While our coverage of the 2023 Total Products Expo is certainly not over—there will be additional standalone news stories as well as more updates to this post—TPE 2023 is over. It’s been a very busy week, in the midst of a very busy stretch of weeks. By the end of today, we will have likely published 50 posts since Sunday and we didn’t even cover Procigar 2023. Needless to say, Patrick and I are both tired and Brooks hasn’t even left yet for Cuba’s festival.
Admittedly, we’ve not done the best work with these daily blogs being timely recaps of what we actually did throughout the three days of TPE 2023. This one isn’t going to be any different. Here are three big picture takeaways from TPE 2023.
Tim Swanson of Cigars Daily poses for a sketch in the Drew Estate booth at TPE 2023.
1. THIS TRADE SHOW IS GROWING EVERY WHICH WAY
While attendance numbers have not yet been released, TPE increased the show floor by 27 percent. Several companies we contacted in the months leading up to the trade show told halfwheel that they were hoping to go to TPE 2023, only to find out that there was no space available. The answer is not simply to add more space. For the past three years, Kretek, which owns TPE, has been intentional about how it manages show floor space and while there might be even more show space next year, the goal is going to be to offer less space than what it could sell. There are some universal reasons for this, but one of the other keys is trade show density, i.e. the ratio of space to people. Kretek wants TPE to continue to look as full as did this past year, so if it’s going to continue to add more space, it has to find ways to get more people in the door.
The good news for Kretek is that people are coming through the door. Both in the premium cigar world and the rest of the trade show space, TPE felt at least as full as it did before—and I’ve been coming to this trade show since 2017 though I didn’t attend the COVID-impact 2021 trade show.
Before going to bed Wednesday night, there was not a single person that brought up attendance on Wednesday until after that show, and that was about how busy they were.
That means that not only was attendance not a concern but also that the attendance was meeting expectations.
Contrast this with the other U.S. cigar trade show, the PCA Convention & Trade Show, where attendance is a hot topic of conversation before, during and after the trade show.
Admittedly, there were further conversations—both positively and negatively—about attendance on Thursday and Friday, but up until late Thursday, it didn’t seem like it was much of an issue. The picture used for this featured image was shot mid-afternoon on Friday, the final three hours of the trade show.
Many companies I talked to said that sales through the end of Thursday eclipsed what they did at TPE 2022. I’m inherently skeptical about sales numbers at trade shows, but given the general lack of complaining—about sales, attendance or otherwise—it seems pretty believable.
La Aurora debuted two new products last week, TPE didn’t even get the most exciting of the two.
2. QUANTITY OVER QUALITY WHEN IT COMES TO PRODUCT LAUNCHES
Collectively, the impression I left Las Vegas with was that the products that debuted at TPE 2023 were more about filling a gap than being headliners. While there are some exceptions, I don’t think companies put their best new 2023 releases at TPE. Each company is unique and the reasons behind why were unique, but I suspect that pretty much every company that introduced a new product would tell me that there’s something more exciting that will get shown off later this year.
That’s not to say the products will be bad, it’s entirely possible that we saw halfwheel’s #1 cigar of 2023 debut at this trade show—no, neither of the two cigars I finished while in Las Vegas would seem likely candidates. My point is not to say that the products were bad, just that this wasn’t first-team energy with maybe the exception of Altadis U.S.A., which had nearly a handful of releases, including a $5,000 humidor that I’m guessing is one of the company’s flagship offerings for the year.
Most of the companies I saw did not have anything new, which is perfectly fine by me. Even if TPE is growing, the attitude of TPE not being top of mind remains. In fairness, I’ve previously argued that it’s pretty dumb to release all your new products simultaneously as all your competitors—so maybe this was some 4D chess. That said, I’m incredibly confident that amongst the companies that exhibit at both trade shows, the high-profile/most important new releases have been earmarked for the PCA Convention & Trade Show.
After holding out for a few years, Arturo Fuente and its no new accounts sign exhibited at TPE 2023, the first time the company has exhibited at a modern TPE trade show.
3. TPE 2024 WILL BE VERY DIFFERENT
- Late January/Early February Date — TPE 2024 will take place Jan. 31-Feb. 2, 2024. This is a return to TPE’s normal schedule. Moving a month earlier will put more pressure on companies to have new products in their pipeline at the end of the year versus having some breathing room at the beginning of the year.
That said, it also means any delayed Q4 2023 releases suddenly become prime candidates to debut during TPE 2024. In addition, this will also mean that the date conflict with Procigar, the Dominican Republic’s cigar festival, will no longer be an issue.
- Two Floors — Due to planned construction at the Las Vegas Convention Center, TPE will be forced to use two separate halls instead of one larger hall.
My understanding is that the halls will be on different floors. This is supposed to be a one-year thing and certainly not something that Kretek wants, but it could help convince some of the prominent cigar companies that don’t exhibit here (Ashton, My Father, Padrón, Tatuaje) to exhibit in 2024. That’s because TPE could split up the different product categories into different halls, meaning there’s a way where the cigar and traditional tobacco section is on a different floor from the vape side.
