When a typical cigar enthusiast recalls the long and storied history of cigar making, and of all the parts of the world that cigars have been produced over the years…Montana is far from the first place we think of. In reality, Montana has one of the most vibrant cigar legacies that you may have never known about – and If Jess Coleman and Brandon Marsh keep on doing things the way they have been, it won’t be long before everyone has Montana on their minds.
The more I’ve learned about Big Sky Cigar Co over the past two months – the more confident I’ve become that more businesses need to operate like they do. Who among us hasn’t lost count of how many people and companies take the time to tell us that they are different instead of using that time and those resources to actually be different? A surprising amount of brand owners – cigars and beyond – often say that if they knew at the beginning how many obstacles there would end up being, they might never have actually started. Big Sky doesn’t say anything about being different, they just are. Not only did they know what they were in for, but they planned every step of their journey.
You can learn about Montana’s truly amazing history of cigars by reading this great 2012 Billing’s Gazette article and by watching this Big Sky x Boveda video. They’ve covered the state’s history wonderfully, so we’ll start where we always do at Cigar Public – with the people. They are Montana, through and through.
Jess – Big Sky’s President and CEO – grew up in the Bitterroot valley, eagerly experiencing every adventure that Montana’s western front has to offer. After graduating from the University of Montana with a business degree, he went on to earn a Masters of Business Administration from the University of Maryland.
Brandon – VP Marketing & Online Sales – earned a degree in Business Management from Montana State University and is a 5th generation farmer who enjoyed his first cigar with his grandpa while riding around the pasture checking cows.
They grew up in Montana, fly-fished in Montana, went to school in Montana, and were once young graduates seeking work in Montana. If you haven’t been able to tell yet, they care deeply about their home state. More than just caring, they actually do something about it. Whenever possible, Big Sky hires Montana talent. From the employees in their shop to the graphic designer that works on their bands, and everyone in between.
For most, that would be enough. Put it on the website and call it a day. Not for Big Sky. While in college, Brandon was part of a group that participated in a program operated by the Warriors and Quiet Waters Foundation – a Montana based therapeutic fly fishing program for post-9/11 combat veterans and their families. That experience stuck with him, and when it came time to determine what charity Big Sky was going to benefit, Warriors and Quiet Waters was the obvious choice. A portion of the proceeds from each box gets donated.
Raised that one should leave a place better than they found it, the Big Sky team even participates in annual Montana river clean up activities. This service oriented way of operating extends to their own products, too. When consumers had feedback for their Big Horn cigar, Big Sky didn’t try to spin it. Instead they went back to the drawing board and delivered a new blend to market – the Bighorn 2.0.
Big Sky, at every point, appears to be performing what is becoming more of a revolutionary act with every day that passes: the right thing. The wildest thing of all might be that none of this is a marketing angle, it’s just who they are. The team’s philosophy is an effective one, based on growing at a measured pace so that the level of quality and service can be maintained. One of the statements Brandon made on a call we had has stuck with me since. He said they realize what it is to be that guy looking for a cigar and what the expectations are. Their mission is a simple sounding one that takes a lot of work to pull off, to deliver a quality product that meets or exceeds those expectations.
Big Sky was built from the ground up and is completely debt free, which doesn’t just happen by accident. Growing the business the way they have has allowed them to pivot quickly when necessary in an ever changing marketplace. That agility, their talent for strategy – and most importantly, their values – have made for a potent combination. It is difficult not to try and imagine what the industry would be like if everyone conducted themselves this way.
At this pace, we may not have to imagine for long – Big Sky is helping to set an amazing example of what the new face of the industry looks like.