Somehow, I write this more hungover than I was for yesterday’s post.
My Saturday started visiting with a few people, including my one planned meeting of the entire trade fair: Scandinavian Tobacco Group (STG), parent of General Cigar Co. and Cigars International.
In the American premium cigar world, STG is the most powerful company in the industry. In Europe, not so much. While STG makes plenty of other products like little cigars, cigarillos, cut tobacco, etc. that sell well in Europe, its premium cigar component is notably smaller. That said, STG sells its cigars in a lot of European countries, so it’s always interesting to hear their take on European regulations.
It’s not getting better in Europe. Germany has larger warning labels, the Netherlands is planning restrictions on embossing and foil, and plain packaging is only a matter of time. While cigar makers grapple with planned warning labels in Europe, those in the European Union are dealing with different warning labels and restrictions from country to country.
I suspect this–more than anything else–will be the reason we start to see a decline in the number of companies trying to do business in Europe. As the regulations further, it’s becoming more essential for companies to be able to produce higher volumes in Europe in order to be profitable.
Another notable conversation was with Rocky Patel. As we were walking out of the convention hall he quipped that the stands, i.e. booths, were becoming more and more elaborate here in Dortmund. They certainly are, and with little exception the booths here are more impressive than the ones at the IPCPR Convention & Trade Show.
All that costs money and just like at the IPCPR Convention & Trade Show, it’s challenging to figure out if the money spent on these elaborate booths really leads to higher sales.
This year in particular, there seems to be an increase in the complexity of the structures. Some companies have new stands while others have dramatically updated what previously seemed like a perfectly fine structure.
Though, it’s worth pointing out that in a couple of cases, people have actually removed some furniture from the inside of their booths to allow for more space, most notably at Kohlhase & Kopp; in previous years it was nearly impossible to move around the booth without physically bumping into someone.
Speaking of large amounts of people in tight spaces. After that I headed to Signal Iduna Park, home of Borussia Dortmund. The 81,000 person stadium is located right next to the convention hall and as is normally the case, Dortmund was playing at home this weekend.
Regular readers of this site will know that Borussia Dortmund is my team, my favorite team in all of professional sports. As such, I try to make it to the games when I’m here.
If you’ve never been to a German soccer game and have a chance, go. If you are remotely capable of going to a Borussia Dortmund game, go. Here’s a brief list of things that will surprise most Americans.
- It’s affordable — And the fans protest price increases and gouging. Face values of tickets range from €9.90-50 ($12-65). A beer outside the stadium is €2, a bratt is €2.50 and inside the stadium it’s less than €4 ($4.75) for a large beer.
- The game is quick — Two 45 minute halves, maybe another six minutes of added time (Saturday was a total of one minute), a 15 minute half time. And that’s it. No stopping, no commercial breaks, no overtime.
- The fans are respectful — I was with Rocky Patel, who has been to one other Dortmund game, and midway through the first half I told him to look at the aisles. It’s an 81,360-person stadium with no one in the aisles. Even with a minute to go in the first half there were probably less than 100 people walking down to get a headstart on the food or bathroom lines.
And then, there’s The Yellow Wall.
Borussia Dortmund is home to the Südtribüne, the south stand. Behind one goal are 25,000 fans, standing. They are the ultras, the most passionate fans. They are wearing the team’s colors, yellow and black. And they are world-famous.
There are no seats for league games, you stand and cheer in unison. It’s an unbelievably choreographed exercise that begins before the game starts and lasts until 10 or so minutes after the game with the only reprieve being the 15-minute halftime. I’ve stood in The Yellow Wall before, but this was far and away the closest I’ve ever been to seeing it.
Here is the mood, five or so minutes after the game ended.
And now back to tobacco.
Here’s a few more brief thoughts from the midway point of InterTabac.
- There’s a surprising number of American retailers here — Alex Svenson of Cigars International, Rob Maneson of JR Cigar, Terry Gallagher of Smoker Friendly, the guys from Blend Bar, and Kirill Faerovitch, the owner of Puffs N Stuff in Pittsburgh. They each have reasons for being here, but five years ago I don’t think a single American retailer was here outside of Robert Levin, who owns Ashton and Holt’s.
- If you are an American retailer you shouldn’t be here — I’m all for promoting Dortmund, both its trade show and soccer team, but if you are reading this and wondering if you need to be here, the answer is no. But come anyway, we’ll have a good time.
- How do you say “election day” in German? — Today is election day in Germany. Sunday is normally the slowest day of InterTabac, but it’s not like the IPCPR Convention & Trade Show where it feels like 90 percent of the attendees are gone. I’m curious to see what today looks like in terms of people, particularly in regard to people working the stands.