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October 2014 Newsletter

XIKAR NATION
October 31, 2014
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Kurt's Corner


I am in costume and can't be found, as I
"(cigar) stick or treat" throughout the neighborhood. 

Happy Halloween XIKAR Nation!

Sincerely,

Kurt Van Keppel
President, XIKAR, Inc.

 

September 2014 Newsletter

XIKAR NATION
September 2014
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Kurt's Corner

 

Recently, reflecting on the power of observation, I have discovered that in so many of life's facets, observation provides the best first step to success.  There's power in doing nothing!

How can this be true in a world of fast-paced go get 'em business?  First, observation requires quiet, which tends to remove ego from the matter.  So, we stop talking when the sale is made, or more importantly, we listen to the customer's suggestion or complaint.  And by doing so, we learn so much about what's working or not. That's why we developed the PuroTemp remote humidification system - by listening to customer desires.

Secondly, observation gives us the opportunity to deploy the trio of great communication: ask, listen and (really) hear.  This is exactly how we understand the needs of others - whether product needs as noted above, or perhaps just individual needs among team mates. Not only does this integration of others' thoughts make them relevant to the discussions (be they inside XIKAR or out), but they also help us to communicate our respect and appreciation for them.

Most importantly, observation, combined with the tools of listening, enables us to achieve collaborative creativity.  And this powerful result has catapulted us into areas we didn't before dream possible.  You can imagine that we accomplish more and better solutions through collaboration.  And more importantly, everyone is part of the process.  Recently, we attended the Intertabak cigar show in Dortmund Germany, where we had the "official" launch of the Allume lighter family.  Our European distributors collaborated with us in the design and color choice of this lighter family - and it is now the #1 selling launch item in the history of XIKAR.

Enjoy the results of our observation process.  And if you have some observations of your own to make, please let us know!

Sincerely,

Kurt Van Keppel
President, XIKAR, Inc.

July 2014 Newsletter

XIKAR NATION Newsletter

July 31, 2014

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Kurt's Corner
 
We are back from Las Vegas, and the IPCPR Trade Show
was a tremendous success! Our team works hard all year
to create the newest and most cutting edge cigar
accessories, and this year was no exception. The latest
XIKAR innovations were inspired by beauty and power, from
the heights of mountaintops, to the depths of the ocean.
You will be prepared to take on cigars bigger than you've 
ever imagined
, and will never again find yourself without a
cutter on hand
. Of course, all products exemplify 
superior form, feel and function, the Essence of XIKAR!

The industry received our new accessories with adulation
at the IPCPR Convention, and we look forward to getting them into your hands. This newsletter will introduce you to some of the new XIKAR innovations, and we will continue to feature a new product every month through the end of the year. 


 I want to thank you all for your loyalty to XIKAR as we progress with our commitment to revolutionary product development. I am certain that you will be impressed not only with the new releases, but the future introduction of creative concepts as XIKAR continues to serve you... for life!

Sincerely,


Kurt Van Keppel
President
XIKAR Inc.

May 2013 Newsletter


XIKAR NATION Newsletter

May 28, 2013

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Kurt's Corner
Business Start-up/
Entrepreneurship
As Seen in the April Issue of Cigar Advisor

 

     Everyone has great business ideas.  Each time you think, "why can't I?", or "wouldn't it be cool if..." you might be pregnant with a good product or business idea.  Fifteen years ago, I thought, "wouldn't it be easier if I squeeze my cigar cutter closed with my palm rather than my finger tips? And if that cutter had a pivot point, wouldn't that leverage make the cut even more powerful?  Those questions defined a problem, which our Xi cutter solved.  Fortunately, many others agreed with the solution, even if they didn't know they had a problem (thank you)!
 
It's best if the solution is unique, even patentable, since those lend immediate market interest and protection. When the product isn't unique, it must at least have a unique meaning, or "position" in the consumers mind.  For example, think about pocket knives, which have been around for hundreds of years.  Yet the new position created by tactical knives like Spyderco reinvigorated the entire category.
 
But the road to success is littered with good, unique solutions. In today's competitive marketplace, products must carry competitive protection, a suit of armor.  Great service is one such protection (low price is another).  That, and because "do unto others" is part of our essence, is why we have a lifetime warranty.  Entrepreneurs should solve the "why" of buy - and not just the "what".
 
In order for an idea to become a business, the solution it provides must have appeal others are willing to pay for.  The great show, "Shark Tank" explores exactly that, and in my opinion, does a great service to inventors participating and watching - because it dramatically demonstrates the tough judgement of the market.  Many inventors fall in love with an idea, never stopping to consider whether others might be equally attracted. They ought to ask themselves and others, "would this make it on Shark Tank?"
 
XIKAR is fortunate to receive product inventors' ideas, and some, like our Ashtray Can, have obvious appeal.  This product quickly passed our review process, an accelerated launch, and now provides the inventor a
nice royalty (if you have a new product idea, please send me an email).  Others like the "Monica" cutter, didn't pass.  If you are old enough to remember Monica Lewinsky, you can imagine why!
 
