Nothing can help make or break a premium cigar like a review. Google “cigar reviews” and you’ll be presented with about 58,700,000 different results carried out by various cigar magazines and media platforms. While reviews are abundant, the review process and criteria can be confusing and oftentimes influenced by personal preferences, experience with the brand and its employees, and, in the most extreme cases, by advertising decisions. Still, cigar reviews are important, so much so that Jorge Armenteros of Tobacconist University has set out to bring some uniformity and structure to the process for retailers.
Tobacconist University has launched Certified Cigar Reviews (CCR), an online platform geared toward helping retailers and consumers create their own cigar reviews. The website is free for all Tobacconist University-certified tobacconists. It is also free for all others to view, share, search and print reviews. Consumers that want to use the CCR platform can do so either by becoming a certified consumer tobacconist (CCT), which will give them free access, or they can pay a $29.95 fee to review cigars on the site.
“For consumers, it is a way for them to journal and share their experiences,” explains Armenteros. “For professionals, it is a way to educate and promote themselves on the products in their stores.”
For Armenteros, a tobacconist with over 26 years of experience and who founded Tobacconist University in 1996 in an effort to bring some formal training to tobacco retailers across the nation, the CCR platform is a dream that started more than a decade ago. For more than 10 years, Armenteros studied cigar reviews in magazines and on the internet. During that time, he and his staff focused on making sure Tobacconist University’s academic curriculum and glossary were as accurate and comprehensive as possible. Using feedback from retail tobacconists and consumers, Tobacconist University was able to add some structure and substance to the Certified Cigar Reviews website and began building the site and working on its programming in 2018, with a majority of the work taking place in 2019. The CCR platform serves as an extension of Tobacconist University—it’s fully integrated with the academic curriculum and includes images and videos from the Tobacconist University website, blog and YouTube channel. By working through a review, the users get firsthand experience learning the different components of a cigar review, helping to educate retailers and consumers about the products they purchase and smoke and also bringing more structure and clarity to the cigar reviewing process.
In the interview that follows, Armenteros takes us through the CCR platform and explains how retailers, in particular, will benefit from using this new tool both personally and within their businesses.
Tobacco Business: Reviews have been part of the cigar industry for years. In your opinion, why are cigar reviews important to tobacco businesses today?
Jorge Armenteros: As noted in the Tobacconist University Academic Curriculum, as an industry we owe a debt of gratitude to Marvin Shanken [the publisher of Cigar Aficionado and Wine Spectator] for pioneering cigar and wine reviews. I believe Cigar Aficionado was the impetus for the Cigar Boom of the 1990s and that all contemporary reviewers exist because of that pioneering spirit. I know that I wouldn’t be in the cigar industry if the boom hadn’t given me the confidence to open my first retail tobacconist store in 1995. Good reviews make cigars approachable and understandable because you can’t discern any of their substantive qualities by looking at them. Most beginner cigar smokers are too afraid to ask questions, so they buy the band that is attractive to them. Having the ability to look up cigar reviews online empowers consumers to go out and shop without feeling insecure about their experience level. Certified Cigar Reviews will bring substance and credibility to the cigar review marketplace.
Cigar reviews are typically done by members of the media. Why did you feel it was necessary to make them part of Tobacconist University curriculum? I would have to somewhat disagree with the statement that cigar reviews are typically done by members of the media. In fact, tobacconists do cigar reviews every day with every customer they engage with. We are reviewing cigars with our customers every time we are talking about cigars, so the CCR platform gives tobacconists and consumers a way to document and share their reviews in different ways. Certified Cigar Reviews have “legs,” so they can be printed as shelf talkers, disseminated on social media and emails, or printed as spec sheets to create a journal or dossier.
With regard to magazine and blogger reviews, these are powerful communication tools used to get eyeballs, create impressions and sell advertising. It is my understanding that many of the end-of-the-year top cigar lists are the most lucrative “products” for magazines and the blogosphere. While there may be many good reviews/reviewers in the marketplace, nobody does it better than the professionals whose job it is to sell cigars face to face in a retail environment. Above all, I want to empower professional tobacconists and consumers to express themselves, learn and enhance their appreciation for cigars in the process.
With that said, there will always be room for media-driven cigar reviews. Many reviewers have a unique style or palate that speaks to their readers. But there are also many problems with uncredentialed reviewers who don’t know the proper definition of words or facts. You can easily look up three different reviews of the same cigar and see that each reviewer is defining words like “strength,” “flavor” or “body” differently. This is a travesty because words and language matter. Opinions are not facts, and just because you scream and repeat something on the internet doesn’t mean it is true—substance matters!