James Leavey's Sharing An Ashtray With... Stanford Newman

Stanford Newman

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James Leavey's Corner
  By James Leavey
Stanford Newman has been a driving force in America's cigar industry for over 60 years.The proud patriarch of the USA's oldest cigar family, he first started working for his father in his school vacations in 1930.

"I got into the business full time in 1938 but I didn't want to because many of my father's friends in the industry said only old men smoke cigars," said Stanford, now 80."So I said to my father 'this isn't very good because maybe in five years' time the old men will die and there won't be any business.'He said 'Son, there will be new old men all the time.'

"What was wrong with our industry up until a few years ago was that only old men smoked cigars.Now a lot of young people from 20 years up are smoking cigars."

Stanford is the chairman of J.C. Newman Cigar Co (formerly M&N Cigar Manufacturing) in Tampa, Florida, which owns the hand-rolled brands Cuesta-Rey, La Unica and Diamond Crown, all made by the Arturo Fuente family in the Dominican Republic.

According to the Cigar Association of America, of which Stanford is treasurer, US cigar sales surpassed $1 billion in 1996, with about 10 million Americans consuming nearly four and a half billion cigars.

The 1996 increase of imported cigars alone, 117.4 million, equals the total number of cigars imported into the US in 1993 and exceeds any such increase in modern history.

It's hard to believe that just five years ago, American cigar sales were so poor that some experts were ready to write off the industry.

In June 1997, the Newman family gave Britain a taste of America's cigar frenzy when they transformed St James's Club in London into an American-style cigar lounge for one evening, complete with lethal martinis, live music and cigar rolling by a Dominican premium handroller.

That evening, I lit up a Cuesta-Rey Aristocrat and asked Stanford Newman why fine cigars have become so popular in America."I think it is partly a reaction to the Government's anti-smoking laws and regulations," he said."People don't like being told what to do.Also, disposable income is growing at a phenomenal rate and there's a greater demand for quality products than there is a supply in the world today.

"And then there's Marvin Shanken" (publisher and editor of Cigar Aficionado magazine) "who ran the Wine Spectator magazine which encouraged restaurants to sell Californian wines.

"A person that had a vineyard in Napa Valley came to me with the first issue of Cigar Aficionado and said if Marvin can do for the cigar industry what he has done for wine you won't be able to make enough cigars.I said 'that's never going to happen because in my lifetime we have always had a greater supply than demand.'

"Within one year the demand was so great that we couldn't supply the cigars and today most of the American cigar factories can only supply 20 to 30 per cent of the demand."

Stanford claims 75 per cent of the American tobacconists' business today is new smokers."Back in the 1960s, 1970s and even the 1980s, the average price of premium cigar in America was 26 to 35 cents," he said. "Today this has increased to $4, $5 or $6. It's a great difference."

It all started for Stanford in 1895 when his father, Julius (aka J.C.), a young Hungarian immigrant borrowed $50 and set up the J.C. Newman CigarCompany, turning the family barn into a one-man cigar factory.J.C. hand-rolled his first 500 cigars from two bales of tobacco for the family grocer in Cleveland, Ohio and never looked back.

From the start, J.C. was determined to make every cigar as perfect as the human hand would allow. "If you make and sell a product on the basis of price," he would tell Stanford, "someone could always make it cheaper and you will be out of business in six months.But if you produce a product on the basis of quality, you could be in business for over a hundred years."

And he was right.Of America's 40,000 federally licensed cigar manufacturers making cigars in 1895, the J.C. Newman Cigar Company is the only national cigar company that is still owned and operated by its founding family today.

Stanford's sons, Eric and Bobby, are president, and executive vice president, sales and marketing, respectively, and his grandson, Drew, hopes to join the company full-time after he graduates from college.

In 1927 when Americans smoked nine billion cigars, the J.C. Newman Cigar Company and the Mendelsohn Cigar Company were the only survivors of 300 factories that once operated at the height of Cleveland's cigar boom.They merged to form the Mendelsohn and Newman Cigar Company, soon shortened to M & N Cigar Manufacturers, Inc.Its Cuesta-Rey brand, once the official cigar of the 19th century Spanish King Alfonso XII, is now sold in over 36 countries.

"Back in 1934, I'd call on the stores and put a cigar in a manager's mouth and light it up," said Stanford. "If he didn't like my cigar I said 'you should be buying cigars for your customers not for yourself.'And he'd usually say 'I know what our customers should have.' That's all changed.Today's tobacconists have to handle the products that people want."

Not long ago the Newmans went into partnership with Reed & Barton to market what rapidly became America's top-selling Diamond Crown humidor collection. Last year they sold 40,000 humidors.How come" "In the old days the typical consumer used to buy two cigars a week," explained Stanford, "but now he will buy a whole box of fine cigars if he can find them, and he needs something to keep them in.

"This is creating a shortage of premium cigars because the consumer has a great deal of the inventory, instead of the tobacconists."

Finally, I asked him why one of the most politically incorrect symbols of wealth is still so attractive" "When you smoke a cigar, time seems to slow down," said Stanford, 80, recently inducted into Cigar Aficionado magazine's Cigar Hall of Fame."That's very appealing when American life is more stressful than ever."

Copyright James Leavey, 1997.All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from the Author.

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