Tobacconist University
Get Certified    |    Campus Store    |    R&D Lab    |    FAQs

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Certified Testimonial

You have been hearing me talk about the importance and value of TU and Certification for years now. And we get many kind and inspiring letters from Certified Tobacconists every month, but this testimonial has special meaning to me and it really captures much of the intangible, yet priceless, value TU provides:

“I cannot sing your praises enough, these certifications my employees have achieved with TU has meant so much to them, their pride is measurable in so many positive ways. As a store owner, TU brings a rare gift to me because no amount of money in bonus or spiff I could give could ever match the value of being a graduate of TU, my guys are so damn proud of their accomplishment and having their diplomas and PINS. Thanks for all the years of hard work you have put into TU because it is going to pay off for years to come for all of us involved in this unique and precious pursuit; loving the lore.
Kindest regards,
David Berkebile,
Georgetown Tobacco
Washington, D.C..
P.S.: You can quote me on this anytime.”

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Tobacconist Alamo

The most frightening thought in the world to any Tobacconist is that smoking bans will be instituted inside retail Tobacconist shops. It has already happened in Delaware and other parts of the country. In addition, many Tobacconists are going to court to preserve their right to smoke and sometimes just to prove they are Tobacconists – because the laws are so poorly and/or maliciously written. No other profession in the world suffers under such draconian laws. Sadly, the hostility of legislators and our society are making it more difficult to survive. Yet we persevere, not because the financial rewards are great, not for the prestige, but because we love our products and customers.

Obviously, Tobacconists must taste their products daily just to be able to communicate their value to customers; and customers need to sample products in order to make informed decisions. Not to neglect the fact that smoking in a smokeshop is akin to eating in a restaurant.
Yet logic alone is not enough to preserve our professional rights. Ultimately, the health zealots and nanny state will try to ban smoking everywhere; and retail Tobacconists will be the final frontier – the Tobacconist Alamo. Here at TU, we are preparing for that last stand. It is our commitment to prove our professional credibility and legitimacy through our curriculum and standards. Through Certifications we are building an army of Certified Tobacconists who are substantive and credentialed enough to fight for our rights. We are not just individuals who feel we have the right to smoke ‘just because’ or ‘just because we like it’; clearly that tactic has not worked. We are professionals who have invested time and money, our lives, into an honorable existence and we will be here to fight when the rest of the industry needs us.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

My Little Inventory

Inventory is everything to a retail Tobacconist. As we wrap up the fiscal year and analyze our inventory, it is hard to imagine that something so important, precious, and vital can be articulated on a few sheets of paper. The final printout for the year is 61 pages of SKUs, descriptions, costs, and more numbers. There are some oddball figures like 23,000 matches, 740 logo guillotine cutters, 111 pipe filters, 201 pipe screens, -927 waters, and probably $20,000 (retail value) worth of stolen products – this is something the public rarely realizes, but shoplifting is a brutal reality inside walk-in humidors; plus damaged cigars! I smoke so many damaged cigars I think I could play the flute professionally since my finger muscles are so well developed…. but I digress…..
What strikes me every time I do inventory is just how amazing the breadth and depth of our inventory is. In my little 680 sq/ft store the (Certified) Tobacconists have to be familiar with 100+ pipe tobaccos, 300+ cigars, 22 brands of rolling papers, dozens of pipes, humidifiers, humidors…. its even too daunting to summarize; but somehow we do it. Of course, we try to have specialists for every department, but it is still an overwhelming amount of knowledge to retain.
Currently, TU is working with companies who realize the unique challenges Tobacconists face, and together we are researching and developing new ways to help Tobacconists stay educated about their products. While TU teaches consumers and Tobacconists directly through the University, we are also trying to influence the way the industry teaches Tobacconists and customers. Getting manufacturers and distributors proactively involved will dramatically improve the amount of knowledge Tobacconists impart on our customers and society, thereby improving customer service and satisfaction. Just imagine, if it’s hard for Tobacconists….. what are our customers thinking? Well, …. don’t worry, we are on it…. but if you have any suggestions, please let us know!

Monday, December 1, 2008

100 Year Vision

TU does have a 100 year strategy in that we are “preserving luxury tobacco for generations to come”, and we definitely intend to be a vibrant institution in the year 2108. I also like to think in terms of a 100 year vision when focusing on my retail Tobacconist businesses. First, all companies should have a Vision & Mission statement, but it also helps to think very long term. After all, nothing good or significant gets accomplished overnight and fussing over quarterly stock prices and short term goals adds little value – as our current economy indicates. I am often inspired by retail Tobacconists that have been around 25, 50, or 100+ years (some of which are now Certified!). These Tobacconists (and businesses) always seem to have deep expertise in every facet of the industry; they are always proactive; they have cultivated knowledge, inventory, and traditions that translate into superior businesses. Since 1995 my retail company’s Vision & Mission statement has been:
Our Vision is to be the best luxury retail Tobacconist in the world, while providing an oasis for aficionados and connoisseurs.
Our Mission is to facilitate our customer’s pleasure through the dynamic interaction of our Ambience, Exclusive Inventory, Product Knowledge, Professional Service, and Commitment to Excellence.
My father used to say ‘ who do you want to be when you grow up?’; actually he said this when I was an adult and he was referring to my business. And it has been helpful advice to imagine what the endgame is and base current decisions on that goal. This mentality can put the petty issues of running a business into perspective and make you focus on the important facts.
If you are struggling or dealing with difficult business conditions in the present, it is important to look far into the future. Are you cultivating long term customers? Tobacconists? Business relationships? Saving to buy your own real estate? Investing in the future or squandering it away? The future starts now….. so, who do you want to be when you grow up? Plant those seeds today and you will reap their benefits in the long term.

