Pleasure. Only a few manufacturers worldwide have the specialist knowledge required to manufacture high-quality humidors. At Gerber, a Duisburg family business, this has developed from generation to generation.
"Of course you can also take a glass of water and put it under a cheese cover," says Karl-Heinz Gerber junior. Before the trained carpenter and business graduate continues, he lets a few seconds pass: "But if the top right and bottom left should have exactly the same humidity and temperature, it will be a little bit more challenging."
Gerber speaks - with a lot of understatement and a touch of irony - of the unusual cabinets his company builds: Humidors - cigar storage and ripening chambers that make the heart of any aficionado beat faster. Works of art made of fine wood for passionate cigar smokers such as Arnold Schwarzenegger or Gerhard Schröder, who like to keep their valuable Cohibas Esplendidos, the "Chancellor Cigars", unit price 35 euros, in a suitable place.
When humidors make headlines, stories from the glittering world of the Jet Set are usually told. From the Paris luxury workshop Elie Bleu, for example, who designed Humidore for the 50th anniversary of the Cohiba brand. Sie had covered the wing door fronts with 48 Cuban Ligero tobacco leaves, which had previously been covered with 24 carat gold leaf.
Karl-Heinz Gerber naturally also fulfils every customer wish, no matter how unusual it may be. However, this should not be at the expense of technical quality. Because he's all about honest craftsmanship. His company - 50 employees, four million Euro turnover - is finally located in Duisburg, in the middle of the coal pot. The entrepreneurs there are like the city: straightforward, uncomplicated, down-to-earth.
Founded more than 130 years ago - Gerber is the fifth generation - the company generates most of its turnover with high-quality interior design, shop and exhibition stand construction, security technology, furniture design according to individual customer wishes and the restoration of historic windows and doors. Humidors represent only a small part of the total turnover, between 100000 and 300000 Euro per year. But it is these orders that give Gerber a lot of pleasure. "High-quality, hand-made furniture made to measure has always been our passion", says the junior boss, who took over the management with his father of the same name from his grandfather who died in 2008: "Over the decades, wooden boxes have become perfectly equipped, highly functional, moisture-regulated cigar cabinets, which we plan and build by hand in the company's own workshop.
An evolutionary process, so to speak, which is usually only crowned with success if someone has an intimate passion for the product itself. The willingness to get deeply involved in the details in order to develop tiny improvements over generations, which together make the decisive difference.
Yes, of course his great-grandfather "smoked" fat things himself, as they say in the pot. He himself is actually a "passionate non-smoker" and only uses a slowly matured Cohiba on special occasions: "When we hand over a particularly beautiful humidor to a customer".
Gerber compensates for the lack of a penchant for regular tobacco consumption by loving the material. He uses the wood of the Spanish Cedar (Cedrela odorata) for the interior fittings of the cigar cabinets. This belongs to the mahogany family and can store moisture for a long time. In addition, their wood has an antibacterial effect and is therefore largely resistant to fungi and other pests. However, the wood has a disadvantage. Es resin and must therefore be stored professionally. A further challenge: The cedar is subject to the Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and is only allowed to be smashed wild in very few places. Although it has recently been growing on plantations in Africa, it is not of the same high quality.
For Gerber this shortage of supply is even an advantage, because his family has a nice stock of cedar in stock. The precious raw material is used to create fascinating cigar cabinets, the sizes of which range from small humidors for journeys to boxes and cabinets to walk-in climate-controlled rooms weighing 350 kilograms - all of which are unique pieces made to customer specifications.
It takes twelve to 16 weeks until the handmade furniture can finally be delivered after several hundred work steps.
First and foremost, humidors naturally have a special function to fulfil. Because the key to the right cigar storage lies in the humidity of the air. It should be between 68 and 72 percent. If it's too wet, the collectibles get moldy. If it is too dry, however, they become hard and lose their aroma. Draught is also poison for cigars.
However, if the climate is right, cigars become better and better over the years. They then mature and develop undreamt-of aromas. Some particularly high-quality varieties with a strong flavour bouquet can be stored for up to two decades. Only then have they reached the perfect degree of maturity.
Creating the right climate is not so easy. Simple humidors lack the coordinated measurement and control technology. They release moisture in an uncontrolled manner using a sponge or polymer humidifier. The humidor is supplied from a tank filled with distilled water. The problem is that a small tank has to be refilled very frequently. And a larger one will germinate quickly unless silver is buried. As this changes the smell and taste of the natural product cigar, this variant is not an option for connoisseurs.
Gerber has solved this problem by using integrated electronic systems to humidify and dehumidify the cigars. Each cabinet is equipped with a humidification and dehumidification system adapted to the size and cigar collection. High-precision sensors constantly measure relative humidity. Fans distribute this moisture evenly in the humidor until the customer's desired target value is reached.
