How do you discover new cigars? That’s a question Jeff Zeiders, founder and CEO of CigarClub, once asked himself and later built a business around. As a cigar smoker himself, Zeiders was often frustrated by a lack of options when it came to discovering new cigars. He found that some online stores and even local brick-and-mortar retailers were a hit or a miss, some offering an overwhelming number of possibilities while others felt too limited and restricted. Neither online nor brick-and-mortar retailers were offering recommendations that were personalized and driven by data. That’s when Zeiders got an idea: Why not find a way to offer cigar smokers a way to discover new cigars and create a welcoming community of cigar smokers to boot?
CigarClub delivers a curated, personalized collection of cigars to its customers each month through a monthly subscription box service. Since it launched, CigarClub has expanded its platform in major ways, including offering its own custom cigar blends, partnering with manufacturers for exclusive releases and offering unique gifts that will appeal to cigar enthusiasts. While the offerings of CigarClub have changed since its launch, its mission has remained the same: to provide a personalized cigar discovery and exploration experience for cigar smokers around the world.
“The idea for CigarClub came as a way to solve for the discovery problem—how to deliver a curated, personalized collection to our customers each month that was not picked for the individual customer but also backed by a guarantee,” explains Dave Imber, vice president of CigarClub. “The concept was to create a guided experience, not just another cigar retail store, and the subscription model was the best way to achieve those goals.”
Like many businesses, CigarClub was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic but not in a negative way. The club saw a large spike in site traffic and memberships throughout 2020 as cigar smokers’ local stores were shut down due to restrictions and people had more time and opportunities to smoke at home. Even as the world now begins to settle into a post-pandemic rhythm, CigarClub has plenty to offer cigar enthusiasts in search of a new way to experience and discover what the cigar world has to offer.
Joining the Club
Signing up as a member of CigarClub is easy. After signing up for a membership, each member is then given a taste profile quiz that asks questions about each person’s drinking and eating preferences. After completing the quiz, CigarClub’s unique algorithm establishes a base palate profile. Beginning with the first shipment of cigars, each member can begin rating and reviewing cigars. The more a member rates and reviews the cigars received through CigarClub, the better each person’s personalized selection becomes. To ensure its selection of cigars is top-notch, CigarClub works with a wide array of cigarmakers to offer something appealing to everyone. Past boxes have included cigars from companies like Montecristo and Alec Bradley Cigars, as well as a slew of boutique cigar brands, including Serino, Rodriguez, HVC and Warped Cigars.
“Our focus remains on quality and matching the profile of our members,” Imber explains. “That could be in the form of a well-known brand or not; we encourage our members to smoke cigars, not brands. I love getting emails every week with members who have never even heard of a brand before getting it in one of our boxes. Next thing you know, they are buying them by the box-full.”
CigarClub always focuses on creating unique experiences for individuals, much like some of the best tobacconists have tried to do for years. Where CigarClub differs is that there is no physical store attached to its business. Instead, CigarClub is built a business for the 21st century, much like the various on-demand streaming services and Amazon. It knows what its customers want—which is good cigars—but wants to make it much easier for them to get those products while also discovering some new favorites.
“Monthly Zoom lounges, daily interactions on social media, club-exclusive cigars—the list goes on, but we strive to create a memorable experience for all of our members, who we treat as our family,” explains Imber. “We take pride in getting to know the palates of each of our members and selecting cigars we know they’ll enjoy every single month. A lot of our team’s time goes into reviewing member feedback and tweaking cigar selections every shipment.”
CigarClub offers many different ways for cigar smokers to discover new cigars and become more ingrained in the cigar culture. The CigarClub Exclusive program has featured exclusive blends from Serino, Rodriguez, HVC and Alec Bradley Cigars. CigarClub also offered its membership the chance to purchase cigar accessories chosen for those looking to start a home collection. One particular service, CigarClub Customs, has been a passion project for Imber, as it focuses on the stories, history and relationships formed by cigars.
“CigarClub Customs is the culmination of a year’s work and is the dream of a cigar geek turned professional who dreamed of blending and creating his own cigars,” he explains.” CigarClub Customs is about stories and cigar history. It’s about the friendships I’ve created in this industry with brands and manufacturers who said ‘OK’ to my crazy ideas. The Customs subscription is a bimonthly [every other month] subscription that shares a new custom blend with members every shipment [a five-pack or 10-pack]. This year, we are working with factories such as Aganorsa, KBF, La Corona, La Perla and Bello to create six unique, custom blends. Think old-school 1920s Cuba—businessmen, Middle East royalty and tourists would visit and have cigars made to bring back for friends and family. No crazy packaging or obscure bands, just high-quality cigars and meaningful stories that are meant to be enjoyed.”
Through his work with CigarClub and its many collaborators, Imber has learned a great deal about cigar blending. Rodriguez Cigars’ Danny Difabo taught Imber about construction, complexity and balance. HVC Cigars’ Reinier Lorenzo showed Imber how to select the right tobaccos to create a unique flavor and sweetness in a cigar. Serino Cigars’ Carson Serino demonstrated the power of vintage tobaccos and how to use old-school profiles as a guide to creating a new cigar. Alec Rubin of Alec Bradley Cigars taught Imber how to create nuanced complexity in a blend that complements great whiskey.
“I could go on forever with all that I’ve learned in such a short time in this industry, but it all comes back to the people who make up these amazing cigar brands we carry. They opened their doors to us and showed us the way,” says Imber.
As a self-professed cigar geek, Imber has kept a journal with different ideas of blends and sizes he would create if given the chance. As he’s worked more with different blenders, he’s come to realize that many of those blend ideas aren’t possible and that some taste terrible in reality. A few of those blend ideas, however, have been turned into blends and featured in CigarClub Customs as exclusive releases that pay homage to different brands and blenders.
Understanding how important community is to the cigar lifestyle, Imber and the CigarClub team interact with members outside of retail through sharing their travel stories online, monthly Zoom lounges and “The Griff & Dave Show,” a YouTube program with new episodes that are released every Friday. It’s during this program that CigarClub staff smokes cigars with its members while drinking bourbon and chatting about the latest happenings of the club. Giving members a look behind the scenes and an insider look into the cigar industry is just as important to them as delivering quality cigars to mailboxes across the country.
What’s to Come
Members and those who are not yet part of the club have plenty of reasons to get excited about CigarClub. There are new experiences to be had, new pairings to try, and plenty of new releases and collaborations in the works. CigarClub is all about its members. It’s more than just a business—it’s a culture and community built around a shared love of cigars and the desire to discover and experience new cigars. CigarClub wants to get to know each and every one of its members and learn how it can continue to deliver amazing experiences directly to their mailboxes each month. With 2021 set to be one of CigarClub’s most exciting years yet, there’s no better time to sign up and become part of CigarClub’s family.
This story first appeared in the CigarClub Sponsored issue of Cigars & Leisure magazine that can be accessed by clicking here.