You my dear followers, have read a lot of interviews we have provided you, but this one takes the cake for one reason and one reason only, this man Chris Moore has such a distinguished career and his service in the military, that alone is worth the read.
Chris, please give us some information about yourself. Tell us who you are and what you were up to before starting the Carolina Blue Cigars.
CM: Before Carolina Blue, I served 30 Years in the military; I just retired Feb 1, 2017. During those 30 years, I had 3 Combat Tours and held some pretty cool positions that took me pretty much around the world. My last 15 years I was able to hold some key positions in the Financial arena as well as being in charge of large groups of people made it some what made easy for me to start running a business, something I always wanted to do. Before the military, I attended Fayetteville state University for 2 years but I knew the military was something I always wanted to do. My family has a deep history when I add up all the time that my Grandfather’s, Father, uncles and other relatives have served it would be over 400 Years of service.
What was the vision for Carolina Blue Cigars. Did your vision come true or is it still a work in process.
CM: The Carolina Blue Cigar vision came by accident as most business ventures come from. I am originally from NYC, the crazy part is I spent a lot of hot summers in Eastern NC and a lot of those days where around Tobacco as a kid. All of my family worked in the Tobacco Fields in that area was one of the hot beds for Tobacco at the time that was used mostly for Cigarettes. My Venture happened in Santiago in 2016 a relative approached me and asked How many people that I knew smoked Cigars on the golf course. I am a hard core golfer by the way, I will play anywhere and I was playing in a Tournament in DR at the time. So I gave him an answer, I got some samples to take back to the states, they were not that great at the time. I told them if I am going to get in this business I want the good stuff quality is everything when it comes to cigars.
I got another batch and was introduced to Francisco De La Cruz he is by far one of the best blenders in Tamboril Santiago. I loved his way of doing things because he wasn’t the numbers guy he had a small factory and cared very deeply for his product. His background was very extensive with experience with many companies such as La Flor Dominicana, Davidoff, and Romeo and Julieta, all when they were just starting up or right in the middle of their growth. He has been in the game for over 30 years and very well respected. The craftsmanship was second to none and great cigars on top of that. So the name Carolina Blue came after a week of thinking about my past and all the time spent working in the tobacco fields under the Carolina Blue Skies. Everyone thinks it has something to do with UNC or the Panthers, the colors sort of match to some degree but they don’t have anything to do with each other.
As time went on and I went through the testing phase during my last year of the military. I and Francisco became closer business partners along with another great asset in the business my importer. During that time I also brought on 2 other partners childhood friends Butch Fisher My Sales Director and Leon Staton. So we partnered up with Francisco and he has been pushing Carolina Blue Cigars out of the factory every since he only makes our cigars which is nice. The one thing the keeps me going is I want Carolina Blue Cigars to be the number 1 Boutique Cigar within two years. It will have been a grind really hard work but we can do it we don’t have a choice we are working with legacy here. Everyone that is on the team is stuck here until the end and there is no end. I sleep, eat and think nothing but Carolina Blue Cigars and how to make this company better and not be just a fly by night Cigar Company.
Chris, let’s get a bit personal. Tell us about your first experience with the cigar?
CM: My very first cigar was the day before I left for the Military in May 1986. My dad smoked them as well as pipes I was never a smoker of any sort, but I was like this is a great achievement for me so I brought 2 one for the way in to basic training and one for the way out, I can’t remember the name they were from the supermarket some random brand I can assure you. I smoked it that night on the balcony of the hotel before I left and oddly enough I wanted another one the next day, I didn’t know why at the time, but I do now. The other cigar I didn’t smoke but oddly enough I found it in a shoe box a few years ago while cleaning out some trunks that I had with some memories of basic. I can say the next time I smoked was my first Combat tour, I had a detachment in three spread out in three countries and it was time to celebrate a long long deployment so we smoked one on our last day in country, we were unfortunately were caught in the build up and stayed almost 18 months in rotation. That is probably when I started smoking more cigars. Funny now that I know more about the business I know we were smoking knock off Cubans while sitting in Kuwait waiting for our ride home.
