Tuesday, March 1, 2016
As we live in the 'golden age of cigar making' there are more educated consumers than ever before. While both cigar geeks and tobacconists should be extremely knowledgeable, that does not mean they are one in the same. Some tobacconists are cigar geeks, but not all. In fact, there are probably exponentially more cigar geeks than there are tobacconists.
Cigar geeks are characterized by their epic knowledge of cigar components, varietals, processing, brand info, and history. Cigar geeks can devour all the information available on the internet, advertising, in forums, magazines, books, social media, and from fan-clubs for their favorite cigar brands and/or cigar makers. Cigar geeks also travel to cigar farms and factories (e.g. Drew Estate Cigar Safari) and educational events like ProCigar in The Dominican Republic. Many of these cigar geeks also communicate directly with cigar makers they have met over the years, and they will not hesitate to drop a name or two when it suits them. If you would like to interact or observe this rare breed, you can find a high concentration of cigar geeks on social media (e.g. facebook, twitter, instagram) and at in-store cigar maker events. Social media sites and in-store events provide the perfect outlet for cigar geeks to commiserate, share knowledge, pontificate, name drop, and chat directly with cigar makers and each other.
A tobacconist is an expert in tobacco and all of the related accoutrements. Tobacconists must have working knowledge of pipes, pipe tobaccos, lighters, humidors, humidifiers, air cleaners, cigar cutters, and of course, cigars. As professionals, tobacconists must have a strong familiarity of our products and the ability to communicate their traits, features, and tailor that to a wide array of customers. While many of the products we sell have subjective characteristics, we must be able to explain them to customers with varying degrees of experience and comprehension. Tobacconists are in the business of hospitality and product knowledge, so they must balance facts and opinions. In addition, tobacconists are 'experts' in dusting, cleaning, facing cigars, humidifier maintenance, taking inventory, more dusting, managing boisterous regulars, listening, asking questions, sweeping, mopping, problem solving, retail multi-tasking, and customer service. A good tobacconist will have substantive knowledge about all of the products they sell, but it is impossible to be an expert on all of the brands in the marketplace.
As tobacconists, we see cigar geeks almost every day but they represent a small, single digit percentage of our customers: they are a vocal minority. Most of our customers don't read the magazines or industry websites. They don't know all of the components of their favorite cigar or care who made them. Most of our customers are in and out in a few minutes with a handful of cigars they will enjoy without over thinking or in-depth analysis. Retail tobacconist customers, for the most part, enjoy a few cigars a month and the only thing they care about is whether or not they liked the cigar: true story.
On the other hand, cigar geeks love to talk about the products with tobacconists and share their knowledge with other customers as well. Cigar geeks often know more about new products and upcoming products than retail tobacconists. In this regard, they can be helpful to tobacconists by providing insight and feedback about products and brands. Every store can benefit from having a few cigar geek customers or tobacconists. Their knowledge and passion brings a lot of value to stores and the cigar smoking community. On the other hand, cigar geeks can have a very subjective and narrow perspective of the industry and marketplace; they tend to buy the hype, believe all the marketing, and have strong brand biases. They have their own personal reasons for being cigar geeks and that influences what they are interested in, where they get their information, and what they believe.
Tobacconists do not have the luxury of running their businesses from a highly subjective or opinionated perspective because that won't pay the bills. Tobacconists must cast a broader net, understand the spectrum of clients they service, and provide compelling value to them. In the end, tobacconist success will be determined by the marketplace while cigar geeks only need to satisfy themselves.
Ultimately, this topic is important to TU because we certify tobacconists, not geeks. We teach fundamentals and professionalism. TU can help make you a professional tobacconist, but the path to becoming a cigar geek is a different personal journey. Fortunately, tobacconists and cigar geeks have a lot to learn and benefit from each other.