If you are a cigar hobbyist, enthusiast, aficionado, or even a beginner chances are you have heard of the worldís leading cigar accessory company Ė Xikar. Xikar got their name from the word Sikar which originates as the Mayan word for cigar. Xikar is a Kansas City company that got its start in 1996 when Kurt Van Keppel and Scott Almsberger built the first silver anodized aluminum Xi teardrop cigar cutter in a garage. 14 years ago they took their new cutter all around the various tobacco shops in Kansas City trying to sell them. Humble beginnings that began to take off when they decided to take their product to RTDA Convention and Trade Show. Being a Kansas City native and cigar freak I am very proud to have such an amazing cigar company headquartered in my home town and in the heart of our country. I was lucky enough to be invited to visit the Xikar Headquarters and today I am bringing you a behind the scenes look into their operations.
I headed off to Xikar with their address loaded into my GPS. When I arrived at my destination I was thinking my GPS has failed me big time. Xikarís Headquarters is off the beaten path and is not easily identifiable. I guess I was expected a huge building downtown with lots of glass, metal, and some flashiness. My mind set was Xikar had to be this huge corporation in a huge building. Their office building does not possess this flashiness but it is a very nice building that probably has some history behind it.
The first thing I noticed when I walked into the building is the wonderful aroma of cigar tobacco. I was greeted by Bob Moreno, Director of Marketing, who gave me a warm welcome and a HC Habano Colorado. We walked into a conference room where Monday morning meetings take place, a typical conference room you would expect to see at any business, very professional looking. We walked by a few offices and into a large open area that looks like the heart of the operations. Several offices line the back where customer service representatives conduct their excellent customer service. I got to see into a few more offices where the senior management of Xikar does their work right next to all the other employees. A second conference room looks like a cigar product war room. This conference room is covered in Xikar products, prototypes, concept art, displays, and it is just amazing, I could have spent all day in this room just looking at everything. One wall was lined with concept art and drawings of the new products Xikar has in the works. Sorry, no trade secrets will be given away here. I was very impressed and excited with everything Xikar is currently working on.
Back in the open area in the middle of their headquarters I heard a machine running which I was told was putting custom logos onto cigar cutters. A couple of guys were busy putting together Xikarís limited edition USA Flag Gift Packs. Kurt Van Keppelís father is even involved and claims to be the janitor. He was sweeping the floor! Truth be told Mr. Van Keppel says he does it all and enjoys working at Xikar. Rumor is he is the first one in the office every morning. He took me to a work area where a handful of cutters are on the table to be repaired. Lighters were on another work area right around the corner. Xikar carefully logs all returned items when they receive them, repairing lighters and cutters here, and defects are then noted in their logs. Xikar takes these defects seriously and works with the parts manufacturers to address and fix these issues. Less than 2% of Xikar products are returned but if a product cannot be repaired it is replaced Ė simple as that. Store returned items are usually checked over to ensure proper function and placed in a box to be sent to the US Troops. Xikar packs and sends off a full box of cigar accessories to the troops at least once a month. The amount that they donate varies month to month.
I sat down with Vice-President,Scott Almsberger and Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Jerry Dear. I saw several prototypes and new items Xikar has in the works, unfortunately I wasnít able to take pictures at their request because they are not ready to reveal these new products. With Mr. Almsbergerís permission I can tell you this much, Xikar has several Mayan themed products coming out and they all look incredible but one of them blew me away and I canít wait for them to announce the release for it. It is like nothing you have ever seen in a cutter. There is a 64 ring gauge cutter in the works, an ultra thin cutter, a few camo wrapped cutters, and a new lighter featuring 2 sizes of punch cutters built in and the ability to customize the lighter. When I say camo wrapped cutters you need to use your imagination and think outside the box of military camo. You can also look forward to a 6X60 cigar and rumor has it next year we may see something in a maduro. Product packaging is going from blue to black with a schematic of a cutter covering it. Mr. Almsberger took me through the beginning of a concept to its inception. The process from start to finish is a great amount of work as he showed me the file of one of their cutters. It seems they are constantly striving for perfection and not only working on new products but improving existing products.
Xikar doesnít just produce high quality cigar cutters; they also have knives, lighters, containers, cases, travel humidors, pens, money clips, wallets, and cigars. The highly rated HC Series cigars are blended by Jesus Fuego and manufactured by Nestor Palcencia. Right now there are three cigars Ė Connecticut Shade, Habano Colorado, and Criollo. I have only smoked the Habano Colorado and it was an excellent cigar. Check back here for a review of all three very soon! It is going to be a special review and 100% Xikar Ė cigar, cutter, and lighter.
Earlier I said I imagined Xikar to be this huge corporation when it is actually a small company with that welcoming small business atmosphere. The entire staff made me feel like I was at home and part of the Xikar team. While everyone was busy working you couldnít help but noticed they all seemed happy to be there. There was much preparation to do for the upcoming IPCPR show in New Orleans and with that and other business items I am sure much stress. You couldnít feel the stress in the air though. With all the work they had to do it meant a lot to me that they would take the time to show me around and talk with me. I imagine this may be why their headquarters is off the beaten path. Can you imagine if every cigar loving fool spotted their building and decided to stop in for a visit? Xikar cares about their customers so much I imagine they would take time with each person and never get their work done.
After 2 hours that went by way too fast I did not want leave. I am wondering if they might need a Vice President of Product Testing and Consumption. Xikar Ė The Best Thing To Happen To Cigars Since Fire. Xikar For Life. Xikar not only guarantees their products for life but that same guarantee promises them you will be their customer for life. Please visit them at www.xikar.com.
Thank you to everyone at Xikar who made my visit special. I didnít name you all but you all made a lasting impression on me. Special thanks to Mr. Kurt Van Keppel for being so accessible to your customers and for giving me this privilege of visiting.