I’m going to change up the format a bit from my previous versions of this write-up, just because I think the uniqueness of this year requires it.
Leading up to the trade show, Scott Pearce, Executive Director of the IPCPR, took to Facebook Live for a teaser about what the Big Announcement that was taking place the day before the trade show was to begin would consist of. It confirmed what many of us had heard as rumblings, or more than that, that the organization would be changing names. Shortly after that, Barry Stein from The Cigar Authority posted an article with the trademark search confirming the name change and that it would consist of being called the Premium Cigar Association (PCA). Following that, Charlie Minato from halfwheel posted an article fleshing out more about the name change and the additional item people had been hearing about, that a consumer day was coming and would be called CigarCon.
The teaser and both articles set off a storm of social media commentary where people voiced their opinion on these items with most of it targeting the consumer day concept and the majority of it had a negative connotation. All of the information known to this point was still needed to be confirmed by the organization, but from what many of us had already been hearing, everything seemed to be on the path that was laid out in the halfwheel article.
Two days before the trade show began, media received an email from IPCPR Executive Director Pearce, that those conducting interviews should schedule them in advance and when possible, conduct them outside of normal show hours. Based on my interaction with other media brands, scheduling interviews is typically the way things go as it’s common courtesy, plus it makes managing the media coverage schedule much easier. I didn’t take the email too negatively as I figured it’s just a friendly reminder that the show is designed for retailers to do business and we should respect that fact and work our activities around that. Others didn’t take too kindly to the email, which I can understand as with 2 days notice, it doesn’t really help much. And trying to get media to work with companies outside of regular show hours is a bit of an ask as these companies typically have events outside of show hours as well. If there are some bad media apples like Cigar Dave or others and then was sent out as a wide net to try to get those people to comply, then the people that already follow these best practices are just going to feel like they’re being talked down to and the people it was targeted at aren’t going to get the message anyway. If an exhibitor or retailer has an issue with a media member and comes to the organization with a complaint, take it up with the parties involved directly. You’ll solve and prevent a lot more problems that way.
This far into the article and the trade show hasn’t even started yet and you can see the downward trajectory that the vibe of the show was going to take in direct opposition of last year where, other than a norovirus scare, things were quite upbeat with the Hand Rolled documentary premiere and the keynote that was delivered by Marcus Luttrell.
The first day of the event consisted of seminars, the Big Announcement and the Opening Gala. I arrived into Las Vegas right around noon on this day, so I wasn’t able to attend any of the seminars, so I won’t be able to share any insight on them. My main focus for Friday was to attend the Big Announcement. Things were going just as I had expected them when walking to the location for the announcement as a fair number of attendees on both the exhibitor and retailer side were walking the other direction and not attending. The name change was announced along with the reasoning and goal of the organization, but with the consumer day item coming next, the organization could have been named anything and I don’t think anyone would have batted an eye.
The announcement of consumer day with little details other than the date it would happen and that retailers would be driving tickets sales and escorting the attendees was delivered. No gasps or yelled reactions from the audience, just a lot of leaning over and whispering to their neighbor as I scanned the room from my position standing in the back of the room. Rocky Patel and Christian Eiroa both spoke and gave their support for the concept. Once everything was delivered no questions were asked in the session, which quite surprised me. With all of the negativity on social media from the members of the organization the week leading up to this, no one wanted to share their thoughts? The media held back as we were going to be given some time to ask our questions in a separate room. The announcement ended and I felt both disappointment that attendees didn’t get involved, but also felt that this is par for the course with this group. A Q&A session was setup for the retailers a few days later, but I wasn’t able to attend due to scheduled meetings and I haven’t heard any results of what the session consisted of.
The media all shuffled downstairs to the smaller room where we were going to get to ask questions to Director Pearce, Scott Regina of the IPCPR board and Rocky Patel. As soon as they were ready, I fired off the first question, not wanting to waste any time that was made available to us. Some good and not so good questions were asked. The summary of what we found out is that they want to sell 4,500 tickets for consumer day 2020 and would like to get that up to 8,000 within a few years. No budget has been set yet for how much they’ll spend or what they expect to bring in. No profit, the whole reason for doing this, is expected within the first few years. Retailers will sell the tickets and be the chaperones for the attendees. A fair number of questions had no answers to them as the idea isn’t fully fleshed out yet and still a work in progress. I’m not sure if they are going to be working with feedback from members of the organization on how to make this happen or just their own planning time, but this seems like a fair amount of logistics to iron out to be ready for the event next year.