- Jorge Armenteros, CMT

Monday, November 24, 2008

Georgetown Tobacco: A National Treasure

If you know me well, you may know that walking into Georgetown Tobacco in the early 1990s changed my life. I never knew the world of luxury tobacco existed until I stepped into that store; I was used to buying cigars at cafeterias on the streets of Miami. To this day I remember the extraordinary Tobacconists that helped me discover great cigars and new ways to savor my time – perhaps this is why I have such a fondness and respect for Tobacconists. And I can only begin to imagine how many thousands of people have been impacted the same way.

While Georgetown is coming up on its 45th Anniversary, and they just Certified their 11th CRT, it is no mystery why they are one of the world’s greatest retail Tobacconists. Starting with their founder, David Berkebile and every Tobacconist I have met in their stores, there is enough passion and knowledge on their sales floor to make any Tobacconist and customer salivate. While TU writes about putting Products & Customers first, I think that philosophy might have been absorbed from Georgetown. I’m sure someone could write a book on the knowledge, history, tall tales, and passion found at Georgetown; and I can honestly say that their retail store is one of the world’s most beautiful – in any industry!
Ultimately, we are lucky to have such an extraordinary group of Tobacconists Certified, and grateful for the things they have and will teach us down the road. Congratulations to Georgetown for continuing to be the best at what they do. And many thanks for sharing that with TU, your customers, and the rest of the world….. Looking forward to the next 45 years.

- Jorge Armenteros, CMT 

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Carry An Unlit Cigar II

“I am beginning to be able to really sympathize with smokers and to see how this treatment by institutions in our society really marginalizes them and makes them feel like social outcasts or pariahs. Were I a smoker, this would probably make me angry and motivate me to identify even more strongly as a smoker and to resolve even more strongly to continue smoking. Any desire to quit would be tempered by the viciousness of these anti-smoking advocates and their bigotry. I am starting to really see where many of my readers are coming from.”
-Dr. Michael Siegel
Smokers to Be Banned from Fostering or Adopting Children in Several Districts in Scotland
November 14, 2008
As I postulated over a year ago, we need to Carry An Unlit Cigar; mostly to project our existence and credibility; while refusing to be marginalized or de-normalized. Smokerism continues to rob more individuals and business people of their rights than any other legislative/social reality today. In Boston, cigar bars are on the verge of being voted out of existence by ‘health’ crusaders, college campuses everywhere are banning smoking on their property, and in Los Angeles they may make smoking outside of your home illegal. There are even Tobacconists in the United States of America that cannot smoke in their own stores, even though sampling and studying our products is absolutely necessary. We need to put ourselves ‘out there’! And as far as I know, even the ‘unpleasant’ smell of an unlit cigar (either partly smoked, or fresh) is still LEGAL everywhere!

At the very least, Carrying An Unlit Cigar (or Pipe) may give us the opportunity to talk to a few people and maybe even sway their opinion…. making converts and teaching tolerance while sharing our passions. Be a positive public ambassador for the luxury tobacco industry!!! If every cigar smoker convinced just 10 people to respect and value our rights, then we would be in the majority…
What do you think? Do you Carry An Unlit Cigar/Pipe? Making friends or enemies?

Jorge Armenteros, CMT

Friday, November 14, 2008

Butane Lighter Maintenance FAQ

Retail Tobacconists spend at least five minutes a day (20+ hours per year) helping customers learn how to properly fill their lighters. And, many customers spend countless hours trying to get their lighters to work properly. Most customers need to be taught the proper filling technique when they buy the lighter, while other customers return because they filled it incorrectly and think it is broken. Either way, this Butane Lighter Maintenance Video will save you and your customers time and frustration. Along with Humidifiers, Butane Lighters are the ‘trickiest’ products we sell so a thorough knowledge of the product is necessary to provide good customer service. For more information or help with lighter repairs, please visit the TU Lighter Maintenance FAQ.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

TU Outtakes

At the risk of inundating you with too much content this month, I can’t resist posting this Outtake video from our 2008 How To video shoot. We have put well over a thousand human hours into these videos and it is easy to forget how much fun it was.
My only lament about TU is that there is really no place for humor (or sex)…. and anybody who knows me knows I value a sense of humor (because I’m hilarious)…. so it is an especially nice treat to post something funny…. Hope you enjoy!

Jorge Armenteros, CMT

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Certified Tobacconist Impressions

The first step towards acceptance and credibility is to build awareness. A decade ago I had people laugh at me when I told them I was a ‘Tobacconist’. And, the society we live in barely recognizes us as a legitimate profession – most days they treat us like criminals. So, awareness is the first step towards carving out a respectable niche in our society.
Tobacconist University exists largely to build awareness and credibility for the luxury tobacco industry. While many more consumers visit TU than Tobacconists, we consider every impression we make a positive Certified Tobacconist Impression (CTI). CTI are created every time a consumer visits TU, thinks about TU, mentions TU to a friend, or says the words ‘Tobacconist University’. CTI are created every time TU helps somebody refill their lighter, learn how to cut their cigar, season their humidor, and enhances their appreciation of luxury tobacco: always educating and enhancing appreciation under the umbrella of “Tobacconist University”.
Ultimately, if you had to distill down the priceless value of TU into something quantifiable, you could think in terms of Certified Tobacconist Impressions (CTI). After all, you need something to measure and strive for when you are trying to change the culture and fighting for your freedoms. Knowing this, TU regards every Tobacconist Certification with extreme reverence. Every TU Certified Tobacconist goes into the world creating thousands of Certified Tobacconist Impressions per year; by showing customers and civilians that we are legitimate, valuable professionals. Every time a Certified Tobacconist mentions Certification, or shows their lapel pin, or posts their Certified Logo, an impression is made. Every time a human being thinks about Tobacconists as professionals a positive impression is made. In fact, every Certified Tobacconist creates between 15,000 (lazy Tobacconist) and 50,000 (not lazy) Certified Tobacconist Impressions (CTI) a year (conservatively estimated). At this rate just one thousand Certified Tobacconists can create 50 MILLION positive impressions per year. Ultimately, this simple notion of projecting and leveraging our credibility through Certified Tobacconist Impressions (CTI) is a big part of how we will “preserve luxury tobacco for generations to come”: one Tobacconist at a time, one impression at a time.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Guns, Tobacco, Fear & Control

