan. I always knew I wanted to write a business and so it was with those three elements that Marco V came together. So I wrote the business plan at the University of St. Thomas and we launched Marco V and brought an affordable large ring gauge cigar to the shops.
Nick – Very nice. You are – you own a small company, Marco V, so being a small company does that put any limitations on what you can do or does being a boutique actually advantage you in some way.
Marc – There is positive and negatives to owning a small business. First some of the challenges: As you know the cigar industry is saturated with a lot of really good cigars, a lot of really big cigar companies, and with those big cigar companies come huge sales forces, huge – big distribution networks, and also ig marketing budgets. Unfortunately we are not there yet as a small business. Another advantage afforded to them is that they are able to put reps in certain locations that can sit down with the retailers smoke a cigar and really tell them about the product. Where we’ve only been able to do that in the Minnesota area which is the size of our business. But, one of the strategies that we wanted to embrace was the boutique strategy that you were talking about and deploy a word of mouth strategy. So, put the cigar in the cigar smokers hand and let the cigar smoke speak for itself.
But there are advantages of being a small company as well, a boutique cigar company. Our factory in the Dominican Republic only has fifteen rollers. All of our roller, have at least fifteen plus years of experience so we’re able guarantee the draw and the burn of every single cigar that leaves the factory, which means that we are looking at every single cigar before it actually leaves the factory. So hopefull y you ‘re getting a good burn on these cigar as well.
Seth and Nick- “agreeing”
Marc- With that we are also able to hand pick bails when we go purchase our tobacco as well. We can go in and make sure that the bails completely free of defects, free of anything. Say we want that bail in this huge pile of bails; where big companies will buy as much tobacco as they can. Another thing is the big factories have three hundred rollers, compare that to our fifteen rollers. So you may have a guy who started rolling cigars yesterday rolling a cigar you just paid fifteen bucks for. With every you pick up a Marco V you know that someone who has had fifteen plus years of experience was rolling that cigar.
Another big thing is it’s a lot of the cigar industry is built on relationships. We’re really lucky to have good relationships with some of the best tobacco producers out there. So we feel like we are putting the best tobacco that we can find into our cigars and combine it with really experienced cigar rollers.
Nick – Alright. You sort of already touched on this but, the core principles that your company is built on.
Marc- Right, the core principles of Marco V is a lot like a lot of other small businesses but, for us it’s very simple we put in right on our website in the form of a credo. But, essentially from a high level summary it’s quality in everything you do. So everything you pursue, everything you do, make sure you out the highest quality product out there. I would never want the M or what we call the mark on any product that isn’t what we deem is the highest quality. So quality in anything you do.
The second thing is value in what you buy. So want everyone to smoke a Marco V after they’re done smoking say “hey” you know ,”that was the right price for this cigar. It was a really good cigar” or it’s a really good bottle of port or its one of the best cups of coffee that I have ever had. So value in what you are buying.
So the third thing is standing up for what’s wrong. So, we’re a huge believer in hand made products. So, we’re not a huge fan of mass manufacturing or huge governments. We’re standing up against huge government as well. As the cigar industry is incredibly taxed. So, we’re trying to empower also small business owners as well by giving them a product that works for them as well.
The last thing in core principles is celebrating any success whether big or small. Celebrating being able to sit down with you guys today or celebrating the little walk to my car or celebrating a huge sell we made with Marco V. So the big thing with cigar smoking is about celebrating every day. So that’s the core principles of Marco V.
Seth– Good to know. You also went over what cigars you really like. Many other people may not know too you have your own wine and coffee line. Could you tell us a little about that?
Marc – Right, when I started smoking cigars I knew that I liked the large gauged cigars. None of us are smoking any of those right now. But, when we launched we just had the three blends of the of the sixty ring gauge cigars. That’s pretty much evolved into a full cigar line. But, it took us awhile to develop those blends. And those were inspired off – I was a huge fan of illusione, I was a huge fan of Hoya de Nicaragua – the strength, and the boutique nature of illusione, other boutiques as well. And we had those in mind as when we were developing our cigar as well.
When we launched the cigar company we wanted to be more than just a cigar company. We wanted to be an experience brand. And what I mean by that again it’s not about sitting down and getting your nicotine fix or your buzz. It’s about how you can enhance sitting down with a cigar.
So, what we did is we invented or brought a new product to the market called the vintage port 2007 which is a essentially an American port that was made specifically to accompany our Platinum Grand Reserve cigar. So, the guy who we sat down and developed with for a long time was trained in UC Davis, studied wine making, studied out in Europe how to make wine and then brought his expertise to the Chateau St Croix Winery which is a huge castle in western Wisconsin and he only uses the highest quality grapes from California.
So, we are using again the most premium grapes – and we were able to – his favorite cigar is the Platinum Grand Reserve cigar. So, he was able to create a port that specifically matched with our cigar and right now it almost drinks just like a really sweet cognac. So, it’s a really nice cigar.
The second product that you mentioned is the coffee, the Marco V Dom Café, and that is a five origin coffee that john, our national sales manager, sat down with a roaster for six months cupping coffee until we got the perfect blend. So we’re not talking about private label products; all we’re talking about products that have our blood sweat and tears in it that we developed to accompany the flavor.
You won’t find many brands of any type of product that are pairing products within their product line. So we like to look at ourselves as an experience brand. We also coined the phrase “the after dinner experience” and, that’s where our coffee where actually our coffee makes phenomenal espresso. So you have a nice meal, you ease or digest your stomach with a nice cup of Marco V espresso. Then you grab your cigar and your port and head to the deck. And that’s what we coin as the after dinner experience. So we like exercising that quite a bit. It’s a lot of fun.
