Popular Post shrink Posted June 1, 2007 Popular Post Share Posted June 1, 2007 A “Newbie’s” Guide to Developing a Relationship with Your Habanos Vendor For the Cuban cigar consumer, the vendor is arguably the most important link in a long chain that begins in the fields of Cuba, and ends with you, the smoker. Why? Because, apart from you providing correct storage conditions for your stock, selecting and working with your vendor are the only things over which you have any control. 1. Choose your vendor wisely. Most “newbies” who seek sources for genuine Habanos are concerned about getting burned, or receiving fakes. Understandably, they are also concerned about price. We all are: Cubans cigars are expensive. Fortunately, there are many reputable dealers who will supply you with genuine Habanos. But not all vendors are created equal. So, how do you know who to trust? First of all, be patient. That’s hard for those of us who are used to “instant gratification”, but rushing into big, expensive orders with unknown sources can result in big disappointments. Spend some time on this board, read current and previous threads on cigar sources, get to know some experienced “Habanophiles”, and ask a lot of questions. It’s usually better to make your inquiries via email or PM’s, rather than on public boards where you might break rules, or upset people. Never introduce yourself on a Cigar Board, or to a potentially helpful mentor, by asking for the names of sources. This is a big turn-off to experienced smokers who have spent years acquiring reliable vendors and developing trusted relationships with them. So, what should you know about a vendor before ordering? Reputation and History. A fancy website doesn’t mean anything. Nor do official sounding guarantees, claims of “authenticity” or glowing client testimonials. Does the vendor advertise on your cigar board? How long has the vendor been in business? Are they an established, high volume internet source, a relative unknown, or do their internet clientele supplement their primary “brick and mortar” business? Finally, and most important, what is the opinion of experienced Cuban cigar smokers? Their Sources. Does the vendor source their stock exclusively through authorized Habanos distributors? Some clearly state this on their websites, or otherwise let it be known to their customers. Or do they also buy wholesale through questionable “grey market” dealers? While grey-market cigars may very well be authentic, and can often be of good quality, there are serious risks associated with buying from any unofficial, second-hand sources. Prices. While price is obviously important, it should never be your first priority. Good money spent on poor cigars is money wasted. And if you can’t get your money back, or a satisfactory replacement, it’s even worse. In fact, prices that are too low can be a tip off that the vendor may be dealing in fakes. Or trying to move inferior stock that has been poorly stored, or “picked over” and rejected by knowledgeable parties. Test them. Don’t place a big order the first time. Try them out. Many reputable vendors offer singles and samples. When these are available, I have used this “trial” option to help evaluate the quality of their cigars and service. It will also help you to determine which marcas (brands) and vitolas (shapes and sizes) that you prefer before investing your hard earned funds in a box of cigars that you don’t even want to smoke. Customer Service. This is perhaps the most telling area. Does the vendor respond promptly to emails, or phone calls? Do they answer appropriate questions about stock, quality, and shipping? Will they provide recommendations, based on your preferences? Do they guarantee delivery, and your satisfaction? Do they ship promptly? Do they charge your credit card long before your stock is shipped? And most important, how do they handle problems and complaints, which inevitably arise in any long-term relationship? Shipping methods. Some vendors ship by Air Post, which can take two to three weeks. Others use FedEx or other couriers, which can have the package at your doorstep in a couple of days. In some cases, shipping is included in the price of the cigars; others charge extra for it. You have to factor this into the "true" cost of your purchase. How carefully the cigars are packaged can affect their quality, and their susceptibility to damage en route. Determine also whether the vendor ships “intact” in the original box, or “re-bands and re-boxes” to avoid problems with Customs. If you have preferences in any of these areas, be sure to clearly state them to your vendor, before the order is complete. Storage methods. The quality of a vendor’s storage is hard to determine without experience. But it’s important to find out. Proper long-term storage, in clean conditions with correct temperature and humidity, can make the difference between an authentic “dud” and a cigar that will be well- preserved, properly humidified, and ready to enjoy after a brief rest in your humidor. Guarantees. Many reputable vendors guarantee delivery and/or your satisfaction. Without a delivery guarantee, you risk losing both your cigars and your money if the shipment is lost or seized by Customs. If you stay in this hobby long enough, sooner or later you will experience customs seizures, and shipment losses. Aged stock. Some vendors maintain aged stock, and will provide a list of their aged stock on request. However, not all aged stock is superior, and some are nothing but old cigars that haven’t sold, often for good reason. Beware vendors who push “vintage” cigars at inflated prices. Usually, recent stock is the best buy, especially if you plan to age them yourself. 