“Where the rights of men are equal, every man must finally see the necessity of protecting the rights of others as the most effectual security for his own.”- Thomas Paine
Dissertation on First Principles of Government -1795

On a personal note…. I have one sister, twenty one years younger than me. This picture was taken two years ago in the D.R. – right about the time she told me a policeman came to her class, wearing his uniform, badge, and gun, to lecture the students about the dangers of tobacco. Of course the lesson was not un-biased or purely factual. Rather, it was about fear. They did not tell her ‘cigarettes can shorten your life or lead to illnesses’; they told her ‘tobacco and smoke are disgusting, immoral, and kill’. While I know that life kills, and fear can be an effective motivation for children, and teachers can exaggerate to make a point, to this day, I cannot fathom why a man with a gun is sent to schools to ‘teach’ and threaten children. Frankly, it has taken me two years to calm down enough just to write this piece…. In fact, a big part of the reason I started this blog two years ago was because I was so infuriated by my sister’s story and needed a place to voice my opinion and tell these tales. And, someone has to question how the anti-smoke people have influenced legislators to the point that they are employing our police to promote their agenda … WTF is happening?

I remember in high school a policeman came and lectured us about the dangers of drinking and driving: at least that made sense since the crime takes place on our roadways where innocent people can be hurt. But where is the crime in smoking? And why are the police talking to children about it? And why the gun?

On a positive note, my sister comes to my house and walks into my humidor just because she loves the smell. Thankfully, she is smart and free enough to think for herself; but, for how long? In Cuba they have signs everywhere insulting ‘capitalist pigs’ and the only people with guns are the cops and military; I suppose that is why my family came to this country. But, in America there are already advertisements insulting smokers (of all kinds), disparaging fat people, and basically equating anybody who is not ‘healthy’ or ‘normal’ as immoral or inadequate. Yet, I can’t watch TV for half an hour without seeing erectile pill commercials or advertisements for pharmaceuticals to make us all happy and fill us with ‘energy’.
Meanwhile, the hypocrisy of our legislators/government and the degradation of our rights is only getting worse…. Today I read an AP article about an Alabama Botanist who was arrested because the wildflowers on her property were a nuisance. People actually complained about the annoyance of flower aromas!!!
As the son of refugees, I cannot forget the value of freedom, and the need to defend it: that is why I am a Certified Tobacconist. And, I have put every resource at my disposal towards defending my profession and helping others do the same. Ironically, at this rate, I will end up a Certified ‘drug dealer’ in the nanny state’s eyes…. and so will my plant, coffee, alcohol, and food loving friends. That cop who terrorized my 10 year old sister may very well arrest me for smoking a cigar on the sidewalk one day. In the meantime, real drug dealers who peddle anti-depressants, anti-anxiety drugs, 5-hour energy drinks, and erection pills continue to live down the road from me in mansions I can’t even afford the taxes on. The America I love seems to exist only in my mind and heart now…. and within the four walls of every retail Tobacconist who is still allowed to smoke in their business and home. As I write this very personal blog, my last living grandparent lies on her death bed, incoherent and unaware that the America that embraced her inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness is not so different than the country she fled; in this rare case I think that ignorance is bliss. But, the rest of us have no excuse.
My point is not simply to vent here… it is two-fold:

1. to compel you, my fellow Tobacconists and citizens, to get Certified and project your credibility. Be Proactive! Don’t be apathetic. Don’t ever give up. First we must educate ourselves, and then we go about teaching others (Tobacconists Are Teachers).
2. to remind everyone else that real freedom involves protecting others’ rights, not just the rights you like and/or use.

Disclaimers: I have cop friends and customers who I love; I think guns are awesome – when they are not killing or intimidating people; I love plants and flowers and their aromas; I love my sister and family, no matter what they think or feel; I have lots of friends who take the legal drugs mentioned in this article; I believe smoking is a human archetype and delicacy which will always be and should be enjoyed by a significant percentage of the population; I don’t like the use of chemicals or additives in tobacco or food; I eat meat and fish; however you define ‘health’, it is useless without freedom – and legislating ‘health’ is simply a way to control people; I drive like an old lady, have never had a dui/dwi, and have not had a moving violation in my adult life (’knock on wood’); I am only superstitious, ‘just in case’; I think people who sky dive and bungee jump are crazy and I fully support their right to do it – just like I support any person’s right to think, say, and do anything they want as long as they do not infringe on another person’s ability to do the same – that’s American!
Jorge Armenteros, CMT

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Tobacconists In Art

300 American Tobacconists M-Z (1980)
Dick Jewell
Copyright: Dick Jewell
Courtesy of the artist and Rachmaninoff’s, London
Dick Jewell is a British artist living and working in London. The images in this very unique piece came from a discarded filing cabinet drawer he found laying on the pavement in New York City during the late 1970s. Intrigued by the range of quality and type of images (from photo booth miniatures to studio photos), Mr. Jewell created this extraordinary piece which reflects Tobacconists’ ‘individuality and cohesion as a group of specialists’.
Well, many thanks to Mr. Jewell for recognizing our humble profession as one worthy of being represented in his art. While we know about Cigars & Art, it is refreshing to see Tobacconists in art. Let’s see if any American Tobacconists recognize themselves in these photos…
Ultimately, when these photos were found they were artifacts depicting a dying breed of professionals: perhaps, that is why they ended up as trash on the sidewalk. Regardless, we are now living in a new era. While hysterical anti-smoke sentiments and smokerism continues to hypnotize people around the world, the Tobacconist profession is resurging; as anybody wanting to savor their time knows the true value of luxury tobacco. Fighting back from the brink of extinction is no easy task, but I cannot imagine a group of passionate individuals more capable of meeting the challenges. As we move forward, we must remember and be thankful for all of the Tobacconists who came before us – thankful for their ‘individuality and cohesion as a group of specialists’

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Perfect Cut

This new Perfect Cut video is a significant milestone in TU’s development. The future of our academic curriculum, FAQ, and Glossary, will all be video and slideshow driven: giving consumers and Tobacconists educational alternatives with entertainment value. We are previewing The Perfect Cut here, before it goes up on the FAQ. Videos to follow include:
  • Lighter Maintenance
  • How To Light A Cigar
  • How To Pack A Pipe
  • Calibrating A Hygrometer
  • Seasoning A Humidor
  • and many, many more….


