Cigars International President Sarah Santos Interviewed by LVEDC
By Colin McEvoy on October 29, 2021
Cigars International retail stores took a hit during the pandemic, but as its customers turned to premium handmade cigars in their backyards or homes as a form of relaxation and reflection, the company actually saw its online sales increase during the COVID-19 crisis.
“It’s really been a challenge as it has been for leaders across the country to modify our approach to the pandemic,” said Sarah Santos, President of Cigars International. “Ultimately we’ve got our stride, we’ve got things running smoothly, and ultimately continue to experience growth.”
Santos was the interview subject in the latest entry in a weekly series the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) is conducting with new corporate leaders with some of Lehigh Valley’s leading companies and largest employers.
“There has been a record number of new and exciting leaders taking over major employers here in the Lehigh Valley,” said LVEDC President & CEO Don Cunningham, who conducted the interview. “… We’ve had nothing short of about 18 different new leaders from large employers.”
New videos in the executive interview series are released each Thursday at 11 a.m. on LVEDC’s Facebook page. The final interview in the series will be published on Nov. 4, featuring Rick Bucher, Chief Executive Officer of Victaulic.
Santos was named President of Cigars International in January 2020, just months before the pandemic reached the United States. She had been with the company since 2003 and had held various leadership positions in marketing and operations.
The company has more than 500 employees in the Lehigh Valley, and is currently undertaking an expansion project that will nearly double the space at its 113,500 square-foot facility in Bethlehem. Three of the company’s seven retail stores are also located in the region.
“We’re just really excited to be experiencing continued growth,” Santos said. “We continue to gain market share. I’ve got a great team that, in combination with tremendous cigar knowledge, has been enhanced with individuals from other industries that are bringing great perspective to the company.”
Established in 1996, Cigars International is an industry leader in online and direct marketing of premium to value segmented handmade cigars and tobacco accessories. Ninety percent of its business is through e-commerce and online orders, Santos said, and the company ships about 2.5 million packages from its Lehigh Valley facility each year.
Santos said the Lehigh Valley has been an excellent location to find talent for the positions Cigars International seeks, particularly because of the large number of high-quality colleges and universities in the region.
“Tobacco is a challenging industry, regulation is ever-evolving, so individuals who are ambitious, resilient, and up for a challenge certainly thrive in our culture,” she said.
Among the other topics discussed were how Cigars International coped with COVID-19 challenges, tobacco industry legislative and regulation in Pennsylvania, and the increase in female consumers and women in executive positions in the tobacco industry.
Past interviews in the LVEDC executive series have highlighted such companies as Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania, Lehigh Valley Plastics, Mack Trucks, Olympus Corporation of the Americas, and PPL Electric Utilities.
LVEDC had also launched an initial series of 10 video interviews in the fall of 2020.
Sponsors for the series include presenting sponsor Lehigh Valley Health Network; premier sponsor Capital BlueCross; gold sponsor Fitzpatrick Lentz & Bubba; event sponsors Boyle Construction, Klunk & Millan Advertising, Olympus Corporation of the Americas, interview sponsor Victaulic, and production sponsor Countess Communications.
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