The dehumidification module works in a similar way. The electronic components as well as the lighting can be controlled by a programmable logic controller (PLC). "We're constantly evolving our humidors. Lighting, ventilation and humidification systems can now be controlled digitally via a web interface," explains Gerber.
The entrepreneur has even developed an iPhone app that allows the humidor to be managed from anywhere in the world. In the case of large humidors, the lighting is provided by intelligently placed lighting rods whose LEDs must be specially designed due to the humidity. And: Gerber also tries out new high-tech materials such as DuPont™ Corian®: "A fascinating material with a unique feel and beautiful gloss. It is durable and resistant. The poreless, hygienic surface can be maintained without great effort and optically joined together without joints, so that a homogeneous surface is created".
The humidor with the unique glass dome "Ascension" has already been produced several times with an outer shell made of DuPont™ Corian®. The at least 12000 Euro expensive cigar cabinet is an eye-catcher anyway: A hydraulic glass dome triggered by radio moves up and releases the treasures underneath. Thanks to the removable service board, these can then be presented in style. A buyer, Gerber says, had written him a wonderful letter of thanks, which ended with the words: "The most beautiful gift I could give myself. All my friends are impressed."
Such praise can be taken personally by Gerber. Although he employs carpenters specialising in humidors, he always carries out acceptance, inspection and certification himself. Of course, he is also responsible for development. As well as for advising demanding customers. "An American buyer, probably from the music industry, for example, wanted to know exactly how loud the humidor is," he remembers. "It's been a pleasure telling him: "You won't hear a thing.
Over the years, the Gerbers have sold "a mid double-digit number" of humidors - no, it's certainly not a mass business. In addition to private individuals, customers also include hotels such as the Adlon in Berlin, the Marriott Group or wellness hotels such as the Quellenhof in South Tyrol. The new Berlin airport BER will also receive a Gerber humidor if the airport is ever completed. Yacht owners as well as cruise shipping companies such as TUI Cruises or AIDA Cruises order.
"We do little targeted marketing and have no dealer network," says Karl-Heinz Gerber, "personal recommendations and word-of-mouth propaganda are more important in our business. Once a potential buyer has seen and touched one of our humidors in real life, he usually buys it."
In terms of countries, German and Swiss customers lead Gerber's index, followed by buyers from Asia. "For the majority of customers, it's simply a logical investment," explains the entrepreneur. "Whoever owns hundreds or thousands of cigars has already spent a lot of money and wants to protect this investment." At its peak, this protection is worth between 40000 and 50000 euros to its clientele. The borders are open at the top.
The Duisburg entrepreneur can imagine transferring the humidor concept of a cabinet with constant temperature and humidity to other product groups in the future: "In principle, this is interesting for all high-quality goods that need a stable microclimate. I'm thinking shoes and musical instruments. There have been initial inquiries."
Is he not worried about the decline in tobacco consumption and the increasing stigmatisation of smoking? According to the Federal Statistical Office, consumption of cigars and cigarillos in Germany has almost halved since 2007, with the number of cigar smokers falling to less than 700,000.
"That may be, but it doesn't affect the stylish cigar smoking. Luxury and enjoyment are all the rage." In the Gulf States and in Asia, it is only just becoming chic to set up a landlord's room with a humidor. He is more concerned about the quality of Cuban cigars: "Sometimes they don't ripen long enough before they go on sale. There's too much pressure on margins." He would like to see it for himself on site soon. When he finally finds time. Unless another cigar lover wants a humidor in a hurry.
The competitor - Humidors from Bavaria.
When the marketing expert and strategy consultant Carsten Schroeter, a passionate cigar collector, did not find a perfect humidor for his collection, he began to develop his own technology in 1993. This should meet the highest standards of climate stability and hygiene. A short time later Reposo, a small manufactory in Lenggries in the Bavarian Alps, was founded. Here Schroeter had the humidors handcrafted as unique specimens according to customer wishes together with long-established craftsmen. "I asked medical technicians how something like this works - to obtain expertise and advice from other industries," explains Schroeter, who prefers to talk about "vintage towers for cigars" rather than humidors. When he was satisfied with his work after a good 15 years, Schroeter began to market the works of art. From 2011 to 2016 he sells "almost three dozen" of his cabinets, an average price of 50000 euros, all of them high-tech devices that can be controlled with a smartphone. The inventor enthuses about a "completely different technology than that used by established manufacturers". "Only Gerber does something like this. Nobody else in Europe." In 2016 Schroeter sells Reposo to Metrica GmbH in Münster, Westphalia, a specialist in yacht interiors. Like Gerber, Metrica is also a family business, founded 325 years ago as a joinery. Why the sale? "Because I lacked the manpower to do it on my own. And I couldn't concentrate on my actual work anymore. But I'm still a strategic consultant, a lecturer and an event performer." There he explains the advantages of the Reposo 12 (for houses) and the Reposo Nautic (for yachts).
Author: Dr. Günter Kast