My goal for Thursday: cover TPE.
By the time I got to the Las Vegas Convention Center on Wednesday, it was already well past noon. And then, less than an hour after my arrival, news broke that Thompson Cigar Co. has been acquired, which created a distraction and ended up with me spending most my time talking to certain people.
So Thursday morning I got up and headed into TPE just as the day opened. And then I walked around.
I previously described TPE as a smaller version of Inter-tabac, that is, it’s a tobacco trade show, not a cigar trade show. Cigars are a part, certainly a notable part, but it only amounts to the minority of the trade show. There’s also a large vape/e-cigarette presence, hookah, smokeless, alternative (marijuana) and a lot of accessories.
And a gourmet popcorn booth.
That’s largely the most fun of TPE: what are you going to see this year. I didn’t see an alpaca or artificial urine in a booth, but there was gourmet popcorn and a lot of nicotine salts, a vaping product that I had no clue about.
There were certainly more cigar companies than last year, including a few new additions. This is certainly not a complete list, but here’s what I recall seeing:
- Altadis U.S.A.
- Arturo Fuente/J.C. Newman
- Cornelius & Anthony
- Davidoff of Geneva USA
- Drew Estate
- El Artista
- General Cigar Co./STG Lane
- Gran Habano
- Miami Cigar & Co.
- Nat Sherman
- Phillips & King/Ventura Cigar Co.
- Rocky Patel
- Royal Agio USA
- Total Flame
Jason Carignan, chief marketing officer at Kretek International, Inc., told me the show expanded. It moved locations from downstairs to upstairs and I was told there was about 20 percent more booth space, which sold out. Attendance was also said to have increased, which seems plausible given what I saw.
Cigar-wise, I only saw one new product: the new baseball bat-shaped cigar from the Big Papi brand. Both JetLine and Lotus had new accessories in their booth, which highlights the fact that there is a pretty healthy dose of accessory companies at TPE with Boveda, Quality Importers and others attending.
Royal Agio USA, which was included in the Drew Estate booth for the last few years, made a large presence on its own this year. It was a similar—minus the Drew Estate part—story for Miami Cigar & Co. Both weren’t at TPE last year but came out swinging with smaller versions of their IPCPR booths. Both companies also have the advantage of selling a lot more than just premium cigars, something that’s particularly helpful at TPE.
One area where TPE looks very similar to Inter-tabac is the random accessory companies I’ve never heard of and their oftentimes elaborate booth displays.
In fairness, I’ve heard of Newport, who has also apparently heard of JetLine, or at least its Chinese factory as many of the products were identical to JetLine.
Oliva was one of a number of cigar companies that seemed to upgrade its booth set-up this year. Of note, it actually seemed like it helped. Each time I stopped by there was at least one other person in the booth, though I’m not sure how much order writing was going on.
Drew Estate really stepped up its effort. The company had two booths: one for writing orders and another that was part lounge, part ACID Experience, setting up the shipping container that is used at large consumer events around the country, mainly geared at the company’s mass market efforts.
Like last year, albeit not as much, TPE included some relaxation areas. This year’s new additions included a variety of slackline set-ups, which were used randomly throughout the two days.
Beyond why am I at TPE, the question everyone would like to know the answer to is: should I go to TPE? I continue to say, probably not. I don’t think there is a single cigar manufacturer in attendance that doesn’t openly admit that the main reason for going to TPE is because Phillips & King/Kretek is a large and important client. Truth be told, for most companies, it’s a pretty dead show as far as writing orders. There are some larger distributors that can help make the two-day affair worth it, but that’s few and far between and with a lot of downtime.
I was curious to see whether last year’s California tax hike would have a big impact on what little orders are written at TPE, particularly because the show is hosted in Las Vegas and Kretek is based in California. According to the companies I spoke to, not much. Now, it should be pointed out that because of the ratio of money spent between those California retailers and the big distributors, it’s easy to overlook a few smaller shops not attending. However, companies I spoke to and others I witnessed seem to be busier than last year.
As for retailers, your Phillips & King rep can sell you on TPE better than I can, but there is one reason why you should consider TPE: marijuana. While some states and tobacconists will likely stay out of the marijuana business, many will legalize it in some capacity. Furthermore, there are hemp products that are already legal as well as CBD, which isn’t legal everywhere but is pretty common. The point is, marijuana/cannabis/alternatives are already here, and it’s only going to keep coming. TPE has some of those vendors, though it’s not a full on marijuana trade show like the CHAMPS Show.
TPE will give you as a retailer—in a relatively short amount of time—a chance to walk around and get educated on what is happening in that very large and burgeoning space. And the truth is no matter how conservative of a state you live in or how traditional of a business you run, you would be foolish to not at least see what’s happening with marijuana because your competitors will, or perhaps are already doing so.
I certainly don’t see the IPCPR Convention & Trade Show adding much in the way of marijuana-related companies or even much education on the topic, but tobacconists should take note. It’s a very related segment, one that is already far bigger than the U.S. cigar market and growing. TPE offers a chance for retailers to see that world, while also having the familiarity of major cigar companies and some guidance from Phillips & King/Kretek themselves about how things are going in that space. Furthermore, if there’s one area where TPE really outdoes IPCPR it’s educational programming. There are more seminars with better overall attendance and Kretek really seems to put a lot of effort and resources in said seminars.
As much as Phillips & King/Kretek doesn’t want me to say this: if you are going to come to TPE, come for the weed, not the cigars. Though, to be quite clear, I didn’t actually see marijuana bud for sale on the show floor.