When you think about the process that goes into making the cigar, from the initial seed to the combination of tobacco to the actual cigar, which part is the most difficult in your opinion. Can you also give us the general how to process from seed to cigar.
CM: I can honestly say I am learning about that more and more everyday as we go, I have not spent a lot of time at the factory like I want to mostly because of marketing here in the states I want to create a nice footprint for us. But I can say the blending is the key factor. We use three different tobaccos for our filler at a different percentage for strength of course. The hard part is just sticking to what you know is a great cigar and trying not to please everyone’s tastes. I have spent so nights when I want to just change everything to please everyone but then I realize no matter what I do, that will never happen people like what they like.
We have a great cigar we are new and no one knows us so that is the hardest part that we are having. Unlike all the other companies that have access to tons of tobacco we don’t, and we don’t want that much, so we can stay small in developing great cigars. We can do about 25 to 50 thousand Cigars a month but we rather not, we like the numbers low so we can put care into the product. It is all about care and believing in the process and knowing that every cigar was looked at for quality and presentation.
The process that we have is we have the option to get our tobacco from a grower or importer just like most companies and chose from some of the best leaves out there. I can say, THANK GOD FOR FRANCISCO De La Cruz because he can get first picks most of the time. So we look for a great wrapper and fillers that will bring out the flavors that we are looking for like our Habano which I can say is my favorite it has a Habano 2000 Wrapper, Crillio 98, Cubano Piloto, and Nicaraguan our Binder is Sumatra these all make up a very good cigar when done correctly with the right percentage.
Once everything is rolled we have it age in our aging room for up to 3 to 6 months and it will be good to go, anything sooner and we will not have a good cigar. I am so looking forward to the spring we have something coming out that will have a lot of people looking for our cigars.
Chris there are a lot of cigar brands in this niche market, what do you think you do so well or is unique in your business model, that makes you stand out in this competitive market?
CM: That is a great question and that is on my mind all the time, how can I stand out from other companies. What can we do to have others say I want a Carolina Blue Cigar. I still don’t have an answer for that. I can say every time we do an event or deal with a customer we want to give them that Carolina Blue Experience whether is it education on cigars, Over delivering on a sale by giving them a few extra cigars of the other blends to try, at events we do giveaways of our marketing items such as hats Flasks, lighters cutters T shirts.
We want to give you that personal touch with our ambassadors as well when you see us out. We do our best to make you feel like you are the only customer and you have all of our attention CUSTOMER SERVICE IS VERY IMPORTANT to me. I am sure other companies do the same but we do listen to our customers. I was out the other day and one customer said he brought a cigar from one of the shops and it was dry he knew it shouldn’t have been because he has smoked a few before. I just pulled one out of my pocket and gave him a fresh that I really wanted to smoke myself lol Customers first as they say.
We want to have the Chick-Fil-A model so to speak, we are not in every shop but you will want you drive from miles away to get one. From a marketing stand point I am all about the product you will hardly ever see me or my partners in a photo. The Cigar is the money maker and the public needs to see that as much as possible in order for us to be successful and we must produce an outstanding product each and every time no matter if you like it out not.
Which states are your cigars currently available for purchase? and how do you plan to expand your brand awareness nationally?
CM: Right now we are in NC, NYC, NJ and Ohio, we plan to be in VA/MD/PA/GA and TX in the very near future over the past few weeks it seems we have opened some eyes and gotten a lot of attention which is great. For a while I wanted to just focus on NC/SC but I think that will hurt us in the long run, Cigars are global and we have to have that global mindset. I would love for North Carolina to be known for the Carolina Blue Cigars, but I think we have to find our footprint out there in this huge market.
I have an outstanding Marketing person Gavin Bernard he has tripled our growth in less than days. I wish I would have found him a year ago it would have saved me so much money and who knows what else but like anything else sometime you have to walk the path that you are on. We plan to expand our brand awareness by being at large events we may not be there to sell our cigars but the Carolina Blue Cigar team will be there spreading the word either by Brand Ambassadors, Geo Fencings, Fliers, hats or our Carolina Blue Flames.