2. Narrow your list of vendors. Over the years, I have received excellent stock from over a dozen vendors. But there are some real advantages to limiting your business to several tried and trusted sources. I now use only two primary sources, unless I am sourcing some specific rare or aged stock. It’s important to be on a first name basis. The more you order from a vendor, the more credibility and leverage you have, and the better you will be treated. This is just plain common sense, and it is one of the oldest laws of business . The relationship becomes especially important if there is a problem, such as a lost or damaged order. 3. Communicate regularly, and provide them with feedback. Let your vendors know your preferences. Advise them of your favorite brands and vitolas. A good vendor will notify you when your favorite stock comes in, or when they have something special that you might be interested in. Don’t hesitate to ask for their recommendations. They know their stock, and its condition, a lot better than you do. Take their advice on what’s “smoking good” now. If they know your preferences, ask them to make suggestions. You might discover a new marca, or vitola that opens up a new source of discovery, and enjoyment in your developing hobby. When I order online, I send an email to let my vendor know that the order has been placed, and to express my preferences in terms of box code, wrapper color, and other particulars. Know how long it usually takes each vendor to ship and for orders to arrive. Allow a sufficient grace period before you panic. They’ll usually show up, sooner or later. I usually send another email when the shipment arrives, letting the vendor know the physical condition of the package and the cigars. It’s another opportunity to provide feedback, and to say thanks for the service. Later, I will often send the vendor a comment on how the cigars are smoking. Let them know when you are pleased with a cigar. Write them a "mini-review". This helps them to better evaluate the quality of their stock, and update their recommendations. Don’t reserve your communications for complaints. Think like a vendor. If they only hear from you when you are unhappy, what kind of impression are you making? I’ve had vendors tell me, in essence, “You’ve been a good customer, and I know you have been satisfied with the cigars I previously sent, so I’m taking your complaint seriously. I believe you, there must be something wrong with these cigars. Would you like an immediate refund, or can I send a replacement box right away?” 4. Respect and protect your vendor. Dealing with problems. They’re bound to happen when you’re buying a hand-made vegetable product, sight-unseen, often from halfway around the world. When there is a problem, take it promptly and directly to the vendor, and give them the opportunity to resolve the problem before taking it online to boards or complaining to others. Describe the problem to the vendor in detail, and if appropriate to document damage, send photos. A reputable vendor is concerned about your satisfaction, not to mention their reputation, and will replace damaged or inferior stock. If the vendor doesn’t make good, discreetly seek the advice of a trusted and experienced member of your online cigar board. Making referrals. Before referring a new customer, consider the vendor’s preferences. Don’t forget that the sale and importation of Cuban products is banned in some countries. Does your vendor welcome new referrals at this time, or are they a membership only vendor? What information would they like regarding a new customer? Ask them. I only refer individuals that I have gotten to know well enough to trust. And I usually contact the vendor first, and provide them with the prospect’s name, details and contact information. Then the vendor can be expecting the contact, and be prepared to decide whether they want to do business with the new prospect. Let the buyer beware. Welcome to the new frontier of Cuban Cigar buying: the internet. It offers a tremendous opportunity to the new Habanos hobbyist who wants to get great cigars, quickly, at fair prices. But remember, it’s a wild and unregulated domain, with lots of shady characters and “get rich quick” artists. There is no better example of the age-old warning to the eager but naïve buyer: “Caveat Emptor”. 15 Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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