As the creator of the hottest selling cigars (Vintage series) in the US, Rocky Patel is quite a rock star in the world of cigars in America and much of Europe. Enthused by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Make in India call, he wants to expand his ($50 million) cigar business in India. Currently in India for aggressively marketing his brand of cigars, Patel tells Shailendra Tyagi that that making cigars in India, rather than importing them, makes more sense.
Q: What has brought Rocky Patel to India?
A: My goal is to reach out to Prime Minister Modi to be a part of his Make in India campaign. We are meeting people in the government to espouse our cause. My aim is to educate all the stakeholders about cigars so that India can ease some of its regulations on cigar smoking. Unlike cigarette, cigar fall under a different purview and therefore, should not be taxed the way cigarettes are taxed. In fact, our brands are nicotine free. I also want to promote and educate people about the fine art of cigars. I think that cigars are very similar to enjoying a fine glass of wine or single malt scotch. It is a luxury lifestyle especially when everybody is so stressed between traffic and work and Facebook and Twitter. It allows one to relax and have a civil conversation with friends or just simply daydream and collect one’s thoughts.
Q: Who would be your target consumers in India?
A: My potential consumers would be the aspiring, educated, middle class of India.
In fact, our best customers in the US are the blue collared people. Our brands are called premium not so much for the price but for the quality. One can actually taste the love and labour that our cigars taste of. One has to be cultured, than rich, to enjoy the aesthetics built into cigars. I am also here to impress upon smokers that cigars made in Nicaragua, Honduras and the Dominican are far superior than the Cuban cigars because anything made under the communist government is not going to have the quality that a connoisseur wants.
Q: How do you plan to take this message to your target audience?
A: We are going to go for a very aggressive marketing strategy to promote our premium brands (Vintage 1990, Edge & Decade etc). We are trying to reach out to people by hosting events in Delhi and other big cities. We do not have a limit to our (marketing) budget as long as we have an audience. We are willing to spend up to $100,000 for our initial push in India. It is a personal campaign where you reach out to people, talk to them, look them in the eyes and educate them about the art of making a quality cigar.
Q: Would you be making those cigars in India?
A: Making our brand of cigars in India makes more sense. My next objective is to try and get a manufacturing permit to make cigars in India because I think India has the people (labour) with required skills to make cigars here.
Rocky’s Indian Partner, Hemanth Sureddi, chips in to talk about India’s cigar market.
Hemanth: The Indian cigar industry is very, very small — consisting of only 5 lakh (cigar) sticks per year. But I am optimistic that as people here (India) have started enjoying the niceties of life, its consumption is going to grow in India. Differentiating between the Cuban and non-Cuban cigars is our main challenge as people here have not tasted cigars beyond the Cuban variety. We have been conducting tasting sessions to educate our consumers. I am proud to see an Indian (Rocky Patel) making one of the finest cigars in the world, rolling out 20 million cigars a year, which is not a joke especially in the premium segment.