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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The New Customer

Customers are defined by their Values.
Tobacconists are defined by the Value they Add!
Just like Cigars, Retail Customers come in many different shapes, styles, and sizes, so to speak. It is impossible to categorize them all. In fact, the very individualistic nature of cigar and pipe smokers defies our ability to define a “typical” customer. But of course, as a University we must attempt to define and understand. TU categorizes Customers in a variety of ways in order to help us understand and service them better. The one Customer Varietal that stands out above all, perhaps the most important Customer, is The New Customer.
Whether a Customer is New to your B&M or to the art of luxury tobacco, they are the most important type of Customer. Obviously we must earn New Customers to thrive. In 1900, 7 out of 10 men smoked cigars. This means that almost everyone has the palette to enjoy our products; women too. So there is a massive undiscovered potential in our industry. Aside from Smokerism and Anti-Smoking hysteria, there is one major challenge for Tobacconists when earning new customers, and that is: the overwhelming majority of people who try their first cigar are unimpressed and/or disgusted. Most people try their first cigar from a convenience store or a sub-standard smokeshop. Most people cannot fathom the quality of gourmet tobacco.
Imagine the potential to turn people on to luxury tobacco if they went to a qualified Retail Tobacconist to try their first cigar!
The good news is that 50 years ago most people thought wine was just fermented grape juice…

Monday, February 11, 2008

A Bunch of Leaves II

One of the most important things we teach Tobacconists [getting Certified] 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. Cigar lovers and Tobacconists can appreciate the value of a cigar because there is no other product like it on earth!
But few of us have had the opportunity to see cigars and tobacco as HIGH ART (in a way that transcends their use). Many of us have seen extraordinary cigars that seem like sculptures (i.e. bats, pipes, multi-colored figurados), but few of us have actually seen cigar tobacco sculptures. This amazing work of art (and others) were created by Janio Nunez Leal, an artist I had the privilege of meeting in the late ’90s. He sculpts with tobacco and uses only a light infrastructure which he covers with cigar leaf; using hybridized bunching and wrapping techniques he learned as a cigar roller in Cuba.
(I must divulge that I have a company called ArtistaCuba which collects and imports (when legal) Cuban art. I met Janio in Havana many years ago and have never gotten over his amazing creations. He was a cigar roller turned master sculptor and I am sure he has never received the acclaim and success he deserved. To my knowledge, no one on the planet has ever accomplished what he has.)
Top Picture: Janio Nunez Leal, Alejandro Robaina, and lifesize tobacco sculpture of Winston Churchill, circa 1999.

Jorge Armenteros, CMT

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Thinking Backwards

I’m a big fan of Thinking Backwards; not backward thinking. I like to fully visualize a goal, concept, product, service, and/or business. I envision all of the possibilities, bells, whistles, etc… I envision the end first, commit to it in my mind, and then start from the beginning in order to get there.
This was true years before I opened my first Retail Tobacconist; I used to obsessively sketch the shop and make lists of things we would have and need. I made lists of the music we would play, colors we should use, I made lists for everything. Of course many things changed over time, but having a CLEAR VISION has always helped me understand where I am going.
Having a Clear Vision in life makes the endless decisions, details, ups and downs relatively easy and obvious. Thinking Backwards is about determining what and where you want to be and then working your way backwards and doing everything necessary to get there.
All of Tobacconist University has been created backwards; avoiding traditional revenue models, biased information and propaganda all while trying to create as much value as possible. We want:
  • free education for Consumers & Tobacconists
  • free promotion and leverage for Retail Tobacconists
  • Credibility within our industry
  • Credibility in our society
  • to Preserve Luxury Tobacco For Generations To Come
…. it is not a lot to ask for (?)… But these are extraordinary goals and there is no way to accomplish them with existing business or organizational models (i.e. advertising, product sales) ….. unless you Think Backwards. By Thinking Backwards, people can create new ways to solve problems and achieve [once unimaginable] goals.
So, when I think of Tobacconists and Certification, I think of the future. I imagine a world where Tobacconists are valued like Sommeliers, Masseuses, Realtors, Accountants, and other credible professionals. I imagine a respectable place for Retail Tobacconists in every community and a thriving marketplace to sustain them. I even imagine restaurants and bars with cigar & pipe sections, smoking lounges abounding, and plenty of places to enjoy luxury tobacco outdoors as well. I envision a future where consumers can’t wait to visit and learn from their Retail Tobacconists and have their appreciation enhanced and their expectations exceeded by a flourishing generation of cigar and pipe producers. I dare to dream of a society where non-smokers are not quick to chastise cigar and pipe lovers but rather understanding and considerate of our passions. I think of this ‘future world’ every day and move forward, one step at a time, towards our goal: a better quality of life. Anything else would be backwards thinking…

Jorge Armenteros, CMT

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Looking Forward

I have been thinking about those heady days in the 90’s after Cigar Aficionado (CA) was released, the cigar boom, cigar dinners all the time, and a seemingly endless stream of sophisticated new customers. I remember when big fancy corporations and executives would come in and buy oodles of gifts for their clients and co-workers: they were conspicuous and passionate cigar smokers. I remember black-tie dinners, events at restaurants, and hotels between NYC and Philly; all the time! It was busy and fun.
Honestly though, I did not appreciate it enough. I was young and capricious… and resentful of the trendy and superficial smokers; customers which do not exist today. But a mere 10 years later we are living in the opposite world. Politicians use all smoke issues to placate their constituents, the captains of industry still come in but they are now on the ‘down-low’, and the customers that remain are persecuted everywhere they go. What the F&^%$ happened?!? (sorry for the language) The world, science, facts, and people have not changed; politics have!
Perhaps my thoughts are prompted by the recent announcement that the CA Big Smoke has been cancelled in Chicago, due to the new anti-smoking laws. Obviously this is another preposterous defeat. But I do not hear about any lawsuits, protest campaigns, or marching in the streets. I feel like we continue to lay down and take the beating while the world goes up in smoke.
But there is an ebb and flow to everything, yin and yang, two sides to every coin, … and TU is working diligently towards improving our world. Currently there are almost 20 new CST Apprenticing and on their way to being Certified. Those CST will be out Certifying Retail Tobacconists who will in turn Certify Consumers; by this summer. We are building Credibility one Tobacconist, one person, at a time. While I like to take the long-term view, things are starting to change positively now.
I know this century will see more:
  • empowered, educated, & credible Tobacconists
  • passionate, committed, & substantive Consumers
  • proactive & enlightened Cigar & Pipe makers
… because we are starting to value and prioritize Education.
Obviously, I believe we can build a better industry. By investing in people (i.e. Tobacconists & Consumers), using technology in a proactive way, and embracing change, we absolutely can make a healthful place for luxury tobacco and Tobacconists in our modern age.
Jorge Armenteros, CMT