On Its 30th Anniversary, Gurkha Cigars continues to revolutionize the industry
This year Gurkha celebrates three decades of success in what was once an unheard of category in the tobacco industry: Ultra-premium Cigars. But how did Kaizad Hansotia, founder and CEO of Gurkha cigars, reach production of 12 million cigars per year and establish his brand as the pioneer of luxury cigars?
Hansotia attributes success mostly in part to a unified passion and profession, which led him through his entrepreneurial journey. In the 1980s Kaizad’s family was already immensely successful in the luxury watch industry which prompted him continue a path in the lucrative business. An avid traveler from a young age, Hansotia always envisioned everything on a global level. Already immersed in the business of luxury goods and consistently exposed to different cultures throughout his travels, it is no surprise that Hansotia always had an eye for the finer things life could offer.
His unlikely entry into the cigar market began while vacationing in 1989. “I was walking on the beach when I stumbled upon a man hand-rolling cigars out of a little hut,” he says. “The level of craftsmanship was extraordinary. My interest had piqued and I tried one.” Kaizad thought the cigars would make unique gifts for customers of the family business. He learned that these Gurkha cigars had been around for more than a century and were named after Nepalese warriors whose bravery had inspired British troops, and the intrigue surrounding the cigars proved to be a selling point for him. Hansotia was so impressed, that he bought all of the man’s wares on the spot – thereby acquiring the brand for just $149.
Not knowing much about cigars or the industry, Kaizad began studying the market trying to figure out a way to break through. It wasn’t long before he realized that “there wasn’t a market yet for a really upscale cigar”. The notion cuts to the core of Hansotia’s philosophy of collecting unique swords, firearms, and luxury watches. Confident that his cigars would be appreciated by those with a taste for the more elusive things in life, Hansotia created the ultra-premium cigar category. “I wanted to give people something they didn’t even know they needed,” he explains.
When Gurkha cigars debuted in duty-free markets in 1990, they came in three sizes (Churchill, Toro and Torpedo) and retailed for an unheard of $14 to $17 per cigar. Moreover, they were only available by the stick and were encased in individual glass tubes. Other cigars came in traditional boxes. The first run quickly sold out. The company began with two employees – Kaizad and his wife Katya Hansotia. Both were hunkered down in a small office let to them in their father’s business. Kaizad single handedly handled product, packaging, sales and marketing and Katya focused on the back office. Both worked tirelessly for seven days a week as they built the company. Today Gurkha has about 50 employees, when asked how he went about bringing on more people. “I’ve found the right people at the right time, I grew the company one day at a time and I truly believe in Karma. Everything falls into place” said Hansotia.
Since the inception of Gurkha, Hansotia has worked closely with advertising and catalog companies to breakthrough the market and create a unique and strong brand identity using what he refers to as “a very gorilla marketing approach” which seemed to resonate with the audience at the time. “At one point we grew so quickly the demand was more than we were prepared to handle and could have been our end”. Determined to succeed and provide his clients with a quality product Hansotia did not give up, “We bounced back quickly with a new restructured production strategy to better suit the needs of our clients” said Hansotia.
Making Gurkhas even more eye-catching among competitors is their exquisite packaging, with ornately detailed boxes regarded as collectors’ pieces, yet this was not a common practice in the industry. Why did Hansotia feel it was necessary? “Same reason nice things come in even nicer boxes. There was a lack of creativity for presentation in the market…everything was boring. I took upon myself to design a better thing” he says. Hansotia personally directs the design of all of the artwork that goes into labels and packaging. His favorite design has been for “The Beauty,” which took over three years to create.
Gurkha has come a long way from the garage-sized warehouse in the free zone of Miami to a 40,000 square foot facility in Tamarac. Since 1989, Gurkha has grown steadily, as has its reputation. “Our cigars are rated incredibly high worldwide, with 85 percent scoring above 95 points.” Hansotia says. “No other company can say they have done that.”
30 years later, Hansotia continues to work seven days a week and travels monthly to meet with various distributors and vendors, giving credit to his travel as often a source of inspiration for Gurkha’s packaging and products. Gurkha epitomizes luxury and quality as their cigars are handmade in the using only the rarest and highest-quality aged tobacco leaves. “We always think in quality, not quantity,” Hansotia says. And discriminating buyers will pay for the best – a single stick can sell for more than $1,000. To mark its anniversary Gurkha is introducing a commemorative cigar known as Treinta. The cigars hail from Arganosa Leaf in Nicaragua and are available in three sizes. The first 1000 boxes per size will be released in limited edition commemorative boxes. Gurkha is also introducing a beautifully elegant tin that houses five Toro Treinta cigars and a limited edition Anniversary humidor that will include 50 Treinta Limitada cigars only available with the humidor.
Hansotia’s eye for detail and commitment to quality has paid off. Today, Gurkha is sold in more than 70 countries worldwide. While Gurkha is known for its exclusivity, it has an impressive array of flawlessly handcrafted, premium cigars crafted in a variety of strengths, tasting profiles, and price points. “I always thought long-term from day one,” says Hansotia. “Most people think of a three-year plan. We think of a 30 to 50 year plan.”
It is clear that Hansotia hasn’t lost his entrepreneurial spirit. For now, he is content to reflect on his company’s many accomplishments with a hand-rolled Gurkha Treinta – and perhaps a glass of Louis XIII cognac.