The key to understanding the market for your solution is to test it. The test should be unbiased, as close to the marketplace as possible. If you don't have a product, discuss the "problem" with friends, acquaintances, even strangers. (I don't suggest discussing your solution at this stage.  While very very few people have the ability or low morals to steal your idea, this phase is still young enough that, if that happens, they could potentially get it to market before you).  Record their responses, and mold the solution to them in a way that feels logical to you. 
 
We did exactly this when in 2003 we decided to enter the lighter market. Specifically, we asked questions surrounding problems with lighters and with lighter warranties. XIKAR already had a solution - in our lifetime warranty, but needed to know if our solution was also unique - turned out it was! XIKAR for Life is the position that gave our first lighters unique meaning.

And in the meantime, we learned how to make interesting lighters with great function.  The first thing we found with lighters was that they are just like a car: moving parts, with an engine, that burns fuel. It didn't take long to realize that the single most important item in a lighter's function is the fuel -- just like a car.  Bad butane affects the engine just like diesel in a gas car, and good fuel gives a hot, clean burn.  So we introduced our own ultra refined fuel.  We also realized that like cars, the individual components impact not only immediate performance, but also longevity.  So at this point, we design the lighter, engineer the mechanisms, source the parts and oversee and inspect the production.
 
Even with very positive responses, the test isn't over. Simply put, the marketplace is by far the best test. It is the shark tank.  Show your first prototype to a group of your target consumer.  What do they think of it? How much would they pay for it? Feel free to describe the features of it, but be careful to stay clear of selling the advantages and benefits - you can't be there to make every sale! And since you can't, you want unbiased feedback before investing any more funds.
 
Early in our business life, we would take a product to market at this stage. On receipt of positive feedback, we would then go into full production, because demand during the cigar boom was so high, and we were very anxious to get the sales.  Fortunately, we didn't make many mistakes. But I can surely say that our endeavor into pocketknives lead to some beautiful product, and taught us volumes about blade and handle materials, edge grinds, and even introduced us to some current vendors. However, deeper research would have revealed that gentlemen's knives were on the wane, particularly after 9/11. Deeper serious study might have gained the same knowledge without the financial side track.
 
Today, we take one further test step - we order a "sample run" of sufficient units to test in a dozen stores around the country. This real, live test takes place with our standard retail package and in-store advertising. It therefore tells us all we need to know - whether a consumer sees the same solution we envision.  Our Ashtray Can and more recently our Vitara lighter passed the test.  Importantly, a lighter and a cutter didn't. 

Congratulations! Your solution, then an invention, is now a product. The market responded and demands the product.  Are you in business? Maybe... read next month's newsletter to find out. 

Kurt Van Keppel
President
XIKAR, Inc.

April 2013 Newsletter


XIKAR NATION Newsletter

April 30, 2013

 

Kurt's Corner

 

     Tim, one of my partners, compares marketing to a diamond – many facets that must each have polish, almost to perfection, to create the ulitmate value of the whole.  A single flawed element (in marketing that could be pricing, product or promotion, for example) can wipe out the value of other elements done very well. I view “Management” similarly. 
     Certainly few business activities have more value than the finding of the right people.  At XIKAR, we use interviews, resumes and a “work culture” survey to indicate work style and inherent traits, making sure they fit both the company culture and the job activity – “getting the right people in the right seats” to paraphrase Disney and others. Getting this right, getting high performers who emulate, even live the culture, prevents most problems and facilitates the other facets of management.
     Once at XIKAR, our associates deserve to understand our goals, and should be able to guide themselves by them. We accomplish this by setting overall objectives and then by including them in defining the specifics.  We then leave strive to provide the right amount of autonomy,  with the authority,  to achieve that responsibility.
     Associates also deserve recognition and reward.  We often hear that recognition is the more important of the two.  In my experience, both are required, but of the two, recognition is the harder to give. That’s not because we don’t give it or don’t want to, but because it includes and means much more than congratulating them on a job well done.  It also means recognizing their value to the organization and the value of their input by including them in the ideation and strategy process.  As a result, many of our ideas,  such as our best selling lighter, the Element, come from inside the team.
     And perhaps in our most important facet of management, we strive every day to treat our associates as we expect to be treated.  At XIKAR, we try to create a meritocracy of ideas.  At the trade show this year in July, we will introduce a new era of humidification technology that results from brainstorming, deep study and the outcome of many people synthesizing each others ideas.
     Finally, I view safety as the glue that binds the facets.  As long as we each are focused on innovation and extraordinary customer experience, then team members don’t risk when they take a chance on ideas.
     Hopefully, our diamond of Management creates XIKAR for Life among our team. And when you call, we hope you hear that in our voices and see that in our actions – and make XIKAR for Life your mantra too!

Kurt Van Keppel
President
XIKAR, Inc.

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