Cigar Editorial: PCA 2021 Thoughts – Aaron

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Day to Day Recap

Heading into the trade show, I’m always curious what the mood will be like based on what has been happening in the industry and the world leading up to the event. With the trade show being canceled last year due to the pandemic and cigar sales being up, likely due to the same, I figured there would be a positive vibe going in. People were able to get out, see people, smoke together, so that should all lead to positivity.

On Friday, I arrived at the Sands Expo and had a quick and seamless check-in process where I ran into a few people to say hi to. There were a few seminars during the day covering topics about retail post pandemic, a PCA government affairs update and a panel discussion with manufacturers about how they are handling the boom. The seminar topics and content were more pertinent than some have been in years past. The attendance to these seminars seemed to be OK. It wasn’t a packed house, but not a ghost town either.

In the evening on Thursday was the opening reception. This is an event where all of the attendees can eat, drink, smoke and mingle. The event was very well attended and had a good energy to it. Lots of catching up with people that I hadn’t seen in over a year.

Saturday starts off with the opening breakfast and was another event with very good attendance. During the breakfast, the financials of the organization were discussed, awards for state organizations were handed out and the three newly elected board members were announced. To close out the meeting, Scott Pearce, the Executive Director of the PCA, gave a rousing speech about the industry, state of the organization and the legal fights that the industry is involved in. He also made a call to action for everyone to bring the fights where necessary as they will be getting to more granular levels. I thought he did a good job with the message and the tone.

After breakfast, the trade show was open to VIP retail members and the media with the remaining retail members getting in an hour later. Walking in and getting the lay of the land, the changes from 2019 were instantly recognizable. A majority of the booths had either reduced in size or remained the same as before. There are some that grew a bit, but that wasn’t very common. With the reduced sizes and the companies that weren’t attending, I would say that the overall floor coverage was maybe 50-60% of what it was in 2019. It made it pretty easy to get around the show floor.

Lunch was available through the first three full days as there was a food court that had four food stations as well as a concession stand towards the middle of the hall the convention was in. The food was pretty standard food court fare, nothing great, nothing horrible.

After the show closed on Saturday at 5 PM, there was an after hours cigar bar that would be open from 8PM to midnight where you could purchase drinks, sit and smoke. I did not attend the cigar bar, but from the pictures I saw, feedback from some that attended as well as from the PCA themselves, it was pretty lightly attended. In speaking with Scott Pearce, the reason for the cigar bar concept in the evening was due to when the planning was happening, they weren’t sure if smoking would be allowed in the casino/bars, so they wanted to offer attendees somewhere to smoke. With smoking allowed at the typical locations, it ate into attendance for the sponsored event.

Sunday fired off at 9 AM for the VIP Retailers and Media with the other Retailers joining an hour later. Traffic on Day 2 was pretty good. No scientific data to base that on, but just by eyeballing it, I’d say it was pretty close to the first day. One change for Day 2 was that instead of the planned cigar bar that would be held that evening, they moved it to a happy hour on the show floor that would run from 2-5 PM. A bit of an extra activity that happened was that the Euro 2020 final match was being played during the day and El Septimo had a booth with a tall video board that they showed the match on. Italy was facing England and the match went to extra time and then penalty kicks. There was a good crowd around the booth by the end and Italy won to a mix of cheers and mumbles. I was arm in arm with Claudio Sgroi as it was decided, so you can probably guess which country I was rooting for.

Monday started with a press conference for the media which consisted of Scott Pearce, John Anderson and Greg Zimmerman going through the initial attendance numbers and recapping how the show had gone up to that point. They also took questions from the media which were fairly tame. After the press conference it was back on the show floor and the attendance appeared pretty good for a third day. It seemed better than day 3 in previous years, but it could have just been the smaller footprint.

Tuesday, which is a shorter day, was pretty typical for the last day of the trade show with very light attendance. There was still business being done for some companies, but some completely skipped the final day and others were closing down their booths 1 to 2 hours before closing time.

Final Thoughts

As I mentioned previously, coming to this trade show, having the previous one canceled, going through the pandemic and booming sales it was going to be hard for this trade show not to have positivity going in and be seen as a “success” with all of these things masking the ongoing shortcomings that people have about the event. There are still the lowering attendance issue, ideas about what will draw people to the event, the companies who didn’t attend, among other issues that still need to be addressed. The PCA appears to still have these topics in their sights, so hopefully they continue to move forward with engaging with all of the participants and working towards resolving these questions and implementing any necessary changes.

