Thursday, May 22, 2008

Freedom = Risk

I just heard that in France they are trying to outlaw happy hour.... their reasoning has something to do with curbing excessive drinking. (what is excessive? is there an outbreak?) Obviously, this is completely absurd. But this is what the world health zealots and nanny governments are moving us towards. Frankly, I'm surprised that the French are even considering this: they have long been renown for their 'joie de vivre', revolutionary spirit, love of wine, food, and cheese, etc... I thought the next stage of nanny-state-health-zealotry would have come from America, perhaps California. Our legislators have been doing such a good job of banning smoking and demonizing smokers; and overweight people are clearly in their sites next. I thought increased alcohol control was decades away... but I was wrong.

I often say that Tobacconists are modern day FREEDOM FIGHTERS. In the tradition of our founding fathers; living their values in the hopes of defining their lives and happiness. Remember, we are supposed to have an 'inalienable right to pursue happiness', as defined by the individual!!! not governments, peer groups, politicians, etc...

Sadly, somewhere along the line we have forgotten that real Freedom involves Risk. Freedom is not a 'safe' concept. Life is not 'safe'. The Freedom to drive, eat, walk, smoke, love, and even think comes wrought with Risk. America was founded by Risk-Takers! And nothing great is ever accomplished without taking a Risk.

So how has the world devolved to the point where Risk is anathema to our culture? I think the nanny state is empowered by making smokers out to be 'dirty' and 'unhealthy' people. Yet the National Cancer Institute says there are no known negative health consequences from smoking less than one cigar a day - which sums up the overwhelming majority of cigar and pipe smokers. And there are studies that show that between 1 to 3 cigars a day (consumers) live longer than non-smokers. While cigar and pipe smokers and Tobacconists have been struggling for our rights, non-smokers have been sitting back thinking they are above the fray. But, what they did not realize while basking in their sense of superiority is that smoking is the last line of defense for our civil rights. Ultimately, people choose to smoke, and employees in smoking environments choose to work there. People make choices and we do not need the government to limit them. I am accountable for my choices, and I don't need the government to make decisions for me. I just want the government to do their job: take my tax money and build roads, protect me, and empower me to create my own life - Remember the concept that politicians work for us?

Ok, I could probably keep writing.... but i will try to wrap this up. I have been travelling the country Certifying Tobacconists and I continue to be impressed with their passion and resilience. Great Tobacconists seem indefatigable in light of current repression and taxation. Tobacconists continue to be great American FREEDOM FIGHTERS: fighting for their rights and passions. Today, I am more proud than ever to service and support them. As always, I continue to believe that the path to Freedom is through Education. And while ignorance may be bliss to some, I am willing to take the Risk... Get Educated. Be Free.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

America's Hardest Working Tobacconists

I did not exaggerate one bit when I called The Oultaw Cigar Co.'s owner, Kendall Culbertson, a Tobacconist Genius, and I may be understating it when I say that The Outlaw Tobacconists are the hardest working Tobacconists I have ever seen. In addition, their Passion, Expertise, and Professionalism is inspirational and unparalleled!

I just spent the last week at The Outlaw finalizing their Certifications and I think it was more educational for me than it was for them. My heartfelt thanks go out to Brad, Kevin, Dirick, Scott, Tim, and of course Kendall. These gentlemen put on a spectacular show (or 'party' as they call it) every single month, where thousands of people show up to celebrate cigar smoking and camaraderie. While they prepare to feed, entertain, hydrate, and service the crowds, they also know that within 30 days they will have to do it all over again. And they start immediately after the party ends.

The event this past Saturday with Jorge PadrĂ³n was spectacular! We had more fun than many governments would consider legal. And we smoked and laughed ourselves into a perpetual state of joy and merriment. But the best part was seeing THOUSANDS of customers being serviced VERY WELL! The Outlaw Tobacconists are the best of the best, and that is defined by their commitment to their customers! .... not just their work ethic. While I was there I saw them compensate a Cigarpass member with cigars and a humidor after his was stolen; they all stayed on their feet for twelve hours, and never stopped being hospitable and smiling.

Dear Outlaw Certified Tobacconists;

It was a pleasure and thrill to meet and hang with you. I look forward to our next meeting. Thank you for your hospitality. And thank you for being the best at what you do. You are an inspiration to this entire industry. You have my friendship and respect.


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Certified!!! Miami Cigar & Co.