Friday, October 17, 2008

Gift Packs

Gift Packs, also known as Sampler, Variety, and/or Assortment Packs, are Tobacconist and customer favorites. A Gift Pack usually comes in a special box with a limited selection of cigars: the cigars can be a vertical, horizontal, random, multi-brand, and/or limited-edition/special-release assortment. Gift Packs can also include accoutrements like lighters, cutters, and humidifiers. We refer to them as ‘Gift’ Packs because they make great gifts and Tobacconists usually sell them as such. Consequently many companies release their special Gift Packs during the holidays. Retail Tobacconists sell more Gift Packs during December than all the other months combined.
Gift Packs give customers the opportunity to buy a small selection of beautifully packaged cigars without having to spend more on a standard box of 20 or 25. Astute and proactive retail Tobacconists can also create their own custom Gift Packs (see Gift Packaging) for their customers. Custom Gift Packs are a great way to tailor and add value to your customer’s experience, as well as a bona fide competitive advantage.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Cutter Etiquette

Cigar Cutters touch the head of the cigar that will touch your mouth; so they must be kept clean. Tobacconists must have sanitary procedures in place to keep cutters clean and protect their customers. Every day customers put a cigar in their mouth and then ask for a cut or cutter. The easiest solution for retail Tobacconists is to have two cutter options on hand: a ‘Clean’ cutter and a ‘Saliva’ cutter. The Clean Cutter should never be used on a saliva tainted cigar. The Saliva Cutter can be used on the saliva tainted cigar and sterilized quickly with hand sanitizer afterwards.
Standard hand sanitizing gels can be used to sanitize a Cigar Cutter and blade. Simply use your hands or a paper towel to carefully coat the cutter with sanitizing gel, remove excess, and allow to dry for a few minutes.
All Cigar Cutters need an occasional cleaning as tobacco and oils accumulate. Often, the debris and oil can inhibit the cutting and/or movement of the blades. To clean blades, apply a solution of warm water and antibacterial soap with a cotton swab or cloth, then wipe dry. Also, remove any tobacco and debris from the cutter’s frame.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Gift Packaging

Nothing adds value like free Gift Packaging for customers. And, Tobacconists already have the most precious item on hand – empty cigar boxes! Packaging gifts for customers has many benefits, including:

· Higher Customer Satisfaction
· Competitive Advantage
· Stimulates Up-selling
· Branding Opportunity
· Promotes Loyalty
· More Memorable
· More Impressive

Gift Packaging, especially during the holidays, creates more special and valuable presents. The gift-givers will remember your store and the receivers will come back for more.
The cigar box Gift Packaging method shown here only requires Tobacconists to purchase inexpensive paper stuffing; as you should have branded business cards, ziptop bags, matches, and cutters in stock. In addition, this gift box shows a branded sticker opportunity on the inside lid and another sticker sealing the box – these stickers can be made on store bought labels with a rudimentary computer. Get creative and use every opportunity to reinforce your brand with your customers: it will pay off in the short and long term.

TIP I: Prepare your gift boxes ahead of busy times – keep them loaded with stuffing, business cards, resealable (ziptop) bags, matches, cutters, and stickers. That way, it will only take a few seconds to prepare and your customers will be impressed.

TIP II: During the holidays, add a red bow to anything and you have an instant gift pack.

TIP III: Have branded coffee mugs made and you have an instant up-sell.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Cigar Rolling Table Plans

Every retail Tobacconist should have at least one: Cigar Rolling Tables are perfect for year- round merchandising as well as cigar rolling events. Having an authentic table, as opposed to a plastic or temporary table, is important to the roller, customers, and Tobacconists. In addition, Cigar Rolling Tables are great for special merchandising, sale items, or to be used as desks for customers, and they contribute to the authentic environment in your store.
Cigar Rolling Tables are distinguished by a partial top shelf (approx: 40″ high) over the standard table top (approx: 30″ high). The partial top shelf creates extra space on top for placing finished cigars, while the space underneath hides the goma, guillotina, water, leaves, and other incidentals. The following materials list and plans outline the materials and steps necessary to create your own Cigar Rolling Table. Whether you apply expert craftsmanship or rudimentary skills to this project, it will be worth the effort.

A Cigar Rolling Table can be made of almost any type of wood, including oak, pine, cherry, or walnut. After you have prepared your materials, you can follow these steps to assemble your Cigar Rolling Table.

*TU is not specifying what construction or carpentry techniques to use. Go with whatever skill set you have. If it’s rustic and sloppy, it won’t matter! It will just look more authentic! I built my first cigar rolling table in 1995 with plywood, drywall screws, and a little bit of dark mahogany stain: we still use it to this day! And the horrible craftsmanship only adds character.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Grow The Pie

Grow The Pie. That’s the point of TU. Its the purpose of education. It’s the reason for Certification. Grow the pie, Grow the pie, Grow the pie.
Its worth repeating because the retail Tobacconist pie has been shrinking for decades. Furthermore, perpetually increasing taxes, smoking bans, mail order, and anti-smoking legislation threaten our industry more than ever. Yet, if you converted just 10% of cigarette smokers to cigars, you would practically double the size of the cigar industry (see Smoking Stats for proof). These are profound facts!

