Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Background & Perspective on TU

I am spending hours per day responding to emails from Tobacconists and Consumers alike. Its amazing how popular an unpromoted endeavor can be. I fully understand why there are so many questions and I would like to take this opportunity to give a little Background & Perspective.

Above all, TU must be a transparent organization. While most of our services are free, we do (or will) disclose all of our income(s) to maintain our independence and credibility. We do not accept advertising and sell or certify products. Currently we are working on a Product Placement (PP) revenue model which will allow photos/specs of products to be placed in the Academic Curriculum by credible industry members - these are not advertisements. PP are intended to be an equitable and affordable 'service' that allows all industry members to share in TU. (I will write more on PP in the future - still in development.) While PP are intended to pay for the internet site(s) and maintenance, eventually we will have Sponsors which will fund Content Development (i.e. content previews) and Certifications (however, we are Certifying now without Sponsors). That's the plan...

To date, including time and money, I have invested at least one million dollars in TU; while we have had $100 in income from our first CST. It has been my full time job for 5 years and I have drawn from my staff of 12 Tobacconists to do it. And now we have a Academic Administrator to help with everything I can't do. In addition, there have been legal, administrative, computer, programming, art, design, printing, travel, and many more costs. Sadly, there is no guarantee that I will get any of that money or time back. We are working with a completely new economic model (i.e. no ads, free services, etc...) but I have always believed that if we create New Value & Opportunities, that everything financial will work itself out . That's the plan...

Currently we are doing our *Pilot CRT Certifications and CST Certifications. We are building a grass roots movement of Credible Certified Tobacconists. While I would rather be spending 'Sponsor' money at this point, we must first prove to our industry that a demand truly exists. As Tobacconists, we demand respect, credibility, and support; through Certification we are showing that we are willing to earn it.

The following email gives a quick rundown on many common questions, so I will simply cut and paste it here:

"Dear ----;

Almost everything you want to know is on our websites: check out the Certification, Certified Tobacconist, and Academic pages. And there is also supplementary information on my blog. We have been Certifying Tobacconists and Consumers since 1996, but the Certified Tobacconist webpage only lists those over the last two years, since that is when the Tobacconist University Code of Ethics & Standards, and other materials were used as part of the Certification. Before that we Certified just under 200 Tobacconists and Consumers under the Cuban Cigar University name: that was a program I used for my retail stores and customers - the development of Tobacconist University started full time in 2003 and that was intended to benefit the whole industry.

I am sorry that the Certification information on the site is not more succinct. Over the next year, as we get funding, we will streamline the Certification information and make it easier to digest. Currently we are doing Pilot Certifications while we refine our Email Seminars and the infrastructure to Certify Tobacconists throughout the country. We are transitioning from a research, development, and publishing organization to a Certification driven organization, and that will take some time. This is an exciting period for us, since over the next 30 days we will add 20 Certified Tobacconists to our family. Certifications will double every 3 to 4 months after that. Right now our focus is on CST and CRT. By 2009 we will be much better equipped to Certify Consumers (CCT), since we will have Certified Retailers in place to recruit and administer the test.

In addition, the development of TU has been intentionally quiet; we have avoided press and promotion in order to focus on our foundation and fundamentals.

If you would like to look at the Certification contracts (CRT), the username/password is Tobacconist/Pride. There is some technical information there you may find useful. In brief, CRT Certification is Free, and the CCT cost is $200 for a lifetime.

Currently we have 5 retailers going through the Pilot Certification programs. The first step towards Certification is accepting the Code of Ethics & Standards. They receive E-Seminars twice a week for six weeks and then schedule to take the final exam. Hopefully, later this year the E-Seminars will be available online ,for free, for you to see/receive at your leisure. As we get Sponsors, hopefully this year, we will begin Certifying at will and our growth will be exponential. The main challenge/bottleneck is that the test must be administered by a Certified human being, it cannot be taken over the internet, so that poses some challenges we are preparing for now.

I hope this answers some of your questions….

If you happen to live near a Certified Retail Tobacconist, then they will be able to Certify you as a Consumer….. but you may have to be patient. If you are ever in Princeton, NJ we can Certify you ourselves.


Disclaimer: Posting this blog has saved me countless hours of emailing.... thanks for reading it.

*Writing this prompts me to release/post a couple of the Pilot CRT E-Seminars... stay tuned for that.

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