Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Perfect Cut: How To Video

This new Perfect Cut video is a significant milestone in TU's development. The future of our academic curriculum, FAQ, and Glossary, will all be video and slideshow driven: giving consumers and Tobacconists educational alternatives with entertainment value. We are previewing The Perfect Cut here, before it goes up on the FAQ. Videos to follow include:

  • Lighter Maintenance
  • How To Light A Cigar
  • How To Pack A Pipe
  • Calibrating A Hygrometer
  • Seasoning A Humidor
  • and many, many more....

As always, this content and academic development is made possible by our Sponsors.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Gift Packs: content preview

Gift Packs, also known as Sampler, Variety, and/or Assortment Packs, are Tobacconist and customer favorites. A Gift Pack usually comes in a special box with a limited selection of cigars: the cigars can be a vertical, horizontal, random, multi-brand, and/or limited-edition/special-release assortment. Gift Packs can also include accoutrements like lighters, cutters, and humidifiers. We refer to them as ‘Gift’ Packs because they make great gifts and Tobacconists usually sell them as such. Consequently many companies release their special Gift Packs during the holidays. Retail Tobacconists sell more Gift Packs during December than all the other months combined.

Gift Packs give customers the opportunity to buy a small selection of beautifully packaged cigars without having to spend more on a standard box of 20 or 25. Astute and proactive retail Tobacconists can also create their own custom Gift Packs (see Gift Packaging) for their customers. Custom Gift Packs are a great way to tailor and add value to your customer’s experience, as well as a bona fide competitive advantage.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Cutter Etiquette: FAQ content preview

Cigar Cutters touch the head of the cigar that will touch your mouth; so they must be kept clean. Tobacconists must have sanitary procedures in place to keep cutters clean and protect their customers. Every day customers put a cigar in their mouth and then ask for a cut or cutter. The easiest solution for retail Tobacconists is to have two cutter options on hand: a ‘Clean’ cutter and a ‘Saliva’ cutter. The Clean Cutter should never be used on a saliva tainted cigar. The Saliva Cutter can be used on the saliva tainted cigar and sterilized quickly with hand sanitizer afterwards.

Standard hand sanitizing gels can be used to sanitize a Cigar Cutter and blade. Simply use your hands or a paper towel to carefully coat the cutter with sanitizing gel, remove excess, and allow to dry for a few minutes.

All Cigar Cutters need an occasional cleaning as tobacco and oils accumulate. Often, the debris and oil can inhibit the cutting and/or movement of the blades. To clean blades, apply a solution of warm water and antibacterial soap with a cotton swab or cloth, then wipe dry. Also, remove any tobacco and debris from the cutter’s frame.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Humidor Etiquette: FAQ content preview

Retail walk-in humidors must be rigorously maintained. Their temperature, humidity, air quality, and sanitary standards must be perfectly kept to preserve the cigars and protect the customers that smoke them. People walking in and out of retail walk-in humidors bring germs, dirt, and debris into the environment, so many steps must be followed to protect the cigars. Firstly, Tobacconists must regularly dust, sweep, mop, and vacuum their humidors. But it takes both customers’ and Tobacconists’ efforts to maintain the integrity of the cigars in a walk-in. Ultimately, Humidor Etiquette is about following the ‘golden rule’ and doing unto others as you would have done unto you. The following etiquette rules apply to both consumers and Tobacconists who use a retail walk-in humidor.

The natural aromas of a walk-in humidor are a subtle co-mingling of different tobaccos from all over the world. Part of the reason Tobacconists make their walk-ins accessible to customers is so that they can enjoy the smell of aging tobaccos. Lit tobaccos will overwhelm the natural aroma of a walk-in and excessive smoke can taint the flavor of the cigars. Not smoking in a walk-in is part courtesy to the next customer and a way to protect the cigars themselves.

Ultimately, the head of a cigar will enter your mouth, so cigars must be treated with the same care and respect as food. Maintaining clean hands when touching cigars is imperative. It is important for Tobacconists to have sanitary soap and hand sanitizer on hand for personal and customer use. In addition, when inspecting cigars you should only touch the foot and shaft area. Never touch the cigar above the band (head and shoulders) since someone will eventually put that cigar in their mouth.

As consumers, we all have the right to smell the wrapper and foot of a cigar. In fact, that is part of the enjoyment of picking a great cigar. While smelling cigars can be part of the pre-selection process in a walk-in, it must be done in a sanitary and respectful way; as the nose contains germs and mucous that must be kept off cigars. If the cigar is wrapped in cellophane, push the cigar half-way out of the cellophane. Cellophane smells like cellophane so there is no point in sniffing it: when finished, you can push the cigar back in. Whether smelling just the wrapper or the foot of the cigar, always keep the cigar at least one inch from your nose and/or facial hair. One inch is close enough to sample the aroma of the tobacco yet far enough to minimize contamination.