To paraphrase the Outlaw Tobacconist Genius:

‘If you focus on growing the pie, your slice automatically gets bigger.’
While the luxury tobacco industry is filled with brilliant business men and women, it has been forced into self-preservation mode for decades. Companies are terrified of legislation and taxes; they hyper-focus on economies of scale, internal efficiencies, and maximizing ROI, all while margins decline, products get commoditized, and taxes increase: it’s a brutal scenario.
Not surprisingly, until Tobacconist University, we were practically the only industry without formalized education and certification standards for professionals. But the challenges are far from over for us. Now, Tobacconists, manufacturers, distributors, and consumers of luxury tobacco must get involved and work together to project our credibility and preserve our future.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Bad Customer

While it sounds like an oxymoron, it is true; there are Bad Customers.
Some customers are disruptive to others, some steal, some are vulgar, others talk loudly, and some cause drama or complain about trivial matters. In my stores we have a written sales policy by the register and part of it says “… if you are rude, pompous, or annoying, please leave and never come back”. And occasionally we must reference this item and kick someone out. I always wanted my stores to be inviting so I decided long ago that some customers are not worth the trouble. Getting rid of Bad Customers lets us focus on the customers who deserve our attention.
I remember during my first month in business I asked my father ‘isn’t the customer always right?’ and he said ‘of course’ …. followed by a long pause…. and then he said “unless you are willing to lose that customer“. Well, I learned early on, some customers are worth losing. But, knowing this does not make it any easier to lose a customer. Customers are precious – and not easily replaced. Above all, our customers make a choice to spend their money with us and that is an honor, so losing one is not a decision that should be taken lightly.
A week ago we ‘un-customered’ someone and it has been popping into my head everyday since then. This customer, we will call “Slava” is a perennial nuisance. Years ago we asked him to stop yelling at his wife in the store and ‘take it outside’. He didn’t come in for months after that: he actually thought we were being rude. Now that I look back, I wish he had never come back… but saying goodbye to a customer is like breaking up – very difficult. Last week Slava pulled a cigar out of the cellophane and stuck it into his nostril (see picture), leaving a glossy sheen of mucous. He then paid for it, got his change, and went back into into the humidor to exchange the cigar he stuck up his nose. Well, of course this is disgusting and unsanitary so we told him he would not be able to exchange the cigar. Being the narcissistic imbecile that he is, he got angry, insulted us, and stomped out of the store. Good riddance Slava! Now you can go torture some other poor retailer for $2.69.
Ultimately, I am confident we did the right thing, but that doesn’t stop it from hurting. Again, because every customer is precious.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Figurado Geometry

Figurados come in a variety of lengths and shapes. Some taper at the Head, some taper at the Foot, and others taper at both ends. Furthermore, the taper, Ring Gauge (rg), and shape of the cigar can also vary. This is why Figurados can be some of the most difficult cigars to roll. And, in the end, each Figurado Vitola will smoke, feel, and taste differently, depending on its construction, composition, and geometry.
In particular, Figurados with a tapered Foot, such as Perfectos and Salomones, tend to have the most flavor changes – as their Ring Gauge (rg) expands. In general, the smaller rg towards the Foot pronounces the Wrapper and Binder flavors more; while the Filler flavors begin to express themselves as the cigar is smoked and the rg expands. These Figurados ‘start slow’ but enable the smoker to isolate the Wrapper and Binder flavors towards the beginning.

Watch the video below to see how extraordinary Figurados get rolled.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Wrapper School: Cigar Geometry

Geometry is helpful to study the composition of a cigar since it represents the Wrapper, Binder, and Filler proportions. As consumers, we are always interested in the Diameter (Ring Gauge – rg) of a cigar, but we rarely think of the Circumference (Wrapper + Binder) and Area (Filler) implications.
Imagine looking directly at the Foot of a cigar: what you see is a circle. The Diameter of that circle is the Ring Gauge (rg) – where the rg is measured in 64ths of an inch. If you look at a 32rg cigar, its Diameter is 1/2 inch. The Circumference (distance around) of that circle is 1.57 inches: this means that it takes 1.57 inches of both Wrapper and Binder to cover the cigar*. A 32rg cigar has an Area of .1963 inches: this means that the Foot (Filler) Area is .1963.

When you double the rg (Ring Gauge) of the cigar, extraordinary changes occur. A 64rg cigar has a 1 inch Diameter and a Circumference of 3.14 inches – the Diameter and Circumference have simply doubled. More importantly, the Area (Foot – Filler) of the cigar has increased from .1963 (32rg) to .7854 (64rg) – a four fold increase. This means that when the rg doubled, the Filler quadrupled!

So, doubling the rg quadruples the Filler. From this you could infer that a thinner cigar will express more of the Wrapper and Binder flavor; making the Filler flavors less pronounced. Alas, this is too simple. Cigar makers and blenders must adjust the Filler components (ligero, seco, volado) to make the cigar burn properly. If the cigar maker wants to pronounce the Wrapper more on a thinner cigar, then they will adjust the ligero and other components accordingly. If they want to recreate the same flavor profile as the thicker cigar, then they will adjust the Filler blend to that end. Ultimately, the cigar will reflect what the maker and blender are trying to achieve, and that all depends on their vision.

* It will take slightly less than 1.57 inches of binder since the wrapper covers the binder. In addition, this formula does not account for wrapper overlap which occurs naturally during cigar rolling. Nonetheless, the math is accurate enough for our purposes.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Tobacconist Philanthropy: Cigar Box Charity

The nature of our business presents a unique charitable opportunity; that is, Cigar Boxes. People love cigar boxes! And Tobacconists usually have plenty of them. Unlike a restaurant which has no use for left over food, empty cigar boxes actually have value*. In my stores we sell the boxes for $3 and give the money to a no-kill animal shelter – Last Chance Ranch**. In addition, we give away boxes to children and teachers for projects and hobbies. But, hands down, my favorite Cigar Box charity is the animals. Just last week the shelter received two dogs from a woman who had lost her job, was living in her car, and could no longer take care of her pets. I can’t imagine how difficult her life must be, but I know she found comfort in knowing her pets would be well taken care of.
So, Tobacconist University wants to know….
Let us know as we are developing Service College content on Tobacconist Philanthropy – we estimate that Tobacconists give more to military service men and women than any other retailer group – not to mention schools, churches, arts organizations, etc… And, every Tobacconist gets a steady stream of people requesting product and money contributions… so there is a big story to tell about Tobacconists and charity.
**The Last Chance Ranch saves horses, pigs, chickens, geese, goats, mules, donkeys, sheep, dogs, and cats; actually, they will save any animal, rehabilitate it, and find it a happy home.
* Cigar Box Value: cigar boxes are also useful as gift packaging and for custom samplers.