Well, it has been quite a week for Tobacconist University, and all involved. I was in Miami from Friday to Tuesday Certifying the Miami Cigar & Co. office staff and Salesforce. While I expected it to be fun and rewarding, that turned out to be a great under-estimation. I could not be more proud and thrilled to have such an extraordinary group of people as the first CST organization. While I have known Nestor, Mariana, Rene, and Daniel for many years, it was a special treat to meet their extended family.

I have to catch a plane to Kansas City, to Certify The Outlaw Cigar Co., in six hours, so I don't have time to properly pay tribute to Tobacconist University's most recent additions to the family. But I could not go another minute without at least acknowledging this special accomplishment. TU is thrilled to work with such an outstanding group of people. A company is only as good as its human assets, which makes it a privilege to work with Miami Cigar & Co.

We have many new announcements coming in the next month! But I would like to acknowledge our most recent Retail Tobacconist Certifications as well: Blue Havana II (Alpharetta, GA), Smoking Joe's Cigar Co. (Marietta, GA). And there are many more to come before the IPCPR convention in Las Vegas in July.

Buckle up and stay tuned for more exciting news and events... we are on our way, and in excellent company!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Age & Smoke

Some Things Are Better With Age.
Teach your customers to age their cigars and enjoy the changes. Enhance your customers' appreciation and you will make them happy, healthy, and loyal. Educate your customers and they will age along with your business.

Some Things Are Better With Smoke.
Like.... picnics, meat, golf, boats, alcoholic beverages, sunsets, hot tubs, long walks, gambling, racetracks, sunshine, bacon, etc...

* The Butchers never cease to amaze me. This beautiful slab of meat is some kind of experimental hybrid bacon they are working on. The top picture shows a cleaver that is so old it is starting to look like a filet knife. Its amazing to see craftsmen be so traditional and creative all at once! Just like great cigar and pipe makers. This is good advice for Retail Tobacconists too: Focus on Traditional Principles/Tools & Be Creative!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Default Positions: content preview

According to the CRT Code of Ethics & Standards, a CRT must:

Merchandise all Luxury Tobacco Products with the same care and respect it took to create them.

Merchandising is the physical and visual language with which our products communicate with the customer; and it should be commensurate with the quality of the product and your store.

Special Merchandising involves creating a new display/arrangement which will capture the customer's eye and generate a sale. Other times the effects of merchandising are more subtle, but it will convey that you have an organized, clean, and thoughtful approach to your products and profession. This type of Day-To-Day Merchandising has a powerful impact on your customers even if they do not consciously respond to it or acknowledge it. Good, Clean Merchandising projects professionalism. Haphazard and less-than-clean merchandising says 'we don't care enough'. I stress the word clean here with the intention of conveying two meanings; Clean can refer to uncluttered as well as not-dirty. Every Tobacconist knows that our stores are practically dust factories so it is imperative to keep lighters, cases, humidors, and other products polished and clean.

With these fundamentals already established, we can get to the heart of Default Positions and Retail Theater. In every store, every product, display, machine, chair, ashtray, and instrument has a home; a default position. Events, Receiving Inventory, Customers, and sales will all 'disrupt' organizational equilibrium. In fact, the unique nature of our business creates customers that 'feel at home' when they are in our shops. While this may be our customer service goal, it can also lead to messy stores. Customers move furniture, ashtrays, products, and anything else in order to accommodate themselves; but the 'inmates cannot run the asylum'. So Tobacconists must be thoughtful and proactive about RESTORING DEFAULT POSITIONS. Without this attention to organization a Retail Tobacconist will degenerate into a flea market-like booth instead of the professional luxury retailer that it is.

In the theater, every actor and prop has a 'mark': a physical location where they must be at any given point in time. And Retail Tobacconists are no different. We must have predetermined strategies and layouts for our facilities to keep them from falling apart and running amok. This may seem like a small or frivolous point to a novice or inexperienced Tobacconist, but it is critical to Retail Theater. As a Retail Tobacconist with two stores, I can tell you that a big part of my job is teaching and enforcing Default Positions. If we did not do this successfully, the stores would begin to look like disheveled war zones.

Be disciplined about Restoring Default Positions, and if you don't know where something belongs, ask someone who does. Put things where they belong and then you and your customers will know how to find them. Organization can really be the key to success, and with a little discipline, even disorganized people can become functional retailers. Otherwise, you might as well just sell stuff out of the back of a van*.

*No disrespect was meant to people who sell things out of their vans. In my teens I sold clothes and swimwear out of my van and found it to be fun and profitable. But, this guerrilla style approach to business was not nearly as fulfilling as being a Retail Tobacconist.