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Friday, May 1, 2015

Georgetown Homecoming

Dear Friends,

It may be a little known fact that if it wasn't for Georgetown Tobacco, Tobacconist University (TU) would not exist!  Long before I opened my first retail store, I was an international business major at American University in the early 1990s.  It was almost 25 years ago that I stumbled into Georgetown Tobacco and it changed my life, and the lives of hundreds of tobacconists, forever.  I vividly remember the moment I opened the door and smelled that well marinated tobacconist.  I remember taking my first step inside and feeling the wooden floor boards creak beneath my feet.  As soon as I looked up I was taken back by the beauty of that magnificent store.  There are so few moments in life where you know that your future has been irrevocably altered, but that was definitely one of them.  I knew the instant I stepped into Georgetown Tobacco that I wanted to be a part of something that special.

I spent the next few years picking the brains of the tobacconists that worked there and getting an old school tobacco education.  They had already been in business 25 years so the tobacconists were as well marinated in knowledge as the store was in aroma.  While I had grown up around cigars in Miami, and I was familiar with Padron and La Aurora, I had never experienced a full-service retail tobacconist like Georgetown.  It was inspirational and overwhelming.

By the time I opened my first retail store in 1995, I realized how little I knew in comparison to the great tobacconists I had known... so I set about creating the Tobacconist University curriculum to educate myself and my tobacconists.  A decade later, after opening three stores in three states, fighting countless smoking bans and taxation battles, I realized that the industry needed more credibility and professionalism.  My passion for the industry and the people in it kept me from selling out and moving on, so I decided to double down.

By 2005 I began the process of turning the TU curriculum and certification standards into something the entire industry could use and benefit from, instead of just my little stores.  I spent years trying to convince other retailers and manufacturers to support us and most of them listened politely, patted me on the back, but did nothing to help.  Ultimately, I don't blame them... I must have seemed like a lunatic running around telling people we were going to certify tobacconists, promote them, and build credibility and heighten standards for our profession.  I have personally heard and seen so many crazy and cockamamie  ideas in this industry, but I refused to become one of them.   For better or worse, I have a profound mental problem that keeps me from quitting on the people and values I hold dear.  So, I continued to work on TU, every night and every day, never knowing how we would roll it out, fund it, or promote it... I just refused to quit.

Fortunately for all of us, David Berkebile, the founder and owner of Georgetown Tobacco, had taken over as president of the IPCPR (then the RTDA) and he embraced TU and brought us in as the official curriculum for our industry's oldest and most prestigious trade organization.   David has helped countless individuals start their careers in this industry, and in this case he has been instrumental twice!  I don't know where we would be today without his help, but I don't think we would have over 1,200 Certified Tobacconists and Apprentices, nor would we be going to Georgetown Tobacco on Friday, May 15, between 4 and 8pm for an  R&D Cigars Event.  The following morning we will do what TU does best, and administer the certification exam to five Georgetown Tobacco apprentices.

I hope you will join us for this special event.  As I write this I feel a little sentimental, grateful and emotional as I realize what a unique journey this has been.  In some ways, this will be the most exciting and fulfilling event of my career: it is a homecoming of sorts.  More importantly, we will honor and celebrate our history... where it all started.  In some ways, I feel like this event will close the first chapter of the history of TU, but there are many more to be written!  I promise you our best days are ahead of us and I will personally do my best to ensure that, or die trying.  #beaboutsomething

Jorge L. Armenteros, CMT
President & Founder
Tobacconist University

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