Tobacconist Philanthropy

Merriam-Webster defines Philanthropy as
“: goodwill to fellowmen; especially : active effort to promote human welfare”
Clearly, any good Tobacconist is by definition a Philanthropist. But, Tobacconists actually contribute to local, national, and international charities in innumerable ways. The Tobacconist Philanthropy content in Service College is meant to highlight the ways in which Tobacconists selflessly give back: whether by donating cigars to our troops or giving to charity auctions, hurricane relief, school fundraisers, and more. Tobacconists are both local and global merchants who give professionally and personally, every day.

If you are a Tobacconist Philanthropist who goes above and beyond, let us know how – we will use your knowledge to teach other Tobacconists.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Art & Cigars

One of the most important things we teach consumers, Tobacconists, and society is the amazing and unparalleled nature of the premium cigar. Great works of art, crystal, furniture, and architecture are created in less time than a great cigar; and they last lifetimes! …while the destiny of a cigar, through combustion, is to return to dust. In fact, hundreds of people and thousands of years of human knowledge and experience go into every premium cigar!

Indubitably, great cigars are works of art. Great cigar makers are artists. And retail Tobacconists are the curators of these precious miracles. At TU we consider ourselves to be in the art preservation business: preserving luxury tobacco for generations to come.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Cigars = Vacation

We know that our sense of smell is most closely linked to memory and emotion. And that our sense of smell has the greatest impact on our enjoyment of luxury tobacco – try smoking with stuffed sinuses to prove it. Pleasant aromas are relaxing. In fact, pleasant aromas have the power to transport us to a better ‘place’, a better feeling. Whether we are talking about the smell of grandma’s cookies, the ocean, or a great cigar, pleasant aromas force us to take notice and enjoy the moment. Those who enjoy luxury tobacco know that aroma transcends our daily responsibilities, stresses, uncertainties, and challenges.

The aroma of luxury tobacco forces us to settle down and appreciate the moment; the little things. Great tobacco is a compelling delicacy which helps us appreciate our time. What could be more important than savoring your time? Great cigars are like a mini-vacation! Use them as intended and you will enhance your quality of life.

* Tobacconist Anecdote: Lately, I have been seeing many more of our retail customers stopping to have a cigar in the shop. Customers who would normally walk out after their purchase look at the couch like a starving man looks at a steak. Once they realize the couches are there for them, they walk over and plop themselves down, immediately letting out a deep exhale. At first they have a glassy look in their eyes, then they remember they have a cigar in their hand and they start to look at it, touch it, and finally light it. After just a few puffs their demeanor begins to change. They watch the smoke waft delicately into the air and their gaze begins to relax. Within a few minutes they start letting go… their body and mind releasing tension. Eventually, our customers leave the shops happier, brighter, and lighter than when they entered. It is an extraordinary transformation. Every Tobacconist has seen this happen, and I think this is happening a lot more lately. But this is just proof that Tough Times = Better Business. People need great Tobacconists more now, than ever…. so get to work.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

New Customers: Car Dealers & Motorcyclists

Customers are defined by their Values.
Tobacconists are defined by the Value they Add!
Some of our best customers are car salesman and dealership owners. I can count hundreds of thousands of dollars in income from car salesmen and dealers since I have been a Tobacconist – their business has more than paid for every car I have owned over the years. These are truly special customers, for many reasons.
Firstly, dealership owners tend to be the embodiment of the products they sell. They are freedom loving, individualistic, and quintessentially American businessmen. This is also a pretty good description of the average cigar smoker too!

I have had several dealership owners who regularly purchased large quantities of cigars for themselves and their staffs.

Many owners and salesmen shop with us when they want to thank a [shared] customer who just purchased a car. – Maybe we should encourage our customers to tell their car salesmen that they love cigars from ‘put your store name here’.

Another benefit of the car salesman/dealer customer is the great deals. Both my customers and I have benefited greatly from these special customers – as always, cigar smokers share a special bond.

Perhaps the most interesting benefit of the car dealer customer is the event potential. I once had a formal cocktail party/cigar tasting event in the service garage of the Land Rover dealership. I must qualify that the garage was beautiful, spotless, and oddly elegant when filled with luxurious automobiles. In addition to this type of event, there are many other opportunities for marketing, promoting, and co-branding with car dealerships and clubs. Some ideas include:

  • share mailing lists
  • car club meetings at your shop
  • outdoor booth at dealer and club events
  • showcase luxury automobiles at your shop
  • offer gift certificates or coupons to a dealership’s customers
  • give a free cigar to new car buyers, like when a baby is born
  • negotiate special offers for your customers from a dealership
  • advertise in a dealership or car club brochure, internet site, or newsletter

So the lesson is…. get to know the car dealers and salesmen in your area. Find out if you can work together to better service your customers. And treat them well, as they will you.

