Day to Day Recap
Leading up to the trade show, we had received some positive news in regards to the industry’s fight against the FDA, so I think that brought an upbeat outlook on how the pulse of the trade show would go. Without any other real negative issues, besides the ongoing COVID concerns, I was expecting a good experience.
On Friday, I arrived at the Expo center and had a quick and seamless check-in process just like last year. There was a nice upgrade to the badges as they were laminated and concerns over them tearing and being lost appeared to be solved. I came in later than previous years, so I wasn’t able to attend any of the seminars, but from what I heard and saw from pictures, the Fuente seminar was well attended. After checking in, I got to chat with some people that I saw in the area before heading into the opening gala. This is an event where all of the attendees can eat, drink, smoke and mingle. The event appeared to have been in a larger space than last year and was very well attended and had a good energy to it.
The schedule was moved back an hour later this year, so Saturday started off with the opening breakfast at 9 AM. This is in a very large space and the attendance here is mostly retailers as the exhibitors are getting ready for the show floor to open. The meeting was pared down a bit this year, not going over some of the financials as much but discussing board positions, new members, etc. I’d be curious to hear the feedback the PCA gets from the retailers to see if this version of the breakfast was more in line with what they wanted.
After breakfast, the trade show was open to VIP retail members and the media with the remaining retail members getting in an hour later. I was curious to see what the show floor would look like after the minimalistic appearance from last year. Going through the doors, the show floor looked more like pre-pandemic shows with some bigger booths. Overall, the footprint of the floor appeared bigger than last year with some booths growing as well as just having more booths from the previous year from some companies coming back as well as new companies attending.
As normal, lunch was available through the first three full days as there was a food court that had multiple food stations as well as a concession stand towards the middle of the hall the convention was in. Interestingly, I didn’t each lunch any of the days. I’m not sure if this is due to the later start to the days and bulking up on breakfast in the morning or what. The show floor consumption was a steady flow of water, coffee and various spirits.
There were happy hours each of the first three days from 4 to 7 PM, with the show closing at 6PM. These were hosted in a large PCA lounge near the middle of the show floor with some smaller bars mixed around the show floor. I didn’t attend any of these events, but did walk by while they were happening a few times and the attendance looked decent. Another item that I’m curious to see what feedback they get on it.
Sunday had the same 10 AM start for the VIP Retailers and Media with the other Retailers joining an hour later. Traffic on Day 2 may have started a little lighter than the previous day, but seemed to pick up pretty quickly from what I saw.
Monday started with a press conference for the media which consisted of Scott Pearce, Greg Zimmerman and some of the PCA board 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 focused around future show dates and locations as well as some additional types of exhibitors that may be allowed in the future. After the press conference it was back on the show floor and the attendance appeared to have a fairly big dip from the previous two days. It might have been a more significant dip than I had seen in previous years. There were also a few exhibitors who had packed up and were not displaying on Day 3.
Tuesday, which is a shorter day and runs from 9 AM to 1 PM, 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 companies are typically closing down their booths 1 to 2 hours before closing time.
Overall, the event seemed to be very successful. There was good attendance, the vibe was upbeat, everyone seemed enthusiastic along with the normal talk of how good sales were. I heard that this was the best show in quite a while, more than a few times.
There were a few events that drew significant attention during the trade show:
Fuente and Padron did an unveiling of the box and what may or may not be the cigars that they have announced. The crowd was quite large to see this reveal. No important details have really been provided about this project, such as release date, pricing, etc., so this is still very much vaporware until something tangible is produced.
Guy Fieri was in the Espinosa booth for a bit to promote the Knuckle Sandwich, take photos and do some signings. Whenever a celebrity is promoted as being in a booth, it tends to draw a crowd and this was no different. Attendees from all categories were lined up to get an interaction with the celebrity chef.
El Septimo was displaying their $5.5 million dollar lighter. Some very large gentlemen were keeping an eye on things to make sure items didn’t walk away, but they had a nice display setup for people to get a look or for some, to even interact with it. Definitely a good draw for the company and was a topic that came up in conversation with other exhibitors and attendees.
It was good to see some companies that had skipped one or more of the previous shows return. There were a few companies that attended last year that chose not to be there this year, and the Big 4 were still missing. It sounds like there are continuing discussion between the PCA and some of the Big 4 and that we might be seeing one or more of them coming back. There are always going to be companies that don’t attend, but the more that do just make the trade show better. There was also a good number of companies who were new to the show and that’s always a positive to see.
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. The trade show is at the same location for 2023, but the topic of the 2024 trade show is being discussed and the two options are to stay in Las Vegas around the same time or New Orleans in April. The New Orleans location provides some challenges, but the earlier time in the year might be welcomed by most while also bringing up some concerns around the time proximity to TPE and TAA.
The PCA exclusives seemed to be a bit better planned and integrated into the trade show, but I think there’s still a lot that could be done. Getting them announced earlier and having the full products ready is still the number one item. Surprises are great, but if you are trying to use it as a driver for retailer attendance, I’m not sure mystery items move that needle.
COVID played a role this year at the trade show. I think it was on Monday that we started hearing of people testing positive, and as the hours went along, more and more people were doing so and it continues now after the trade show. It’s a tough situation to be in. I think the PCA should have sent a communication out to the attendees letting them know of positive cases occurring, but that would be the extent of things as you wouldn’t really be able to communicate who due to privacy concerns. It’s an ongoing concern at any event and the trade show was not immune.
Cigar Editorial: PCA 2021 Thoughts – Aaron