While the premium cigar industry tends to focus their attention on the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers (IPCPR) Convention and Trade Show, there are a few other trade shows that have been getting the attention of the industry as of late. One of those is the Tobacco Plus Expo (TPE), whose 2013 show was held January 30–31 at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

The show is geared mainly towards convenience store and smoke shop owners, as it features predominantly cigarettes, e-cigarettes, hookahs and glassware, as well as a staggering selection of energy drinks and novelty items, for lack of a better – or more honest – term. However, the premium cigar industry is showing more of a presence at this trade show, as more stores are broadening their product selection to include more products from companies such as Drew Estate, General Cigar Co., Gurkha, Altadis U.S.A. and others, while certain stores are broadening their selections to include an additional range of tobacco products.

One thing that became very apparent the moment I stepped on the floor is that the booths are much smaller than what is found at IPCPR. General Cigar Co., who was said to have a booth in the range of 8,500 square feet at the 2012 IPCPR show, contained themselves in a single booth space that was probably 10′ x 10′ at best. The same was said for several others – A.J. Fernandez had a single space, while Gurkha, Rocky Patel and Boutique Blends were in no more than three spaces each. Drew Estate and Davidoff of Geneva had by far the biggest spaces, both at 30′ x 40′, which ranked third in terms of booth space amongst all exhibitors, trailing distributor Phillips & King (80′ x 30′) and Starbuzz Tobacco (50′ x 30′). It’s also worth noting that Phillips & King distributes several of the premium cigar brands in attendance, including Drew Estate, Joya de Nicaragua, Rocky Patel, Davidoff, General Cigar and Altadis, as well as several other notable brands. Due to the licenses held by many of the shops in attendance, they are required to go through a distributor to obtain premium cigar products, so many of the booths tended to be supplemental and offered a way to see a company’s full line while talking with senior management and sales people.

Because TPE is still a fairly minor show in the premium cigar world, few brand owners were in attendance. The most notable amongst attendees was Rafael Nodal, CEO of Boutique Blends Cigars, who makes SWAG, Aging Room and Oliveros. He was joined by Fabian Barrantes, the company’s vice-president and director of marketing. The bulk of the premium cigar booths were staffed by sales or marketing directors – Clay Roberts, VP of Marketing and Media for A.J. Fernandez handled their booth; Michael Herklots and Ike Karapides manned Nat Sherman; Gurkha was staffed by their director of marketing, Oliver Hyams; while Drew Estate was headlined by Dave Lafferty and Fabien Ziegler, regional sales manager and event dude, respectively, along with several area sales reps. Jonathan Drew was said to be in Las Vegas during the show, but I never saw him at the Drew Estate booth or anywhere on the show floor. None of the big three from Rocky Patel were on hand, as Dave Bollock, the company’s director of sales, handled the traffic at their booth with a pair of area sales representatives. Chris Edge, president of Dona Flor Cigars was joined by Curtis Pearson, the company’s sales & marketing director in their well-decorated booth. Cigar Rights of America’s booth was staffed by president Glynn Loope along with Patrick Carr, who has become an increasingly visible presence at CRA events around the country.

While the event doesn’t draw the same star power that IPCPR does, it does provide retailers additional time to spend with some key personnel from each company. Even though the show is half as long as IPCPR, the amount of time for conversation proved to be two or three times as plentiful.

Likewise, there aren’t a lot of new products on display at TPE, as those tend to be saved for IPCPR or press releases. That doesn’t mean that there wasn’t news coming out of the show: Michael Herklots of Nat Sherman about the new Nat Sherman 1930 line that will be debuting in early summer, and it was confirmed that the CAO Right Coast would soon be hitting retailers’ shelves in the southeastern United States as a follow-up to the previously released CAO Left Coast. Gurkha/Cojimar showed off their new Supernatural line of infused cigars that seemed to go over well with numerous retailers. Boutique Blends had their recently released Aging Room Quattro twin-packs on display, a new format released for the holidays, while Colibri showed off the new artwork and logo for their Firebird line of lighters, which included some new additions.

If there were a few trends to see the premium cigar manufacturers embracing at TPE was the idea of the single-serve cigar. Drew Estate has grown their G-Fresh line of single-cigar packaging are including ACID, Tabak Especial, Natural and now Undercrown lines. General Cigar Co. has also entered the single-cigar market, as they have released lines containing Macanudo, Partagas, Punch and Excalibur cigars. While Oliva had their core line of Serie G and Serie V on display, most of the attention at their booth seemed focused on the single serve NUb tower, where a retailer can offer multiple facings of the line in one display.

One of the newer entries comes from StogiePack, who was showing customizable six– and twelve-count humidors that retailers can customize with virtually any cigar on the market, each packed in single packages sealed to ensure freshness. Given that the majority of retailers present at TPE likely don’t have full humidors, these single-stick offerings are a smart choice for those who want to offer cigars without the investment of a full humidor build-out and with the flexibility of quickly adjusting their product offerings.

Outside of the premium cigar market, the biggest trend at TPE 2013 was the immense growth of e-cigarettes. What was once a product offered by just a handful of companies seemed to be available at practically every other booth. A few folks had asked me if I had ever tried an e-cigar, which I hadn’t, nor did I come across any to sample. Had I, I’m not sure I would have partaken.

The final takeaway from TPE 2013 was that a chemist from the Food & Drug Administration was on-hand both days, seemingly trying to gather some information about the products being offered, most of which don’t bear mentioning here. While I didn’t get the chance to speak with her at length, she did make two stops to the Cigar Rights of America booth and stopped by Gurkha’s booth to learn about the Supernatural line and to ask if they were flavored or infused, a distinction that is becoming increasingly important as the premium cigar industry looks to ward off FDA regulation. It remains to be seen if the FDA tries to gain entry to the IPCPR trade show this year, but it will be a scenario worth watching. Either way, the threat of FDA regulation is becoming increasingly real to the premium cigar industry.

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Patrick Lagreid

I strive to capture the essence of a cigar and the people behind them in my work – every cigar you light up is the culmination of the work of countless people and often represents generations of struggle and stories. For me, it’s about so much more than the cigar – it’s about the story behind it, the experience of enjoying the work of artisans and the way that a good cigar can bring people together. In addition to my work with halfwheel, I’m the public address announcer for the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks during spring training, as well as for the Salt River Rafters of the Arizona Fall League, the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury and the Arizona Rattlers of the Indoor Football League. I also work in a number of roles for MLB.com, plus I'm a voice over artist. I previously covered the Phoenix and national cigar scene for Examiner.com, and was an editor for Cigar Snob magazine.