Also, just substitute the word "CAR" with Motorcycle/Motorcyclist in this blog and you have another group to market to and with!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Tough Times = Better Business

I have been getting lots of emails from Tobacconists worrying about, and struggling with, the current economic downturn; not to mention innumerable conversations on the topic. Overall, I would say half of the retailers I have spoken to say business is down significantly. The other half are either flat, or [claim to be] growing – but much of the growth is from newer stores. Either way, these are difficult economic times and many people are hurting.
My retail businesses are down a few percentage points. To me, this is a significant problem: if it wasn’t for [some of the annual vendor] price increases, we might be down 8 to 10%! And of course there is the rising cost of freight, energy, rent, and everything else. Ultimately, if you’re not growing, you’re declining.
Now we must do some things to CUT COSTS:
  • Re-negotiate our CC* processing fees
  • Re-assess our phone line(s) usage
  • Tighten up Labor
  • Look for more profitable products
  • Start charging for freebies, like water, shipping, etc…
  • Buy more generic packaging materials: zip-top bags, shopping bags, etc… (in fact, we have cut back to just one size zip-top bag for cigars – I really miss the 4×8 but the 5×10 fits everything)
  • Clean & Organize! This process will help you find dead weight, inefficiencies, and opportunities
*The credit card processing fees, in particular, are a great place to start: get a quote from their competitors and ask your company to match the price – last year we saved over $500 per store!
While cost cutting is important, I am much more fond of re-investing, making improvements, and enhancing service. I have been through tough times before and always made money.
The only way I know how to get through them is to be proactive; not to shrink in fear – don’t make decisions rooted in fear. Already this year, my shops have seen new computers, cabinets, furniture, products, and more. Keeping the shops fresh and invigorated is imperative during tough economic times: Customers Will Notice! Even if customers don’t say something about your proactive efforts, they will notice both consciously and subconsciously.
I think the worst thing you can do during difficult times is:
  • Shrink Inventory Noticeably
  • Change Your Vision (i.e. get rid of great cigars and replace with bundles)
  • Decline Service Standards (Step It Up!)
  • Complain to Your Customers (Don’t Lie & Don’t Whine)
  • Make Decisions Based on Fear
If anything, this is the time to be grateful for your existing customers: say hello, please, and thank you; fulfill special orders; ask them what they want and exceed their expectations! Frankly, a great cigar is just what we need during difficult economic times. We are in the business of selling relaxation, quality of life, decompression, escapism, and camaraderie – the cigars are consumable but the value is priceless. I see many new and old faces coming through the shop lately and they look like they need a cigar! This is a great time to provide a sanctuary to your customers – they will be grateful for it.
** If you need help, suggestions, advice, ideas, or would like to contribute some, please send us an email.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Price Everything

In retail, it is imperative to price all of your products. There are countless stories from customers who have asked for prices and received different answers (on different occasions) from their Tobacconists. This leads to a lack of trust, loyalty, and eventually a declining business. Not pricing products can also lead to selling them for less than our standard markups, so pricing everything protects our margins.

Ultimately, we owe our customers a clearly articulated price on every item in our store: it is one of the fundamentals of professionalism. While every Tobacconist knows that pricing the hundreds or thousands of products in our store is a challenge, it must be done.

The pictures in this section show a myriad of pricing techniques and styles: some products are priced discreetly to avoid ‘cluttering’ the display, while other products, like cigars, have very prominent labels. Labeling decisions are up to the individual Tobacconist, but every product should still be priced.  Certified Tobacconists have committed to Price Everything when they accept the Code of Ethics & Standards.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Exact Change! - Register Procedures

Every penny counts, and that is a fact. A penny per customer, per day, adds up to $182.50 loss per year; assuming 50 customers per day. If your company is lucky enough to earn 10% profit per year, that means you have to sell $1,825* worth of products to get back your one penny!
Giving and receiving exact change at the register is imperative. Admittedly, it can be easy to let a good customer ’slide’. But, if done consistently, this laissez-faire attitude can lead to debilitating losses. Fortunately, this is a hemorrhage that can be fixed. Remember that every penny counts and treat the register cash like it is your own. You must respect the money. Also, when dealing with money, annualize** your expenses to see the bigger picture.
*Calculate the ‘real’ cost of an expense as a function of profit; this will help you see the bigger picture. If you really want to get profound and depressed, calculate the opportunity cost of that $182.50. If you buy and sell that six times over the course of a year, assuming a keystone markup, that is $11,680! Every Penny Counts!
**Annualize: calculating expenses on an annual basis. Annualizing expenses for management and perspective purposes helps everyone in the organization see the value of not wasting, cost management, and being efficient. A dollar an hour for a full-time employee is $2,000 per year, or $20,000 worth of sales if you make 10% profit!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

IPCPR 2008 Las Vegas

It was an exciting week in Las Vegas, to say the least. The response we received as the IPCPR’s Official Curriculum Resource for Professional Tobacconists was stunning. We signed up over eighty new stores with even more Tobacconist Apprentices. In addition, we certified extraordinary Tobacconists from Georgetown Tobacco in DC and C.I.G.A.R. in San Antonio.
As I have always said, Tobacconists are starving for the credibility they deserve and now we are well on our way to providing it. This is a big first step towards building a better future for this honorable profession and we are thrilled to be a part of it.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Co-Branding: Third Party Endorsement

The Third Party Endorsement is the most powerful sanction and form of approval available: this is true in both business and our personal lives. For example, there is a significant difference between your mother saying “you are smart” and Albert Einstein saying so. Things like objectivity, background, and independence influence the value judgement: “who” says “what” matters. You can spend all day telling someone how great you are, but they probably won’t listen until someone credible says it once. This is the essence and value of the Third Party Endorsement.
Tobacconist University Certification is the ultimate Third Party Endorsement because:
  • Certification cannot simply be purchased, it must be earned.
  • TU does not allow any advertising because we must control the quality of our content and standards.
  • We have a Code of Ethics & Standards to articulate, promote, and project our values.
  • Our academic curriculum is thoroughly researched and available for public scrutiny.
  • We have an open-source academic curriculum where credible Tobacconists are welcome to contribute.
  • All of our revenue streams are publicly declared; including certifications, R&D products, and our Campus Store products.
  • TU is independent institution that does not receive money from any other trade organizations.
Other examples of Third Party Endorsements include: newspaper articles, being quoted in the media, ‘word of mouth’, web-links & listings, and “best of” lists. Each endorsement comes with its own gravitas, but they can all add up to priceless promotional value.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Fishmonger: Hecho A Mano Series

As I wrote in the Butcher’s Hecho A Mano series, “they labor away to honor their product, their consumer, and their time. Always staying true to an idea or ideal: this is art. Ultimately, they have lives with real value which I feel fortunate to share in”.



