Tobacconist University: Making Cigar Shopping Easier
Sometimes, it really is possible to judge a book by its cover. From the moment you walk into a cigar shop, you take a quick look at its inventory and get a sense for the entire establishment. If the shelves are packed with low-end sticks, the discerning smoker will figure out pretty quickly that another tobacconist may be a better fit. And, there are the lounges you enter with everything from established favorites to rare and exciting cigars. Most of the time, you'll be able to get exactly what you want. In both cases, however, there is always the risk that you'll talk to someone who doesn't know what he's doing. Not every staff member is a great hire, and just because some great inventory is in the humidor, it doesn't mean the proprietor knows what he has.
Tobacconist University, founded by Jorge Armenteros, is trying to solve this problem. The organization, sponsored by Padron (a hell of an endorsement, frankly), provides a baseline education and testing structure to demonstrate to consumers that a retailer is knowledgeable. Simply, if you have a question about a cigar, the goal of the Tobacconist University certification program is to make you comfortable asking and confident in the answer.
The program is intensive, requiring tobacconists to study the history and intricacies of cigars, passing tests along the way. For even the most competent of cigar professionals, it could take up to a year to complete the program. This makes the designation even more potent; it's something one really has to earn. There's also a program for the consumer, which can lead to a deeper understanding of one's hobby and the ability to make more informed cigar buying decisions.
So far, the program isn't large enough to influence consumer buying behavior, but that's obviously the goal for Armenteros. Padron, as his sponsor, is already on board, and tobacconists across the country have become involved in the program. Of course, this has caused other manufacturers to notice the Tobacconist University program. The seeds have clearly been planted, and we're seeing something sprout.
Disclosure: Because the FTC is interested, I conducted this interview at a cigar dinner at De La Concha (which Armenteros mentions in the video) where I was a guest of the establishment. This didn't impact the coverage.