Now that we have covered the proper techniques to touch and smell cigars, we can address the more general process of picking one out. Some customers take the first cigar out from on top of a box, while others like to scrutinize every single cigar. To each his own method; there is no right or wrong. But, when pulling cigars out of a box, one must be very careful not to tear the wrapper or damage the head: in particular, the cigar foot is highly susceptible to damage. If you take cigars out of a box, lay them in a safe place and return them carefully when you have found your perfect cigar.

One of the biggest economic challenges for retail Tobacconists with walk-in humidors is minimizing the amount damaged cigars: it is a massive expense unique to our business. While some cigars come damaged from the manufacturers/distributors, most damage occurs because of consumer mishandling. Retail Tobacconists absorb the cost of damaged cigars since they cannot be sold at standard retail margins. If you see damaged cigars in your retail Tobacconist’s walk-in, let them know: they will thank you for it.

Sometimes you take a cigar all the way to the cash register and then decide that you don’t want it - that’s ok. As long as you're handling the cigar properly, you can return it to the walk-in. When returning a cigar to the humidor, it is always best to place it in the proper box with the head up and cigar band facing forward. This is called “facing” and retail Tobacconists do it every day to honor the brand, cigar maker, and our customers.

Most retail Tobacconists will not allow customers to buy a cigar, take it out of the shop and return it at a later date. Due to cigars’ precise humidification and temperature requirements, plus the fact that they will end up in your mouth, cigars must be treated like perishable food.

Keeping cigars off the floor is obvious, but it is also important not to place boxes on the floor, either. Placing cigar boxes on the floor contaminates them with the same dirt, debris, and germs that people’s shoes have been tracking in. This piece of humidor etiquette is particularly important for Tobacconists to heed since it is easy to forget when stocking and organizing the walk-in.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Gift Packaging: content preview

Nothing adds value like free Gift Packaging for customers. And, Tobacconists already have the most precious item on hand - empty cigar boxes! Packaging gifts for customers has many benefits, including:

· Higher Customer Satisfaction
· Competitive Advantage
· Stimulates Up-selling
· Branding Opportunity
· Promotes Loyalty
· More Memorable
· More Impressive

Gift Packaging, especially during the holidays, creates more special and valuable presents. The gift-givers will remember your store and the receivers will come back for more.

The cigar box Gift Packaging method shown here only requires Tobacconists to purchase inexpensive paper stuffing; as you should have branded business cards, ziptop bags, matches, and cutters in stock. In addition, this gift box shows a branded sticker opportunity on the inside lid and another sticker sealing the box - these stickers can be made on store bought labels with a rudimentary computer. Get creative and use every opportunity to reinforce your brand with your customers: it will pay off in the short and long term.

TIP I: Prepare your gift boxes ahead of busy times - keep them loaded with stuffing, business cards, ziptop bags, matches, cutters, and stickers. That way, it will only take a few seconds to prepare and your customers will be impressed.

TIP II: During the holidays, add a red bow to anything and you have an instant gift pack.

TIP III: Have branded coffee mugs made and you have an instant up-sell.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Outlawing Tobacco 2.0

This morning I awoke to find out that TU is the cover story for October's Smokeshop Magazine: this was a thrill and a privilege. Then, I had to put my retail Tobacconist 'hat' back on and do exactly two things for my stores. First, I had to fill out fourteen pages of information for the state of PA, print another 12, make copies and then drive all the way to Pennsylvania to use a notary, then mail these documents to the Department of Health to get permission to smoke in my PA store - even though we are clearly exempted from the law. The state was kind enough to notify us of the paperwork requirement over a month after it was due. The second retail task I did today was to print and frame this (pictured) sign for my Princeton, New Jersey store. It will go in the space where we used to display flavored cigarettes, which have now been outlawed.

We are now transitioning from Outlawing Tobacco 1.0 to 2.0. As cigar and pipe smokers, we are only about 5% of the population.... so our rights can be taken away quickly! Sadly, I do not think a democracy based on the value of human freedoms should so easily take away human freedoms. So, I continue to believe that all retail Tobacconists are great American freedom fighters... underdogs on the front lines of a great battle for justice. Not just smokers' rights, but all individuals' rights, in our pursuit of happiness. Smoking is the 'gateway' civil right, and it has been demonized and beaten into submission.

Ultimately, the only way to win back our freedom is to EARN CREDIBILITY. At TU we are proactively doing that through Certification .... and more: if we want a positive future, we will have to work hard for it.