The success of Gurkha Cigars naturally starts at the top with Founder and CEO Kaizad Hansotia. Hansotia’s expertise is two-fold. He has a very specific global vision for the future of Gurkha and an incredible eye for artistic detail. Both of these combine to provide unique, one of a kind cigars that continue to make the brand memorable.
It all began in 1989. Hansotia was on vacation in India and met a man who was rolling and selling cigars. He bought the man’s entire stock with the intention of giving them away to his family’s watch customers as a complimentary gift with their purchase. When customers returned asking for more cigars, he realized he was on to something. He brought what he had back to the United States and partnered with the Torano family to learn and build his brand.Since then, Gurkha has worked with many different factories to perfect new blends and develop the Gurkha into a household name.
Over time, Hansotia followed his vision and shaped his company into a global force. “Change is key in this business,” he said. “To stand still is to die, so we continue to produce limited-edition cigars while we are constantly developing new brands. With outlets such as social media and the Internet, information is readily available. If you’re not on the front page, you might as well be gone.” So he’s put together a great ensemble of talented people who work together to bring the brand to the next level.
Juan Lopez, National Sales Director, has spent 18 years in the cigar industry. He personally knows many of the retailers across the country and considers them his personal friends. In addition he is the in-house blender for Gurkha, the brand builder and international brand ambassador for the brand.
“I’m constantly learning,” Lopez said. “I discover something new every day. And Gurkha is a great company to represent because it has some very unique qualities as a cigar company. There are four different factories that make our cigars. That creates a broad flavor profile. Add to that Kaizad’s genius for award-winning packaging and instantly Gurkha stands out. Our quality and elegance gives us SWAG that no one else has.”
But it wasn’t always like that. “At first, selling the Gurkha brand had its challenges,” he said. “We used to be primarily located in the catalogs. About five years ago, we started changing those tides and building a brick and mortar exclusive line. Now we’ve grown to more than 60 percent brick and mortar and less than 40 percent catalog.”
Currently, Lopez oversees nine reps nationwide. How does he keep them motivated and engaged? “Each of my sales reps sets personal goals,” he said. “We have company goals, but it’s more meaningful for each individual to have a personal stake in what we do. Of course, we have bonus structures and commissions and I’m here to help them grow their accounts as well. I also travel with the crew constantly. We get to know each other very well. When you have a great team and you love what you do, it is easy to come to work every day,” Lopez concluded.
Each rep has a specific territory that they cover from coast to coast. “We call them our Road Warriors, said Bianca Melone, the Director of Marketing “because they battle the road every day to build the Gurkha followership, which continues to grow the brand.The reps range in experience from five years to 18 years in the industry. They constantly learn and work together with the help of technology, including group texts, emails and phone calls.
From coast-to-coast our Road Warriors include Armando Lapido who handles Florida and the Gulf Coast to New Orleans; Ken Mansfield who directs business in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky; Steve Cook who expands into South Carolina, North Carolina, Washington, D.C., and Virginia; Charlie Watson who represents Maryland, Delaware, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania; Will Jackson who handles Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas; Shervin Fageliarif who travels in Arizona, California and Nevada, and Allyson Perez and Cristiana Santana who support the crew from Gurkha Headquarters.
“It’s a great company to work for,” said Allyson Perez, Regional/Inside Sales Manager. “I love the fact that we are all a team and we focus on teamwork every day. Having wonderful staff in the office and warehouse also helps.”
At the Gurkha International Headquarters in South Florida, there are10 people regularly in the office and five in the warehouse. It’s also a family operation. Hansotia’s wife Katya and his father Dinshaw also work in the office. And it’s not uncommon for their children to visit frequently when they’re off from school. The majority of the staff has been with Gurkha long term. “At the end of the day, when all the orders have been fulfilled and you know you’ve accomplished what you set out for as a goal, it’s a great feeling,” said Carlos Llaca-Torano, operations director. “We really do have a fantastic team at Gurkha. It’s exciting to work for an established brand that is still growing.”
Gurkha Cigar’s tour de force and liaison with the outside world is Marketing Director Bianca Melone. Melone works directly with Hansotia building the brand. She’s involved with packaging, designs and new brands. She supports the sales team with all their marketing needs, including events and point of sale presentations. She works closely with the various factories on bringing in new SWAG, following through on Hansotia’s vision. And she’s responsible for all activities performed by the social media and public relations teams
Melone also has a secret weapon. She’s a woman in the cigar industry. Armed with a degree in international business and seven year’s experience thatstarted with her working her way up from a humidor and accessories company into her position today. What’s her favorite part of the job? The stylization of the brand. “We’re known for our packaging,” she said. “The materials and lengths we go to to make different packaging is unique in and of itself. We set the bar incredibly high and yet we constantly strive to exceed it. The sky is the limit when it comes to our designs and what we have the ability to achieve.”
Carlos Llaca-Torano, Operations Director, rounds out the Gurkha team. Llaca-Torano is responsible for the overall operations of Gurkha, which includes inventory management, personnel management, contact with the factories and quality control as well as new product development and sampling. Llaca-Torano has cigars in his blood. His family has been in the tobacco business for the last century.
“My goal at Gurkha is to become more efficient in streamlining operations, reduce backorders and maintain the high-quality established and expected within the brand,” he said.
In closing, Hansotia added, “Overall we have a wonderful group of people that come together and truly make up the Gurkha brand. We have loyal, dedicated individuals that have created a sense of camaraderie within the company to work toward the same team goals every day. I couldn’t be blessed with a more able staff. It is true what they say, ‘When you surround yourself with good people, good things happen.’”
Steeped in legend and rich in history, Gurkha Cigars were named after Nepalese warriors whose bravery impressed the British soldiers. It has become one of the most famous brands of luxury cigars in the world. Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Carlos Slim and an assortment of global dignitaries, world leaders, government officials and celebrities as well as the specialforces and Seal Team Six are all clients. Having extraordinary quality, premium blends of tobacco and a reputation for unparalleled excellence, Gurkha now offers 48 distinct brands of cigars with plans to launch an even rarer and more expensive cigar reputed to be infused with an extraordinary cognac and carrying a price tag of $75,000 a box. The Gurkha Cigar Group Inc. is located at 6600 Hiatus Road, Tamarac, FL 33321. For information, visit www.gurkhacigars.com