The Photo

On the final day of the trade show, a majority of the exhibitors that were attending gathered for a photograph. I happened to see this as they were gathering and grabbed some of my own photos. My understanding was that the photo was to show the unity of the industry, which is fantastic. Unfortunately, what occurred was that there was a message attached to the photo from some who shared it that separated those who attended and those who didn’t. It was a poor decision and the fallout was immediate. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, discussion occurred and some changed their message. There is still plenty that needs to be done to achieve true unity through the industry, if that’s even possible, but it was a bit of a bummer that an event with such positivity wrapped up the way it did. And as I understand it, this message that was attached to the photo was not organized by the PCA, so it was not a shot taken by the organization at those not attending, but by the individuals who posted the message themselves.

The Future

The trade show needs to continually evolve to meet the needs of the members, most notably the retailers and the exhibitors. There are opinions thrown around constantly on what these changes should be and hopefully they can be reviewed and determine what the best plan of attack is.

The Exhibitors

One of the biggest items that needs to be addressed is trying to get the exhibitors who did not exhibit this year back to the show. There are a number of reasons why companies chose not to come, so there is work that needs to be done. The trade show is better with these companies attending as they bring money, attendance, buzz and other attributes with them.

The Venue

Las Vegas is still probably the best location logistically. With the exhibition space connected to host hotels with the casinos, dining and bars, it’s really hard to find a place that could do better. I would still like to see different dates, but I know that the dates used are mainly there due to the costs for rooms and maybe the costs of the event space. It may be a dealbreaker for some if costs went up, but I just think a different time of year is more convenient for retailers.

PCA Exclusives

It seems to me that the PCA Exclusive plan might have gotten a bit of a late start and along with the supply chain issues the industry is experiencing, manifested into an announcement and showing problem. My hope is that the companies that plan to offer these exclusive next year, can have them in a position where they are ready to announce well ahead of the show to help drive attendance, if that’s one of the main motivations for them, as well as have them at the show to be able to display.

Consumers

We all know that the announcement of CigarCon in 2019 went over like a lead balloon, but I still think that there may be validity to a consumer event around the trade show. The opening gala that was held for attendees this year seemed like a decent format that could be used for consumer attendance.

One of the big gripes was that booths on the show floor were not designed to be able to serve a consumer event, so having a reception event might make for a better format. If you have a set package of cigars that attendees receive when entering (don’t have them trick or treat) and then they can focus their time on mingling with their favorite brand owners/personalities. There can be decisions if cigars are donated or sold as part of the entry costs, but have the income from sales go towards the PCA. If there are small group tours through the show floor if the organizers feel they can control traffic, then that may take out the need for manning the booths.

Events During the Trade Show

While there are some seminars during the trade show, I’d like to see some events that create buzz, excitement and maybe some competition.

The Retail Competition

The Habanos Festival has the Habanosommelier competition which wouldn’t fly in it’s format here as it’s just not really how cigars are sold here, but I would like to see a staged competition for tobacconists working a humidor/bar/register with customers. You’d need to be able to stage an environment to run the competition in, select the participants, select the criteria and select the judges. It would be great to have the event run with a live audience as the attendees could be watching for the competition aspect, but the retailers could also be watching to gain insights into methods that they could bring into their shops. I’ve always felt that having some sort of peer group function during the event would bring immense value to the retailers attending.

The Iron Blender

A cigar version of the Iron Chef tv show where you pit various blenders against each other. It could be setup with a base inventory of tobaccos and then a featured tobacco that must be used, or it could just be based around a library of tobaccos and all is fair game. The blenders would have some time to experiment with the tobaccos and then build a blend. Either they or a dedicated roller puts together a specific number of them and then have a tasting panel go through the cigars where they don’t know which cigar is whose and then score them and declare an overall winner.

Deconstructing the Blend

This competition would consist of participants smoking an unbanded cigar, or multiple unbanded cigars and trying to identify the tobaccos used in the blends. A scoring system could be setup in how points are achieved and based on the results an overall winner or winners could be decided.

Cigar Editorial: PCA 2021 Thoughts – Aaron
Aaron LoomisCigar Editorial: PCA 2021 Thoughts – Aaron

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