Boutique Smokes was Mike’s creation but he didn’t do it all alone. He chose Joe Berg, owner of Prod Designs to collaborate with on the website and brand design. Joe has a Degree and Masters in Product Design and set up Prod Designs after graduating from the School of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Leeds.
Mike met Joe on many previous occasions at different lounges and events. Mike is not an IT guy at all and decided about 2 years ago he needed to find someone who understood the IT side of the business but most importantly had a passion for the product also. Why you ask? Mike and Joe visited many cigar websites and came to the same conclusion; too many steps to get to order a cigar, too messy and too complicated. They had the same vision of a simple, clean website which would be easy to navigate. As Joe understood the product as well as the IT side, it was easy for Mike to explain his vision and for Joe to interpret it and make it a reality. There were quite a meetings over cigars and whisky. Now launched, Joe not only maintains the website but, also does the shipping and handles the emails sent to email@example.com so chances are you may have already spoken to him.
It did take a long time for Boutique Smokes to come to fruition; over 3 years as Mike recalls since the first interview he had with Cigar Journal with Nick Hammond. The main reason for this was that it was a pet side project, as Mike had his main business with Cuban cigars. It was also about setting aside the funds to make it happen.
It wasn’t an easy journey at all to launch Boutique Smokes, as brands came and went for a multitude of reasons. When Joe joined, there was more focus and motivation to get the website and the brands finalised. Communication between the brands was not always easy and initially it was a struggle to get the right photos as well as the content.
It was only in 2019, after Intertabac in September, that the final brand selection happened. Mike took Joe to his first Intertabac and it was very lucky he did. Mike caught a cold on returning from a trip to the Philippines and lost his voice just before the trade show. As Joe had listened to Mike’s cigar ramblings and ideas, he literally did all the talking for him at the 3-day exhibition. Mike couldn’t smoke at this time either, so Joe had to do all the tasting. Joe definitely got the taste for the cigar business there. It was crazy, at one point there was just 1 brand confirmed then 3 brands, then finally the launch 5 months later.
The challenge after finally selecting the brands was to get the content, photos, registration and first order done. Again, Joe was the kick in the ass that Mike needed to deliver the info on time, so he could complete the packaging designs and website ready to launch. The end result is a clean, simple and easy to navigate website for people to use.
On February 4th, 2020, Boutique Smokes went live. It was a surreal moment after 3 years. The UK’s first New World specialist cigar online site by a UK Habanosommelier Champion.
Here’s to Joe, long ashes!