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Written by Gary J. Arzt

Friday, 23 January 2009

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little-taste-of-cubaJLA: We consider it part of our mission to provide an oasis from the outside world, so yes, both stores do have couches and extra seating.

Puff: In your years in the industry, what are some of the most significant changes you have seen?


JLA: When I started I specialized (and continue to) in boutique, Cuban expatriate, and super-premium cigars.  I thought the only way I could compete was on product exclusivity and service excellence.  Back in 1990's many customers would walk out of the shops because they did not recognize the extraordinary brands we carried.  Today, that boutique innovation drives the marketplace, and has been the impetus for 'the Golden Age of Cigar Making' which we are living in. The travesty of the last decade has been the increasing taxation, social discrimination, and draconian smoking-bans.  

Puff: About twelve (12) years ago you began to work on developing The Tobacconist University. What inspired you to create this entity? 

JLA: I actually started the precursor to Tobacconist University, Cuban Cigar University, in 1996, after an educational trip to Cuba.  By 1997 I was teaching and certifying consumers and Tobacconists in my own stores.  I think it was in 2001 when I was testifying in federal court as a twenty-something year old, in the Cubatabaco - General Cigar Cohiba trial and the attorneys handed me a printed copy of Cuban Cigar University while I was on the stand- at that moment I realized that the University had given me the credibility to be an 'expert' in that trial.  By 2003 I had developed Cuban Cigar University on the internet for my own retail stores, customers, and Tobacconists.  At that point I realized it would not be 'much more work' to just expose it all for the entire industry; that's when we became Tobacconist University.  In fact, it took a couple of years to work the branding, develop the Code of Ethics & Standards, and write a lot of the corporate/academic stuff so 2005 was the year Tobacconist University merged on the internet.  Frankly, I was about 28 at the time I started thinking seriously about developing TU for the whole industry - it was such a daunting project that would require unprecedented resources and I knew if I waited till I was any older, my wisdom would talk me out of the project.  I have been working and funding TU full-time since 2003.  And we have been Certifying as Tobacconist University since 2006, but 2008 was our 'coming out' pilot year.  2009 should be our biggest and best.

Back to the question: what inspired TU?

When I opened my second store within 14 months of my first, I realized that the only obstacle to growth and success in this business (or any other) would be the quality of people I employed.  People are a company's greatest asset.  So, developing a training platform for professional Tobacconists seem absolutely necessary to me; especially since I felt excellent service was part of our mission.  Ultimately, a tobacco shop is only as good as its Tobacconists! (Ironically, it is the effectiveness of TU in my retail stores that has allowed me the time to focus on developing TU for the industry - so I know it works!)  I have always believed that competing on price is a vicious, declining business cycle so I strived to provide extraordinary value to my customers in other ways - I never wanted to be a discount warehouse. 

I think the final impetus for TU was the tide of taxation and smoking bans which has swept over the world.  This was the 'last straw' which 'forced' me to act and put it all on the line for TU.  I believe that the industry needs CREDIBLE professionals in order to survive and preserve our rights.  We can't just keep talking about the rights we deserve, because that hasn't worked - so Certification and professionalism will help us carve out a sustainable niche in the society we live in.

Ultimately, TU exists to provide retail Tobacconists with tools to leverage: we promote, educate, share credibility, and create new value and opportunities while endeavoring to 'preserve luxury tobacco for generations to come'.






Comments 

 
0 # President TUJorge Armenteros 2009-01-24 04:28
Thank to Gary Arzt and Puff for writing and publishing this article. The questions were great and I thouroughly enjoyed the process. Looking forward to many more years of productive and proactive communications...

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