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 I start I want to give a special thanks to all of my family and friends that have supported Carolina Blue Cigars from the start and always pushed me to do follow my dreams. I also want to send a special thanks to my partner Butch Fisher without him a lot of this would not have happened, I am so grateful for his friendship and the long nights that we pushed each other to be the best in the business. So back to your question, before becoming the CEO of Carolina Blue, I attended Fayetteville State University. During that time, I knew the military was something I wanted to do. My family has a deep military history. When I add up all time that my grandfathers, father, uncles and other relatives have served, it would be over 400 years of service. So, I went on to serve 30 years in the military. I am approaching my one year retirement mark from the armed forces. During my time of service, I experienced three combat tours. I must say, I held some great positions that took me pretty much around the world. I spent my last 15 years in various lead positions within the financial arena. My supervisory experience during those years made it easy to transition into entrepreneurship. So, I guess you can say I have made my career dreams come true.
What was the vision for Carolina Blue Cigars. Did your vision come true or is it still a work in process.
CM: I am originally from New York City. Coincidentally, I spent a lot of hot summers in Eastern North Carolina as a kid around tobacco fields. All of my family worked in the tobacco fields, and that area was on of the hot beds for tobacco used mostly for cigarette production at that time. My venture started with a simple question in Santiago, Dominican Republic in 2016 when a relative approached me and asked, “How many people do you knew who smoke cigars on the golf course.” I am a hard core golfer by the way, I will play anywhere. I was actually playing in a tournament at that time. So, I gave him an answer and took some sample cigars back to the states. However, the product was not that great. I had to make it clear that if I was going to get in this business, I wanted only the good stuff because I believe that quality is everything when it comes to cigars.
In an effort to ensure quality, I was introduced to Francisco De La Cruz, who is by far one of the best blenders in Tamboril Santiago. I admired his way of doing things because he was not about quantity but quality. He had a small factory and cared very deeply for his product. Mr. De La Cruz’s tobacco blending background was very extensive. He had experience with several companies such as Romeo & Julieta, La Flor Dominicana, and Davidoff when they were in their early stages of growth. He has been in the game for over 30 years and is very well respected. The craftsmanship was second to none which resulted in the production of great cigars.
The name of my company, 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 University of North Carolina or the Panthers. The colors sort of match to some degree, however they don’t have anything to do with each other.
During my last year of service in the military, I went through the testing phase. Mr. De La Cruz and I became close business partners along with another great asset to the business, my importer. I also brought on two of my childhood friends as partners, Butch Fisher, Director of Sales, and Leon Staton. Once the partnership was well established, Mr. De La Cruz has been pushing Carolina Blue Cigars out of his factory like clockwork. He only makes our cigars which is nice. I would like for Carolina Blue Cigars to be the number one boutique cigar within two years. This goal sparks my motivation to stay focused and work hard. It has been and will continue to be a grind, really hard work. But, my team can do it. We don’t have a choice because we are working with legacy here. We have a strong partnership, with the right amount of expertise, in which each person is totally committed and in this business for the long haul. As for me, I sleep, eat, and think nothing but Carolina Blue Cigars. I am always thinking about how to make our company better. We will not be just another “fly by night” cigar company, but a cut above the rest.
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 of 1986. My dad smoked cigars, as well as pipes. However, I was never a smoker of any sort. Entering the military was a great achievement for me, so I bought two cigars. One for the way into basic training and one for the way out. They were a random supermarket brand I can assure you. So random in fact, I can not remember the name. I smoked one that night on the hotel balcony before I left for basic. Oddly enough, I wanted another one the next day. I did not know why at the time but now I do. Incidentally, I never smoked the one for the way out of the military. I found it in a shoe box a few years ago while cleaning out my basic training trunk which was full of memories.
I can say that the next time I smoked was during my first combat tour. I had a detachment spread out in three countries, and it was time to celebrate a very long deployment. So, we smoked one on our last day in the country. Then, unfortunately, we were caught in the build up and stayed almost eighteen months in rotation. That is probably when I started smoking more cigars. It is funny now that I know more about the business. I realize 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 more about that everyday. I want to create a nice footprint for us. So I invest a lot of my time in marketing efforts here in the States. I hope to spend more time at the factory in the months to come. But I can say the blending is a 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 taste. There have been so many nights when I want to just change everything to please everyone. But, then I realize that no matter what I do, that will never happen because people like what they like.
Currently, the hardest part is being a new company with a great cigar, yet no one knows us. Unlike all the other companies that have access to tons of tobacco, we don’t. We don’t want that much tobacco so we can stay small in developing great cigars. Again, quality over quantity. We can do about twenty-five to fifty 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. We know that every cigar is looked at for quality and presentation.
For our process we have the option to get our tobacco form a grower or importer just like most companies and chose form some of the best leaves out there. I can say, “THANK GOD FOR FRANCISCO De La Cruz,” because he can get first pick most of the time. So, we look for a great wrapper and fillers that will bring out the flavors that we are looking for. For example, for our Habano, which I can say is my favorite, it has a Habano 2000 Wrapper, Crillio 98, Cubano Piloto and Nicaraguan filler with a binder of Sumatra. These all make up a very good cigar when done correctly with the right percentage.
