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Building wooden boxes in different sizes for Habanos is the name of the game for the Tobacco Service & Container Company (TSCC) run by the Tabacuba Group. The company is headquartered in Havana, though it owns small workshops in Cienfuegos and Sancti Spíritus. In 2012, TSCC built 400,000 boxes and cases for next year’s cigar output, as the company’s chief Omar Dominguez Borja told Excelencias magazine.

He goes on to say that in all, the company produced “over 2 million boxes; 132,000 specials out of a 915,000-box plan, plus 1.1 million ordinary cases.” Unlike the ordinary output –he says– which are fitted out with paper hinges, “the special boxes are more valuable. They carry metal hinges, snap latches, seal printings, and are not sheathed. They are shipped to the customers either varnished or in the raw, and with all seals required for their identification.” 

“When they go to the factories, they the cigars and the labels are added. The boxes are then placed in a protector and they are shipped to the Habanos warehouses,” he adds. 

In addition to being good craftsmen, Mr. Dominguez says his staff is made up of genuine artists, whose top skills are required to build the deluxe Sir Winston cases, for instance. “The quality of its products is top of the line,” he says. “They master each and every detail in the process, from the very beginning to the perfect finish of the boxes.”

In the Heart of the Factory

In one of the production units, the Juan Manuel Marquez Base 01, it’s funny to see technology from the 19th and 20th centuries still running on all six, thanks in part to the endeavor and dedication of operators, which is crucial to meet the customers’ demands.

Following the wood retting and chopping in the saws, the pieces are placed in two machines that cut off the edges, a move required to assemble the boxes by means of tongue-and-groove joints. Before that, an equally olden print stamp the brass seals for each and every brand.

Workers use hammers to secure the assembling, while other sand down the surfaces into a perfect smooth. This process is done all over again for the finishing touch –after the printing is done. The boxes are sanded down again and the hinges and latches are placed before being varnished –if required.

Workers play a key role, and Juan Pablo Valdes Averhoff, director of Base 01, believes quality, out-of-hours labor, efficiency and speed are equally essential in this job, attributes that can only be honed through the experience and expertise that time chips in. “It’s not about a special skill or something out of this world, but rather people’s interest in their jobs,” he insists.

For his part, Omar Gomez Carrero, Operator “A” in box assembly, speaks about the complexity of this craftsmanship and how it differs from the automated systems. To him, “interest and love for the job are the two things that count the most. If that weren’t the case, you won’t make any headway, no matter how much you’ve been trained to get the job done.” It’s also important to recognize the complexity of the cigar boxes, since each and every one of them takes different assembly steps and measures to please the customers.

In the Pipeline

In the near future, the company will embark on investments aimed at opening a new factory in the Havana municipality of Guanabacoa. The new workshop could meet not only the current demand, but also a larger number of orders, Mr. Dominguez tells us.

“This investment process has already chosen the developer and work is under way to purchase the technology. Moreover, our company is wrapping up a study, in collaboration with the Forestry Institute, in order to provide Cuba with the proper technology for the making of other major complements: the foils, the planks and the cedar pegs.”

The company “counts on our tobacco, the soil conditions, the dedication of the planters and the expertise of our cigar rollers, coupled with the entire supply network” to keep putting this premium product in the world market.

It all leads to believing that Habanos, those undisputedly legit gems, will continue wearing their enthralling wooden vestments, all homemade and tailor-made.

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