weird commerce

Weird Commerce: Individualized, Quality Cigars

The cigar band. It’s just a little sticker, just the size of a thumbnail. But it apparently can provide insight into how people express themselves — men, women, gift givers and recipients — especially as more women are enjoying cigars than before.

“You’d be surprised at how much detail can go into such a small space,” said Rachel Mendler, vice president of Custom Tobacco. “People put pictures of their dogs, their newborn babies — some of the bands that people come up with are definitively quirky, and you get an interesting insight into what people are interested in, their personalities and their inside jokes.”

Custom Tobacco makes cigars with those aforementioned personalized stickers. The cigars are custom-designed, specially made with — and sometimes by – the smokers in mind. The online portal allows the customer to craft their cigar from start to finish, completely from scratch. They ignite the process online by designing their cigar band — a name, a picture, a logo, anything of that sort — and then choose their cigar. From light cigars to strong cigars, and even chocolate cigars, the company promotes quality products from the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua, with the idea to privately label them. Despite the fact that the cigars are typically handed out at celebratory group events like golf tournaments and weddings, the company underscores that that the product is not just a novelty item.

“Some people will just choose ‘Happy 50th Birthday’ or ‘John and Kate get married,’ but more people put a lot of thought into it and put interesting things on there,” said Rachel. “Recently someone added a picture of a shark. We get our fair share of unique, one-of-a-kind cigar bands.”

The California-based company was founded in 2013 by brothers Adam and Jordan Mendler and is now led by the two of them plus their sister, Rachel. Of the three, however, Jordan is truly the avid cigar aficionado.

“Jordan smokes more cigars that the Surgeon General recommends,” said Adam. “But the business is really the marriage of cigars, technology, marketing and branding.”

Custom Tobacco has put an emphasis on quality, making clear that the novelty part of it helps, but it wasn’t the original focus. However, it has helped in becoming a cyclical effort of marketing and purchasing cycles.

“My brothers founded the company under the assumption that we’re really going to appeal to cigar smokers, and cigar smokers are going to love this product,” said Rachel. “We found that that is the case because the cigars are good, but the customer is more likely the wife that is buying them as a gift as opposed to the cigar smoker going on our website and choosing the cigar themselves. With that came changing around the marketing.”

Ultimately, she said, that first instinct to focus on the smoker helped the business because it made the company focus on the quality of the cigar, not just the cigar band personalization concept: “We now have a product that even if the cigar smoker isn’t coming on our website and buying it, if his wife is buying it for him, he can actually enjoy the cigar and it won’t just be a novelty item.”

The company said the customers fall into two categories: the event space and the gift giver, which includes corporate groups — neither category of people tends to be the smoker of the end-product cigar.

“We don’t necessarily have the cigar smoker coming to our site buying a private-label cigar, we’d rather have his wife coming to our site and getting cigars for his birthday party or cigars for Valentine’s Day, Christmas or what have you,”’ said Rachel. “In that same category, we have a lot of corporate gift-giving. Companies will come to us and put their logo on a cigar and send boxes of cigars to their clients for the holidays.”

However, it’s undeniable that at the same time America has become more health-focused and mindful than ever before, with smoking being slighted from the healthful list. Related and added regulations have caused cigarettes to be taxed at higher prices. Cigars, however, according to the Mendlers, seem to be in their own category, and thus, the sibling team said Custom Tobacco hasn’t had as many issues with health-conscious America.

“If you think about the two most well-known cigar smokers in America, if you ask me, they Michael Jordan and Arnold Schwarzenegger,” said Adam, who adds that he gets asked about the issue often. “Both have achieved more in sports and fitness than most of us can even ever dream, and yet they smoke cigars.”

Rachel affirmed Adam’s point by adding that cigars tend to be associated with special occasions or celebrations.

“Of course, you do have hardcore cigar smokers, of course, like our brother who smokes every day,” Rachel said. “But it’s not the norm in the same way that people smoke a pack of cigarettes per week or even per day. It’s just kind of a different kind of product.”

Ultimately, the sibling team says they are solving a problem that exists in the marketplace.

“Our product takes that idea to the next level because it’s personalized and we’re focused on gifts. We really are appealing to the person who is going to enjoy an occasional smoke,” said Rachel.

And if anything else, that cigar band — despite being so small — can really say a lot about a person.

“We live in a time that everyone wants to personalize things and express their individuality, and it’s very, very hard to give gifts that are meaningful to people,” said Adam. “At the end of the day, we realize that there are some really creative people out there who have some fun and crazy ideas.”



The How We Shop Report, a PYMNTS collaboration with PayPal, aims to understand how consumers of all ages and incomes are shifting to shopping and paying online in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our research builds on a series of studies conducted since March, surveying more than 16,000 consumers on how their shopping habits and payments preferences are changing as the crisis continues. This report focuses on our latest survey of 2,163 respondents and examines how their increased appetite for online commerce and digital touchless methods, such as QR codes, contactless cards and digital wallets, is poised to shape the post-pandemic economy.

Click to comment