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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