Seth – Have you ever thought about getting into spirits yourself?
Marc – Yah, we actually we’re in con – in communications with a single malt scotch distiller out in Scotland – very boutique. We ran into some issues with the supply chain of how to get it over here. But, we are still working on that.
An then also we have in the works a very preliminary Marco V rum as well that would be paired with our Brazilian Grand Reserve too. Again very preliminary. We’re still trying to work out the details with that. But again it would be something that would take time to develop to match that flavor complex and enjoying it with a cigar. Also all of our products are really good by themselves as well.
Nick – So 2011 was a very eventful year for you and your company. You are now in over 140 retailers and you opened up this lounge – and I attended that event.
Marc – That’s right.
Nick – Which was a very good event. You also grew over 75% over the previous year (2010). What do you attribute this success to?
Marc – Well with – This was our third year of business and we did have a good 2011. When you look at attributing the success everything is a work in progress for us. Like I said we are a word of mouth brand. We want to get the cigar in the hand of the people and let them talk about if they like it. It’s also a chance for us to get feedback on the cigar as well.
We were able to build a huge foundation here in Minnesota by sitting down with people and introducing them to the product and then getting the retailers on board – establishing relationships with the retailers. And you’ll also see we are in eighteen states as well.
And with any cigar brand any retailer can sell a cigar once. They can tell anybody that’s a great cigar but, it’s the cigar that keeps them coming back. So for us we feel if we can put the cigar in the retailers and have them sell that once then the cigar is what keeps people coming back. Again hoping that they recognize the quality and the value in our product and the unique blends that comes them back to buy it again. So we attribute the cigar doing a lot of the work for us.
Then we also have a very national sales manager that’s also trying to establish those relationships. We are big on relationships – trying to establish relationships with retailers to have them take on our product.
Nick – Sounds like a good plan.
Seth – Alright, could you tell us a little about the new Marco V ENFUZE you have been working on?
Marc – Right absolutely, that’s been a fun project as of late. What we have done with that is we’ve looked at our whole product portfolio. So, we have the premium cigar line, and we have the Vintage Port 2007, and then we have our Dom Café that’s paired with our Dom Grand Reserve cigar. And so what we did with the ENFUZE is just like the brand says we are fusing the products together. So, we are taking our premium cigars are fusing them with the port, taking our cigar fusing it with the coffee and its turned to be a really nice product. It’s not gunna – Its different then – we don’t like to call it a flaored cigar beacus e we are actually fusing the flavors into the cigars.
So, it’s a proprietary way that we figured out how to do it. Its something new and different to the market. We hope you guys enjoy it. But, that’ll be coming in early this summer
Nick – Alright, an addition to that you will be introducing the Vintage X – the first one being the 1812 Salomon size.
Marc – Right.
Nick – what can you tell us about this new line up?
Marc – Being that we like to look at ourselves as the industry specialists in large in large gauge cigars because that’s what our origins were – that’s the cigar I like smoking the best – we wanted to introduce the the mark a truly premium, super premium, brand in the large gauge niche cause that’s void that we’re filling in a lot of humidors.
So a lot of retailers outside of Minnesota recognize there is a void in large gauge cigars. Big companies are moving away from it because gotta use more tobacco in a large gauge cigars and then if you use your premium tobacco you end up having to charge more for it. So some companies will use lesser grade tobacco in their large gauge cigars. And then it is sometimes hard to control the quality. So, that’s the void we are trying to fill. So that’s why you’re not always able to find really good high end – or even for that matter large gauge cigars. So we’re closing that gap on the supper premium and with the Vintage X we’ll be be introducing big cigars that have impeccable tobacco – super aged.
In the salomon size our first one is essentially a fabuloso size but a 60 ring gauge by eight inches. It’s a big couple hour cigar that you could sit down are really enjoy. It’ll be incredibly limited and each box will come with a certificate of authenticity and it’ll be fun product and we’re aging the tobacco as we speak.
Nick – Very good.
Seth – Looking forward to that. We hear you are planning on opeing two more Marco V Lounges like this. Could you give us any idea where thay are going to be located – they‘re gunna to be like the one we are sitting in here now or not?
Marc – Right, I can tell you a little about it. One will be in Minnesota and it will be at an – what I can tell you is that it’ll be at a premium restraint slash bar on their patio. And it’ll be an outdoor setting – it’’ be a Marco V cigar lounge – an outdoor setting with a really nice view. That’s what I can tell you on that one. More information will come out in the first half of the – of 2012.
The second one will be in Marco Island Florida and we are trying to finish the details on that one as well. We like Marco Island A: because it has our name and it is a beautiful location as well. So more details will follow on that one as well.
Nick – Very nice. So, the cigar culture – what does that mean to you and what do you like best about the cigar world?
Marc – Yah, for me cigar smoking again isn’t about satisfying a craving or urge. Its about doing exactly what we are doing right here: sitting, smoking cigars, talking about cigars, talking about life, talking about whatever. To me it’s the art of watching someone make a cigar. It’s the art of knowing someone put time into making this cigar. And sitting around and enjoying it in that respect.
I’m not going to ever bring to the market a cigar that is going to blow your head off or any other cigar that is supper gimmicky. It’s more about providing a nice cigar in your hands that’ll enable a nice conversation. So to me that’s what the cigar culture is about. It’s about the art, it’s about the passion, it’s about sitting around, it’s about the community.
Nick – nice.
Seth – Well, once again we would like to thank you for coming and sitting down with us.
Marc – Absolutely, I appreciate it. Thank you very much.
Nick – Thank you.