What costs are associated with the CCST program?
Our CCST School for three people is $500, and a school for one person is $250. On the upside, if a person leaves your company, you can use that slot to certify another person at no extra cost. Additionally, you can let as many people “inside” the school as you want, so the education is free once you purchase the school; only the certifications are limited. We also offer discounts for larger companies and multiple locations.
I can say with confidence that our CCST program provides the greatest ROI of any program we offer. While a retail tobacconist already has experience and knowledge, the CCST student benefits the most from the education we give them. Just the confidence and fundamental knowledge a student gets is enough to exponentially grow their sales and improve their customers’ experience.
What sort of things will those completing the Certified Cigar Sommelier Tobacconist program learn?
Fundamentals! Fundamentals! Fundamentals! This is so important. Cigars are sanitary products with legal restrictions, so everyone must understand these fundamentals. We start the Retail School with, “You don’t have to like cigars to sell them—just respect your customers’ taste.” Then we have sections on legal compliance, temperature and humidity, sanitary standards, merchandising, point-of-sale, upselling, selling luxury and other topics. We start building professionalism from the bottom up, making sure our students are qualified to sell premium cigars, not just hacks trying to make a buck. In our Cigar Fundamentals School, we teach you everything you need to know from seed to cigars and everything in between. This section is enhanced with our videos, images and PDFs. It is an impressive education that is unparalleled. Lastly, we have the Cigar Pairing School, which is designed to empower students to enhance their customers’ experience, increasing satisfaction and sales!
There’s another level of the Certified Cigar Sommelier Tobacconist program called Maestro. Tell us about this special designation.
First, I must state that our CCST program has been much more successful than we ever imagined. We even have retail tobacconists using the program because it is so cost- and time-efficient. Frankly speaking, not every store sells pipes and is “full service,” so the CCST degree is perfect for many dedicated cigar retailers. We even have stores that use the CCST program for some of their employees and the CRT for others. It is a way to strategically train, reward and promote employees in a tiered system.
Over the last few years, we have seen many cigar “educators” in the marketplace. Some are retailers while others are hobbyists on social media or members of cigar clubs that get together in real life and virtually. Many serious educators have gravitated toward our CCST program, and we are happy to see that because there is a lot more bad information out there than good education. If people want to go out and educate others, we want to help them do it right. As always, we are concerned about the substance and credibility of our industry. To that end, we saw an opportunity to empower our students and retailers to educate others and do it well. The just-released CCST Maestro degree is available to any CRT or CST who also has a CCST degree.
A CCST Maestro has the ability to administer their own CCST School and purchase certification slots at a deep discount. They can choose to give the certifications away for free or sell them at whatever price they choose. This is a particularly unique opportunity for retailers who do in-house educational seminars, often charging a price for cigars and libations or whatever. A retailer can combine their own education with the Tobacconist University CCST curriculum and give their customers all of the benefits of Tobacconist University Certification. Then their students will have the ability to take a test and print their own diploma. All of this occurs under the umbrella of Tobacconist University, but it is managed by our most accomplished Certified Tobacconists. While this program has just been released, we see it as extremely empowering for those who want to educate, promote and potentially profit from their unique skills.
Tell us about the actual process of applying for this certification and completing it.
Go to the “Get Certified – CCST” section of our website and register your company. After submitting payment, your CCST School will immediately open with the logo you uploaded during registration. You can literally start your employee training program in minutes. Once your school is open, you can share the credentials with employees you want to educate, and they will study at their own pace. Those seeking certification will sign up as apprentices and take the final exam at their own convenience.
We estimate studying should take between five and 15 hours, but many people take less time. Once they pass the final exam, the CCST will be able to print their own diploma, and their listing will be enhanced with their company logo and rotate on our homepage. All active CCSTs also get free use of our Certified Cigar Reviews platform to create and share reviews as well as print shelf-talkers. There are no ongoing renewal or testing requirements, but the school and listings will stay active and open for three years.
Once someone completes their Certified Cigar Sommelier Tobacconist test and passes, how might they use their newfound certification in the real world?
Sales is about confidence and competence, and our CCST degree delivers all that and much more. Just like with all of Tobacconist University’s other degrees, it is up to the person to leverage their own credibility and knowledge to further their own success. The more you proactively leverage, the better off you will be.
This story first appeared in the March/April 2021 issue of Tobacco Business magazine. Members of the tobacco industry are eligible for a complimentary subscription to our magazine. Click here for details.