Introducing a new generation to cigars and cigar-making

Posted On April 21, 2023

Introducing the next generation to the family business can be a challenge, even if your family has been in the business for generations.

For Ernesto Perez-Carrillo, patriarch of E.P. Carrillo Cigars, it was all about finding the best roles for his two children, Lissette Perez-Carrillo and Ernesto Perez-Carrillo III, who have degrees and experience in law and economics and both of whom grew up around the cigar business. As co-founders of E.P. Carrillo Cigars with their father, their expertise in these areas has helped grow the brand.

“It’s a process,” said Perez-Carrillo, our guest in the latest episode of “What’s Working with Cam Marston.” “I think the most important thing for any family business is from the beginning, give each kid a role. As time progresses, they’ll kind of fall into that role and they’ll assume new roles as they come up.

“I’ve been doing this for over 50 years and I think it’s important that they understand that. The experience is coming from me, because I’ve been doing it the longest, but let’s see how you can embellish that experience and add to the business.”

While his family’s experience in the industry dates back to his grandfathers in Cuba, Perez-Carrillo started his Miami-based company in 2009 about a decade after the cigar boom of the 1990s. After exhausting his efforts to make a name as a jazz drummer, he’d taken over his father’s cigar company, El Credito; built the La Gloria Cubana brand into a success; sold the company and went to work for a major manufacturer. But he found he didn’t enjoy corporate life.

So he started E.P. Carrillo Cigars in his 50s, in an economy struggling to rebound from a major recession.

“I didn’t even think about that,” he said. “Sometimes I ask myself, maybe I should have waited a year to see if I really wanted to do this. It has worked out for me. But it was a risk, because it was the worst time to open up a company.”

How did he do it? By creating a great product, using his experience and his contacts with growers in Central and South America and the Dominican Republic. He still works with many of those growers today, but his business has grown to the point that he’s having to look further afield for tobacco. Needless to say, he does a lot of traveling.

His cigars have drawn awards from the influential Cigar Aficionado magazine, earning its No. 1 cigar award in 2018 and 2020. “Needless to say, it’s a game-changer because it just opens up so many more doors all over the world. This is a worldwide magazine,” he said. “For us, it has something that has been key in our growth. Now saying that, you have to have that cigar they’re going to be able to evaluate and make it No. 1.”

His latest challenge will be tapping into a growing market of young cigar smokers. But Perez-Carrillo says his company is first working to solidify its niche in the 45 to 65 age group, before looking for ways to expand its base.

“This is something that every cigar company is looking at now, seeing how can we attract that younger generation of cigar smokers to our lines?” he said. “One thing I have noticed is that they love information. They love knowing about not only the cigar maker or the manufacturer, but they love knowing about the tobaccos used, the areas, the seed. Their mindset is more informative to a certain degree than maybe some of the older generations.

“But, saying that, I do find that the older generation, their sophistication, the knowledge and the smoking experience is to a peak now. This to me is one of the best times to be a cigar smoker or be in the cigar industry.”


Categories: Blog, Entrepreneurship, Generations, Podcast, Recession Economy, Succession Planning, What's Working with Cam Marston