Shirts, Ashtrays and Order Forms
By the end of May 2004, I was still convinced the new ashtray had some potential. During the process of ordering samples from the factory I needed to develop a Logo. Back then, in the early days of my cigar hobby, one of my first e-mail addresses was StinkyCigar @ juno.com. Based on all the feedback from our weekly Wednesday night Herf’s, “Stinky Cigar Ashtray” had already been nominated as the name of my product and the ‘business’ name. One of our Wednesday night cigar buddies was an artist. Gerald Atkin was an exceptionally talented caricature artist and an incredible portrait artist. The subject of my need for a Logo came up. He volunteered! We agreed to setup a meeting at his office.
Gerald’s wife Judy was his business manager and actually ran all the business operations. They had contracts with many of the casinos and numerous corporate clients to provide caricature drawings for guests at the casinos and corporate events around the country. They had developed and grown their business to the point where they had to hire and train a staff of caricature artists to work the various casinos and events. Gerald was a very peaceful and reserved gentleman. He had led an interesting life with extensive travels around the world. During our weekly Wednesday night herfs, he would politely share many of his life experiences including his love for motorcycles. He should write a book. Judy most always accompanied him to the Wednesday night herfs and local cigar events. If he showed up without her, everybody would ask: “Where’s Judy?” While Judy very occasionally and rarely smoked a cigar, she was as much a part of Gerald’s cigar hobby as she was with his business endeavors. As a couple, they were one of the ‘regulars’ at the local cigar events. Judy was a sweet southern lady with the most polite personality and gracious manners. But you would soon find out her beautiful movie-star good looks and accommodating charms were supported with an invisible strong will and tenacious determination. Especially when it came to business!
The relationship developed with Gerald & Judy is typical within cigar communities around the world. The enjoyment of fine cigars is kind of like a hobby for the casual “cigar enthusiasts” we associate with. And, like any hobby (cars, guns, sports, woodworking, golf, poker, fishing, etc.) these friendships are a result of a common interest. Looking back over all the great friendships developed around the enjoyment of fine cigars, I’m delighted with the number of people added to my list of ‘good friends’ who are almost to a level of family. Maybe like a second cousin once removed or through distant ancestors. Still good friends none the less. Gerald & Judy certainly fit this class of friend. Although we don’t visit regularly, we still like to keep in touch.
Our first meeting to initiate the Logo design was fairly brief. I tried to express the fundamental graphic design criteria I had learned from my abilities and education in Industrial Design studies. A good Logo must be simple! It must be a unique icon, crisp and distinctive! NOT an intricate portrait with artistically elaborate details. I had no preconceived ideas of what it would be. I also added one more simple requirement: The Logo must be able to be printed in “Black & White” to keep continued reproduction costs down. Gerald made numerous caricature style graphics in an attempt to illustrate something that would go along with the name (Stinky Cigar Ashtray) as well as the ashtray we were going to label with the new Logo. But they all looked too much like a caricature from a cigar event. It was clearly ME smoking a cigar. Some of the graphic layouts had the smoke from the cigar swirling up and forming the word STINKY. Way too busy for my taste. They all had way too much detail and too many tiny lines to develop the caricature and his facial features. We decided to meet again after he had time to play with it and try some different ideas.
Time was short! The Logo needed to be finished so the factory could apply it to the ashtray samples. The second meeting was arranged. Of course, Judy had to join us. Judy was not afraid to jump into the conversation with her ideas and recommendations. Most of the layouts had been lackluster and unexciting up to this point. I was thinking to myself:
“God, I hope she gets a phone call and leaves the meeting! Then, Gerald and I can concentrate on the graphic design process.”
I was trying to articulate my ideas about the Logo. What should this Logo ‘say’ when you see it? There was a ball point pen setting on the table in front of me. I picked up the pen, held it like a cigar right in front of Judy’s face and said:
“HEY! I’m STINKY! . . . and I smoke cigars!” . . . as if to say; ‘get over it everyone!’ . . . ‘I like to smoke cigars and don’t care if you think I’m stinky!’
She paused for 2 seconds then her eyes opened wide as half dollars! She became so excited, she started waving her hands in the air like a schoolgirl who just realized she has the answer and wanted the teacher to call on her! She turned to Gerald and started reminding him of an add or a flyer or a coupon for pizza they had just recently used! She described the graphic of a guy taking a bite out of a big pizza and his head was really small, but the pizza was really big! Kind of like a close-up photograph taken with a fish-eye lens. Gerald was as puzzled as I was! His response was something like: “what the hell are talking about?” Judy continued describing the pizza flyer and the distorted size of the guy’s head chomping into the gigantic pizza! Suddenly Gerald said: “OOOoooohh! Oh yeah! He iterated his recollection of the pizza flyer and started sketching something on the yellow lined tablet in front of him. All he had within reach was a red ball point pen. It was the first attempt at what was to become the Stinky Cigar® Logo! I said; that’s it! Something REALLY simple like that! We agreed to setup another meeting after Gerald had time to develop some improved graphic layouts for a presentation that I could review and hopefully approve.
A couple days later we met again. Gerald presented his caricature style image with a large cigar in the foreground and small image of a guy in the background holding the cigar. I liked the concept, but the drawing was too busy with too many fine lines and details. I told him it needed to be much simpler. Less Lines and bolder lines. He sketched a few changes while we were sitting there. It was better but still needed to have fewer lines that were bold and thick. I was afraid my continued fussing over the simplistic and bold line requests might offend him. Finally! I approved the drawing. He immediately made the final graphic and signed it. I took the final original to a FedEx Kinkos Office & Print Center. I had a friend who was a graphic designer clean up the image so it would be better for future reproduction and printing.
The Stinky Cigar Logo was finished. I sent the new Logo to the factory along with some photos and dimensions. They agreed to make a sample as soon as I paid the sample cost and shipping fee. As soon as the sample was done, they sent a photo. It didn’t look right, but I need to see it and inspect the sample. The first sample showed up in about 45 days! Just one stainless steel sample and it was all wrong! I was shocked and appalled. Mostly disappointed. The stirrups were WAY too big! The rim was WAY too wide! The bowl was too small. Even the Logo on the oversized stirrups was wrong and distorted and it did not have my website.
Before contacting the factory, I made a drawing with dimensions. I specifically wanted the stirrup to be the right size and shape with the Logo and website. They made the changes to the stirrup and sent photos for my approval. While they were making a full case of pre-production samples, I asked the factory to send me all the defective stirrups as keepsakes. Then it occurred to me that I could use the new corrected stirrups as little handouts or souvenirs at the convention instead of the customary ball point pen with the company name and website. I ordered 1,000 stirrups and
gave them out at the annual convention for the following years. The free stirrup handout was very unique. People seemed to like it. For years to come customers told me they still had that stirrup from years ago. As a promotional handout, it worked very well.
Going back to the advice from the SBA consultant (Allen Bell), he suggested that I do not place a factory order for a production run until I had some sales to support the cash investment. He suggested I go to the convention with the case of samples and some simple order forms. See if they sell first. I had some flyers printed with color photos on one side and an order form with prices on the back. We had the samples, order forms and some polo shirts with the Stinky Cigar Logo embroidered on the left breast. Just in time! The show opened in 2 days.