Once everything is rolled, we let it age in our aging room for up to three to six months. Then, 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?
That is a great question. One 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 all of the answers for that. I can say every time we do an event or work with our customers, we want to give them that Carolina Blue experience. That experience is quality customer service that includes providing education on cigars, over delivering on a sale by giving them a few extra cigars of the other blends to try, and/or giving away marketing items such as hats, flasks, lighters, cutters or t-shirts at our events.
We want to give you that personal touch with our Brand Ambassadors as well as when you see our team members in the community. 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. We do listen to our customers. Furthermore, we want our customers to know that their satisfaction comes first. For instance, I was out in the community one day and a customer told me he bought a cigar from one of the shops and it was dry. He explained that he was familiar with our quality because he has smoked a few before. He knew that our cigars are not dry. I just pulled one out of my pocket and gave it to him. I really wanted to smoke it 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 to 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 our company to thrive. We must produce an outstanding product each and every time no matter if you like it or 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 North Carolina, New York City, New Jersey and Ohio. We plan to be in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Texas in the very near future. Over the past few weeks, it seems we have opened some eyes and gained more attention. This is great. For a while, I wanted to just focus on North Carolina and South Carolina but I think that will hurt us in the long run. Cigars are global. Our company will work within that global mindset. I would love for North Carolina to be known for the Carolina Blue Cigars. Yet I know we have to find our footprint out there in this huge market.
Gavin Bernard does an outstanding job with our marketing. He has tripled our growth in less than 30 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, sometimes you have to walk the path that you are on. We plan to expand our brand awareness by being at various events in the community as much as possible. The Carolina Blue Cigar team will be present to spread the word about our company and our product either by Brand Ambassadors, Geo Fencing, fliers, hats or our Carolina Blue Flames.
Currently our marketing budget is not as big as other companies. So, we have to effectively use social media as a marketing tool to take us to the next level. I always listen to those who know the marketing side of the house with its up and down hill journeys. I do know sometimes we have to change with the times. I am open to that. It has been a task just to get our brand out there to the masses. In an effort to get our product to potential customers, we will do giveaways or events with short notice. I can say we all feel the same about serving the community first and foremost. We strive to be a company that supports community initiatives. That is something we strongly believe in. We love to help local charities and veterans organizations. With events, everyone loves a great cigar. And people enjoy the cigars even better when it is given to them for a very small fee or free at times. With that said, I do like the giveaways, however, I would like to get away from doing any last minute notice events.
We also help local small business owners that may not have the ability to travel to various events in other states. So, if we do a show or an event, I will take their product along in an effort to give that small business exposure to potential customers. My customers may not want to purchase a cigar, but they may be interested in a cigar case, holder or artwork. This creates a “win-win” for everyone, as well as supports my philosophy about helping others in the community.
I let the cigar speak for itself but we can say we can cater to any shop’s needs. For example, if they want a special size for their shop, we can make that happen without requiring the purchase of a crazy amount of cigars. If one particular cigar is doing very well, we don’t have a problem with just selling our customers one blend rather then buying all of the faces. Being flexible has worked very well even though at times 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 my guns if I believe in the product. Don’t change the product because a few shops don’t want to buy it. 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 so be approachable and 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 an owner, you can not let yourself be too accessible to your shops. If you are too close, the relationship changes from business to friends, and then things can be thrown out of whack so to speak. As we all know mixing friends with business in not always a good mix. One key lesson is smoke everyone else’s cigars as well. This keeps you aware of your competition while enjoying what other companies have created.
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 a bourbon or a dark rum, preferably the Dominican Rum, Brugal…lol. The Maduro goes great with whisky and bourbon, as well. I have even tried the Maduro 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.
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 you way backwards. Presentation then cigar. I did things the other way around and it was a nightmare. I had a whole bunch of sticks with no presentation. Also, keep learning about the business everyday. LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN to people that have been in the business for a while. Figure out what advice is good, realistic advice, especially from cigar experts you may meet in the lounges. If it were that easy, everyone would have their own stick. Keep in mind that just because something has been done a certain way for years doesn’t mean you can not 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 their name is out there. While the little guys have to get our names out by any means necessary. Don’t worry about the big guys, do you. Always go with your gut. Have fun, enjoy the ride. If you are in it to make quick money, then you are in the wrong business. If you love what you are doing, take your time. Form a great business team around you. Don’t settle for cheap products or prices. Cigars are like clothes, quality is better. Now, that does not mean you have to always pay top dollar but be sure to do your homework first. Make sure you are getting the best quality for your money. Invest in your product to make it better. TRUST THE PROCESS. It takes time.
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 mean we don’t have a great cigar. You may be missing out on something incredible. If you enjoy quality cigars that offer amazing taste, then you will want The Carolina Blue Cigar. Check out your local retailer for our brand. If they don’t carry our product, ask them to get it.