While this entry is titled The Fishmonger, that is an understated misnomer because the specialists at Metropolitan Seafood Co. (MSC) are far more than vendors; in fact they elevate the concept of Local Merchant to high art. Calling these gentlemen fishmongers is like calling a Sommelier a ‘booze merchant’ or a Certified Tobacconist a ‘tobacco peddler’. The passion and commitment to their product at MSC is unparalleled and inspirational. It is only surpassed by their attentiveness and dedication to their customers. The owner, Mr. Mark Drabich has a twinkle in his eye the moment a customer comes in and the entire staff shares his enthusiasm for service. When there are no customers, Mr. Drabich has what I like to call the “eye of the tiger” – he is Product & Operations Focused. He walks around with a fervor for quality and perfection!
The first time I stepped into MSC I was enthusiastically greeted by the manager Colin Sears, who had just returned from a vacation; a fishing vacation. It was my sense then, as it has been every other time I have visited, that nothing was more important to these professionals than my satisfaction and enhanced appreciation. I’m talking about service so good that you feel like you are at the center of the universe; like the only thing that matters is your taste and fulfillment. Nothing could be more rare in today’s fast paced, mass produced, commoditized and homogenized world. But thankfully, there are still places and people who care about quality; quality of product, quality of service, and quality of life. If Leonardo DaVinci was a fishmonger, he would have worked for Metropolitan Seafood Co.
* Just to list a few of the things I have learned: yes they will clean, scale, and prepare any kind of fish, shellfish, and/or shrimp exactly the way you want, at no extra charge – grill fish, soft shelled crab, and scallops on a medium heat (unlike meat) – when you clean a soft shell crab, you start by cutting off the face and then pull out the guts – fresh dry scallops can be eaten raw and they melt in your mouth – you can create a pseudo fish grilling basket with aluminum foil – don’t be afraid to use cumin and garlic on your fish – Chilean Sea Bass is a fancy marketing term for Padagonian Rock Fish (and there is a price premium for fancy names) – there are organic farm raised fish – and sooo much more.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Cigar Mold

While Plume (or Bloom) can be a positive symptom of cigar aging, it is very different from Cigar Mold. Cigar Mold, like any other type of mold, is a fungus which appears as a woolly growth found on damp and/or decaying organic matter. Moldy cigars are not to be smoked.
Overly humidified cigars are the most susceptible to growing mold. Mold can begin growing before a cigar ever leaves the factory; if they are kept too moist or not de-humidified properly (see Marrying).
Cigar Mold can also result from over humidification and “wet spots” in personal humidors. Cigars which are kept directly under humidifiers and other wet spots can easily become over humidified. To inhibit Cigar Mold, regularly rotate your cigars and inspect for mold growth. While Plume/Bloom will easily wipe off, Cigar Mold will not.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Freedom = Risk

I just heard that in France they are trying to outlaw happy hour…. their reasoning has something to do with curbing excessive drinking. (what is excessive? is there an outbreak?) Obviously, this is completely absurd. But this is what the world health zealots and nanny governments are moving us towards. Frankly, I’m surprised that the French are even considering this: they have long been renown for their ‘joie de vivre’, revolutionary spirit, love of wine, food, and cheese, etc… I thought the next stage of nanny-state-health-zealotry would have come from America, perhaps California. Our legislators have been doing such a good job of banning smoking and demonizing smokers; and overweight people are clearly in their sites next. I thought increased alcohol control was decades away… but I was wrong.
I often say that Tobacconists are modern day FREEDOM FIGHTERS. In the tradition of our founding fathers; living their values in the hopes of defining their lives and happiness. Remember, we are supposed to have an ‘inalienable right to pursue happiness’, as defined by the individual!!! not governments, peer groups, politicians, etc…
Sadly, somewhere along the line we have forgotten that real Freedom involves Risk. Freedom is not a ’safe’ concept. Life is not ’safe’. The Freedom to drive, eat, walk, smoke, love, and even think comes wrought with Risk. America was founded by Risk-Takers! And nothing great is ever accomplished without taking a Risk.
So how has the world devolved to the point where Risk is anathema to our culture? I think the nanny state is empowered by making smokers out to be ‘dirty’ and ‘unhealthy’ people. Yet the National Cancer Institute says there are no known negative health consequences from smoking less than one cigar a day – which sums up the overwhelming majority of cigar and pipe smokers. And there are studies that show that between 1 to 3 cigars a day (consumers) live longer than non-smokers. While cigar and pipe smokers and Tobacconists have been struggling for our rights, non-smokers have been sitting back thinking they are above the fray. But, what they did not realize while basking in their sense of superiority is that smoking is the last line of defense for our civil rights. Ultimately, people choose to smoke, and employees in smoking environments choose to work there. People make choices and we do not need the government to limit them. I am accountable for my choices, and I don’t need the government to make decisions for me. I just want the government to do their job: take my tax money and build roads, protect me, and empower me to create my own life – Remember the concept that politicians work for us?
Ok, I could probably keep writing…. but i will try to wrap this up. I have been travelling the country Certifying Tobacconists and I continue to be impressed with their passion and resilience. Great Tobacconists seem indefatigable in light of current repression and taxation. Tobacconists continue to be great American FREEDOM FIGHTERS: fighting for their rights and passions. Today, I am more proud than ever to service and support them. As always, I continue to believe that the path to Freedom is through Education. And while ignorance may be bliss to some, I am willing to take the Risk… Get Educated. Be Free.

Jorge Armenteros, CMT