For a few years,InterTabac, the European trade show, was my favorite trade show to attend because there simply wasn’t much to do. I could show up, walk around and casually visit with the dozen or so cigar companies in attendance. Unlike the IPCPR Convention & Trade Show, where we cover roughly 130 companies and their new products in four days, it was downright relaxing. As I described yesterday, for so many different reasons, the Tobacco Plus Expo is very much a mini-InterTabac.
Times have changed at InterTabac—there are far more cigar companies in attendance, there are more new products at the show and there’s more business being done that interferes with my previous plans of “not doing much.” Times have also changed at TPE.
A BUSY START
TPE added a third day this year, meaning the first day of the trade show would start at 1 p.m., as opposed to the typical 10:30 a.m. start times for the others. I wasn’t sure what to make of the addition and was even less sure about what the attendance would look like. I certainly did not expect a literal crowd of people waiting to flood into the doors.
But it’s not just the quantity of people. Multiple times I turned around and saw retailers who had never shown up, representing large stores with big buying power. Some of them are here just to hob knob, some are curious about the other, non-cigar products at the show, but some are buying cigars. I’m not sure if that’s going to make a difference in whether the most simplistic of ROI calculations will make TPE worth it for manufacturers, but it’s a starting point and I suspect that many of the manufacturers who are walking around without booths to come back next year with an actual presence.
I think in every facet TPE is getting better, but I imagine the increased retail presence is a direct result of two things: a. making a personalized effort to get retailers to come; b. paying for (some of) the retailer’s travel cost. TPE’s decision to pay for the hotel rooms of key buyers paid for itself. It’s something I’ve long argued cigar companies should do in relation to the IPCPR Convention & Trade Show and I suspect given the success rate I saw yesterday, we might finally start seeing it in regards to the bigger show.
MORE STAR POWER
TPE is part of TMG International Inc., which is a subsidiary of the large tobacco distributor, Phillips & King. TMG also operates Tobacco Business magazine and that brand plays a big part of the overall TPE experience, nowhere more obvious than with its awards show. While I don’t think it’s an inherent quid pro quo of you show up, you get an award, there’s no question that giving people awards helps to get people to show up to the trade show.
Last night’s award show saw 13 winners recognized, including three big names in the cigar industry who had not been at TPE in years past: Liana Fuente, Nestor Miranda and Ernesto Perez-Carrillo Jr.
The event itself also seemed a bit grander and the Sayers Club, the space where the event was held, was definitely more crowded than in years prior.
I’m curious to go explore this theory more tomorrow, but one other change is that many booths are getting larger and more elaborate, particularly in the non-cigar space. From what I could tell, there were less than 20 new exhibitors compared to last year, but the trade show floor certainly felt more cramped. Some of that is definitely due to more booths being on the show floor, but I think another large part is probably the vertical nature of booths, i.e. things are getting taller.
Some other random observations from Day 1
- CBD Over FDA — The interest in talking about FDA and its regulation of the premium cigar industry has been waning for years, but there is no doubt that when it comes to three-letter acronyms, the one cigar companies and retailers want to talk about right now, it’s CBD. Otherwise known as cannabidiol, CBD has burst onto the scene riding the medical marijuana wave and promising to deliver therapeutic effects without the psychoactive aspect of THC. It’s showing up in more and more places, and with questions as to if and how it will be regulated.
- Less Crazy — Whether it was the woman selling fake urine, the arcade lounge, massive clouds of smoke from the vapor section or the live alpaca, TPE seems to have lost a little bit of its more unique features as it has grown up.
- The SLS Has (Quickly) Gotten Worse — Over the last two years I’ve probably spent 25+ nights at the SLS in Las Vegas and while it has always had its quirks, I’ve enjoyed my stays, particularly for the money. The SLS has been a financial disaster from the day it opened and recently got new owners, who are in the midst of a $100 million overhaul. Unfortunately, the hotel is definitely going to get worse before it gets better. The main bar has been removed (where smoking was allowed), the restaurant hours seemed to have changed and the overall vibe feels more Reno than it ever did. Also, it’s no longer part of SPG, so no points.