We have to use Social Media as a tool to take us to the next level when the marketing budget is not as big as other companies may be. I am one to listen to the ones who knows the marketing side of the house with its up and down hill journey. I do know sometimes we have to change with the times and I am open to that. It has been a task just to get our brand out there to the masses so a lot of times we just do give away, doing events on a last minute notice something I want to get out of doing. I can say we all feel the same about serving the community first and foremost that is something we strongly believe in.
We love to help local charities and veterans organizations with events everyone loves a great cigar and event better when it is given to them for a very small fee or even free at times.
We also believe in helping other small business owners that may not get the exposure like we do when we travel. So if we do a show or an event I try to take a product that some one local has produced and show it to potential customers in other cities or states. It is a win-win for everyone they may not want to buy a cigar but they may want to by a Cigar case or a Cigar holder or a portrait. I let the cigar speak for itself but we can say we can cater to any shops needs if they want a special size for their shop we can make that happen without making them purchase a crazy amount of cigars. If one particular cigar is doing very well we don’t have a problem with just selling them one blend rather than having them buy all of the faces. Being flexible has worked very well, too well at times that it can backfire here and there.
What lessons have you learned working in the cigar industry?
CM: The Grind is real…LOL I have learned to really stick to your guns if you believe in the product don’t change it because a few shops don’t want your product listen to the masses. Also listen to the masses on when something new has to come out. The main thing is be yourself don’t change this is a people business be approachable over deliver treat the customer like you want to be treated and then some. Keep your plans to yourself as far as growth, no one is your friend everyone is a client. As a owner you cannot let yourself be to accessible to your shops then the relationship changes from business to friends and then things can be thrown out of whack so to speak. As we all know dealing with friends with business is not a good mix. One key lesson is smoke everyone else’s cigars as well so you can enjoy what the companies have created also.
Where are your cigars currently made?
CM: Tabacalera F De La Cruz Factory in Tamboril, Santiago, Dominican Republic
A lot of people who like to smoke cigars, also enjoying pairing the cigars with either whisky or caffeine. What do you think from your personal experience is it about this pairing that makes it work?
CM: I tried them all with something so I can tell you my Connecticut and Habano goes well with Coffee, the Habano goes great with Bourbon or a dark Rum, preferably Brugal LOL (Dominican Rum).
The Maduro goes great with Whisky and Bourbon as well and I even tried it with some local Breweries and it wasn’t bad at all. I have to say I am not a heavy drinker or smoker so I really taste what I am pairing my cigar with. I try to taste everything that the cigar is saying to me. And I am really enjoying what I taste with you being bias to my own brand.
What advice would you give young entrepreneurs looking to get into the cigar business?
CM: If you can find one great stick go from there work your way backwards, presentation then cigar. I did things the other way around it was a nightmare I had a whole bunch of sticks with no presentation. Keep learning everyday about the business and LISTEN LISTEN LISTEN to people that have been in the business for a while. Just because it has been done for years don’t mean you cannot go against the grain innovation is key use the resources that we have this is an old business moving with new innovations.
The big boys sell because there name is out there the little guys have to get our names out there at any means necessary don’t worry about them do you, and go with your gut. Have fun enjoy the ride, if you’re in it to make quick money you’re in the wrong business. If you love what you’re doing take your time. Last get a great team around you don’t settle for cheap products or prices cigars are like clothes Quality is better and that doesn’t mean you have to always pay top dollar do your homework first. Invest in your product to make it better. TRUST THE PROCESS it takes time. And don’t listen to all of the Cigar experts in the lounges if it were that easy everyone would have their own stick. I guess that was more than enough
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
CM: Try the smaller companies cigars we put a lot more care into our products just because we don’t have the well known names on our label doesn’t me we don’t have a great cigar. You may be missing out on something incredible. Get your Carolina Blue Cigar today and if your local retailer doesn’t have it ask them to get it.