The trade show was back at the Sands Expo Center, which I think most people were happy about. It provides much easier access based on where people are staying and for post show activities whether it be hanging out at some of the bars, restaurant locations or scheduled parties. The logistics of the venue were all familiar and I will say the food that was served was pretty good, definitely an upgrade over the last few years.
This year, we once again rented an AirBnB which was even better than the one we had last year. It provided a nice relaxing location that we could retreat to after the show had ended. We had a night where we invited people over and had quite the conversations that wrapped up about 6:15AM the next morning.
The Trade Show:
The show itself went as it normally does, with people visiting booths and doing business. There were some new companies there this year which made some splashes and a mix of some new booths along with some companies that stuck to their tried and true presence. The common discussion topic was consumer day. Most of it remained in opposition, but there were a few exhibitors that were in favor of it and made some good points in regards to the benefits. I didn’t speak with many retailers, but from the ones that I did, none were in favor.
With all of the distractions leading up to the event, I thought the trade show itself was a pretty good one. There was a mix of some new companies, a fair amount of new cigars that were carrying some buzz and the return of some cigars that had been off the market for some time. I wasn’t going to allow the negativity to take the focus away from why we were at the trade show. Speaking for myself, I came out of the show feeling excited for the year ahead of the many new cigars to smoke.
Day 1 was busy as always and then dwindled as the days passed. Day 3 was quite light and the last day was a ghost town. With the dates being right around a holiday, it’s hard for me to tell if the reduced attendance was due to the dates, due to the negativity leading up to the Big Announcement or just the downward trajectory that attendance has been taking over the years. Next year may provide some insight since the days are later in the month and after the holiday.
Just a small ticky tack gripe is the badges that were handed out to attendees. Just a paper badge with metal clips through cutouts near the edges of the badge led to torn edges and people re-clipping repeatedly as they continued to tear. Plastic covers have been used every year previous to this one, so not sure why they weren’t used this year.
The opening breakfast was a bit of a letdown this year and for me it’s just really around the keynote speaker. I felt he was nothing more than a hype man that didn’t bring much substance to the group. I feel like most of the keynote speakers, last year is definitely excluded from this, are more about pandering to the demographic of the majority of retailers in regards to their political or cultural views rather than bringing insight and value to them.
The biggest disappointment for me was around the teaser, leaks and announcement before the show. With how positive things were to kick off the 2018 trade show, the IPCPR put on a clinic this year of how to completely fuck that up. First off, get the legal team to brush up on the concept of non-disclosure agreements. Second, get some help on timing. Announcing this right before the trade show with the idea only half-baked made no sense. Work on the details and announce it when it’s ready to be announced. If this was a ploy to try to gather feedback to then fully form the details, they went about it the wrong way. Try having better communication with your members. So many people, exhibitors and retailers alike, mentioned that they hadn’t been polled, consulted or whatever other form of communication you’d want on the matter. And third, the IPCPR/PCA board, the retailers and the exhibitors really need to figure out how to organize things and communicate better. It seems like the board is doing their own thing and many of the retailers feel as though they aren’t being represented.
Well, we have CigarCon coming up next year, with few details about it and the majority of the participants with a negative attitude about it. We’ll see how this progresses. With the FDA regulations being completely overshadowed at the trade show, that’s still the biggest threat to the industry. If CigarCon can be successful and profitable, then I think people will go along with it, but there are still a lot of unanswered questions. The potential is there for this to be the greatest consumer event in the United States as no other existing event can offer the same level of exhibitors. For the most part, people hate change, so that’s where some of the hate is coming from, but the announcement of a partially planned event has not helped. Time can ease the hate around the change and allow for planning of the event, we just have to see if it gets done.
On the positive side, there is a lot to look forward to in regards to cigars coming out of the trade show. Some friendly competition amongst manufacturers creates a nice market of new products and I’m looking forward to smoking as many of them as I can.
Quite the interesting event this year and I’m hoping that all of the parties involved can put on their big boy pants and work through the poor communication issues and work together on these plans to generate the money needed for the PCA to help fight regulation.