JR Alternative History · Part 3 – JR University
JR Alternative History
Anyway, I hooked Fuente up with the J.C. Newman Company… so they didn’t get hurt in the transition… and – surprise, surprise – we NEVER opened the factory!! Just as it was completed, the U.S. Gov’t passed some law about importing clothes from China… and some guy came up with the bright idea of importing clothing PARTS into the DR and assembling them there… then sending them to the U.S.A. as “Made in the DR”… thus avoiding the massive duties… Anyway, he had the idea… he didn’t have a factory. BUT we did. So we sold him the building for a tidy profit. Heck – who wanted to be a manufacturer anyway? These Caribbean countries are just loaded with all kinds of giant spiders and other repulsive insects…
We had been getting some pretty good Connecticut-wrapped cigars from a guy named Oscar Rodriguez who was, in turn, getting them from Tabadom, which was owned by a bunch of guys, including two guys we don’t do business with anymore: Pedro Martin and Hendrik Kelner (but that’s another story for another day). They were also making a premium brand for us called JR Special Caribbeans, and while I can’t prove it, I wouldn’t be surprised if our JR Special Caribbean of old wasn’t the same cigar that’s being sold for ten times the price as a Davidoff today.
At this point in time, Manuel Quesada of MATASA said he would like to manufacture the JR Alternatives, and that he could add a second floor to his factory to make up for some of the space we had lost by selling our nearly completed factory. Well… since Manuel was already making our Casa Blanca brand, which we had designed to taste really mild (like Don Diego and Macanudo, the two powerhouse brands of the era), it was obvious to us that he could successfully make Dominican JR Alternatives for us. There was no big secret to the big brands of the day: Connecticut Shade wrapper, broadleaf binder, mostly olor filler, and a little Brasilian filler… and voila! You got a nice, mild, golden-brown cigar that burns clean with no aftertaste – exactly the public’s preference in the late ’70s and early ’80s.
The years flew by and then came the horrid CIGAR BOOM… and the number of Alternatives we got kept shrinking while the prices kept rising. And because of all those older folks I mentioned earlier, the JR Alternative became just about a break-even proposition, as we attempted to hold the line on prices. I didn’t even try to get anyone else to make them because we couldn’t even get the existing factories to make us enough of the cigars. So we struggled… and we even stopped taking new customers for a year and a half… Then, just as suddenly as you can turn off a light bulb, the Cigar Boom ended! All of a sudden, everybody and their mother wanted to make the JR Alternative again!
A factory needs two-and-a-half to three years of inventory to make a good cigar… and, as demand went up during the Cigar Boom years, it followed that, for every extra cigar made, enough tobacco to make three extra cigars was needed…. and if you projected your sales to double in the following year, you needed six times… or eight times…
EVERYBODY was trying to buy all the tobacco in the world at any price they could, and the farmers began to grow all the tobacco they could on any scrap of land they could find… and the lunacy culminated in a situation where the manufacturers had huge stockpiles of tobacco bought at very high prices. When the “light bulb” went off, they had two or three years worth of tobacco based on hyper-inflated estimates of what their business would be in the coming years. When it declined by 50 PERCENT (as it did), it meant that they had four or six years’ worth of tobacco!!!
What to do? Oh, what to do?
Well… making the 10 or 11 million JR Alternatives would sure help move the tobacco inventory out!!! Even just making SOME of the JR Alternatives…
So, all of a sudden, manufacturers needing to unload excess tobacco inventories became highly – and I mean HIGHLY – motivated to make this brand… and at prices that were actually designed with the intent of relieving excess inventories, rather than making a normal profit margin on the product. I’m sure you all noticed the $5.00-Off sale on JR Alternatives we had for several years running, and now you know why. JR Alternative were just an unbelievable price… NOT because they were cheap cigars, but because we’re buying them cheap.
Today’s JR Alternatives are made by NATSA, General, ALTADIS and MATASA, some of the most respected names in the business. Tomorrow… who knows? Whoever can produce the best product at the best price… that’s my guy. I’ll always give the existing guy a shot at matching (or at least getting close to) the price, but I always have to keep in mind that I’m not just buying for me, I’m buying for you too… and all those older folks I mentioned earlier.
The JR Alternative has never been a bait-and-switch item, or an attempt to sell you a cigar to replace the likes of Dunhill, or Macanudo, or whatever. Think about it for a moment: This is a business we run. Why would a business person say to a consumer, “Oh, you don’t really need to spend $100 in my store! Here, let me sell you a something for one fourth the price!”
We sell JR Alternatives to two kinds of people, and two kinds of people only: Those who do not want to spend a hundred bucks on a box of cigars, and those who can’t afford to.
If you’re one of those two types, then here’s what you do: You look at the JR Alternative list, you find a cigar brand you’ve tried and liked (or a brand you haven’t tried because it’s too damned expensive), or a Cuban brand you haven’t tried simply because Cuban cigars are illegal in our country. Then you order a bundle… and… for an average price of about a buck and a quarter or so, you’re gonna get 20 handmade cigars that just as good as any name brand. No, it’s not gonna be the fanciest packaging or the most impressive name on the cigar band, but it’s gonna be a premium quality hand made cigar. Trust me.