Cuban Cigar Website – a Conversation with FoH founder Rob Ayala (Part Two)

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Cuban Cigar Website – a Conversation with FoH Founder Rob Ayala

Getting into the Cigar Business

John Stivaktas: Take us back to 1996 when you first decided to get into the cigar business...what led up to that?

Rob Ayala: I had spent just over two years working for a good friend’s International Trade Company based in Singapore. I really loved international trade but with a young family I needed to spend more time at home. So after a long day looking at a Poly Staple fibre plant in Melbourne, we retired to Fidel’s Cigar bar at Crown Casino where we had a few drinks and enjoyed a Cohiba Siglo III. I thanked him for the opportunity he had given me and explained the need to be home more often. He asked me what I was thinking for doing for work. I replied that having always enjoyed them, I would like to find a way to get into the Cigar trade. He said he thought his family were Habanos agent somewhere in the world….and that is how I started as a fine upstanding parallel importing pirate.

JS: I understand you first set up business in the corner of a coffee warehouse. How did that work out initially and how did things expand?

RA: Dean Merlo is one of Australia’s coffee gurus and we started out roughly at the same time in the mid 90’’s. He had a spare retail space in his retail roasting factory at New Farm in Brisbane and he invited me to set up a Divan. Dean loves his cigars and he saw “coffee and cigars” as being a glove fit. Before you know it the doors were opened on the first Cigar Czar incarceration in 1996.

I took $236 in my first week of trade !LOL! I think anyone who starts their own business from scratch knows that gut wrenching feeling of the early days.

Trade steadily improved but I worked out early on that I wanted more of a global footing. The Internet was beginning to hit full steam and that is where I headed.

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Friends of Habanos Forum

JS: When and how did you get the idea of incorporating a forum to build a cigar community (which I truly love by the way!). Did you envisage that it would have a strong international profile?

RA: The forum came along in 2004. We had toyed with the idea for two years prior but I had no real idea if it was going to be a success. What I did know by that time was how close knit the cigar community was and a ”home” for my clients seemed a natural extension. They were raucous times with some brilliant cigar parties/festivities. There was so much happening not just in my own life but that of my cigar loving friends from all over the world. Friendsofhabanos became our clubhouse.

The culture of the forum was shaped by the members themselves and some superb initial mods like Ross, Wilkey, Trev, Ken and Guy. There is camaraderie among cigar lovers globally. We all face similar issues in our personal lives and in our cigar lives. The Forum was the perfect vehicle for many.

JS: When Trevor first contacted you about his Cuban Cigar Website and promoting it on FoH what were your initial thoughts about it?

RA: My initial thoughts were about the scale of the undertaking! There is no way you could not support such a benchmark resource in the world of Habanos

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Great work John

For those who don't know the history of Rob Trev and FOH its a good insight


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Thanks John for the interview and thanks to Rob and Trevor for all you guys contribute.

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