Some companies have consistently argued that they do not want to be seen at a trade show alongside vape and CBD companies. Some have gone even further to argue that FDA would regulate premium cigars differently if the products were at the same trade show. I am 99.99 percent confident that this is not true because, to date, FDA has not regulated premium cigars differently because they have been appearing at the same trade show together for the last decade, but that hasn’t stopped this bullshit from getting repeated for the last decade. I would argue that it’s probably best to mix the floors, not segregate them, but I certainly understand that most exhibitors are going to choose the option of segregating the product categories instead.
- PCA 2024 — Scott Pearce, the executive director of PCA, told Patrick Lagreid earlier this week that the Premium Cigar Association hopes to announce the date and location of PCA 2024 in the coming weeks. Last July, the PCA said it was considering two options for PCA 2024, New Orleans in April or The Venetian Expo Center in Las Vegas in mid-July. Pretty much everyone at TPE 2023 was convinced that PCA is going to announce its trade show will be in early April, seemingly meaning New Orleans.
I heard some of that, but my better sources, plural, are saying Vegas in late March or early April and I sort of wonder if it means, (Saturday) March 30-April 2, which would be an and early April instead of or early April.One name no one has mentioned is “The Venetian” (or its former expo center name, Sands), seemingly meaning the Las Vegas Convention Center would be the leading candidate, presumably edging out Resorts World. That would be over the Sweet 16/Elite Eight portion of March Madness, which would be a cool time to be in Vegas.
If the PCA moves the dates to late March or early April, especially in Las Vegas, the competition with TPE 2024 is going to heat up in a way unlike any other. I suspect it will mean exhibitors will choose, some TPE and some PCA. The real question is whether and how retailers choose. Some are going to determine that having two trade shows within two months of one another is not ideal and I am one of those people.
I think Kretek may have a one-time shot to really blow up TPE in the eyes of the cigar industry by trying to convince the cigar world it’s just a better trade show. To be clear, it’s a different trade show with some negatives (the cigar people don’t like the e-cigarette stuff, the show floor is smaller, The Venetian is nicer) but if all those changes take place for one year the only major downside for TPE would be that PCA probably still has more premium cigar-specific retailers and therefore typically much larger orders.
Fortunately for Kretek, TPE’s hosted buyer program—where it pays some of the travel costs for retailers and media (halfwheel declined the offer)—is popular with both retailers and exhibitors and not something PCA has shown any interest in doing. If Kretek wants to, it could always just increase that program and pay to double or even quadruple retailer attendance in a way that PCA cannot attempt.
Some Shorter Thoughts
- How Many Companies Need to Sell the Same Lighter — There was a really good chance that you could buy the exact same lighter in the form of Palió, Visol and Kretek’s new Guardsman brand of accessories. These are all compelling options, but it might be weird to see companies introducing “new” lighters that we’ve already seen before from other names. For the most part, that means these are stock options that were designed by a factory and offered as a white-label option for these companies.
- Resorts World Is New, Nice & Quiet — At least up until Friday night, when the traffic really picked up. Patrick and I stayed at Resorts World. It is not The Venetian, but I’d stay here again. At the end of the day, I’d prefer this over The Venetian with benefits being its lower price, smaller size and lack of crows being standouts. Of course, I’m generally going to weigh convenience as the single most valuable factor, so The Venetian is where I’ll be staying in July.
- TPE’s Education Seminars Should Come Back — These have been missing since TPE 2021(?) and I’m not sure why. These were always well-attended, typically with hundreds of engaged audience members. The seminars were always well produced and I think TPE would be wise to bring these back.
- Magic Mushrooms Are About to Hit Mainstream — TPE has been a great place to see what’s coming to the mainstream next, previous products I saw blow up at TPE before entering the mainstream: CBD, Delta 8, kratom, disposable vapes. Magic mushrooms are already popular in many of the more liberal states in America but are certainly not something I see a lot here in Dallas unless someone recently came back from California or Colorado.
- The Tesla Hyperloop Underwhelmed — I am not a Tesla fanboi and am skeptical of a lot of what Elon is selling. Even putting aside my why did you kill third-party Twitter clients biases, Tesla/The Boring Co.’s Hyperloop that connects Resorts World with the Las Vegas Convention Center was more hype over substance.
- It’s actually two tunnels to South Hall. And it’s not like one tunnel, come out for air, go in another tunnel. My Tesla Model Y driver was forced to spend a good minute above ground between the two tunnels.
- I don’t think it was much quicker than an Uber, especially given the further distances I had to walk on both ends. I bought a three-day Hyperloop pass and ended up using it just once, largely because it was always slightly more out of the way to use the Hyperloop. While the time in the Tesla may be shorter, the door-to-door time was not.
- If you look at a map of this thing, it’s not the most efficient design.
- Here’s what I get held up about. What would happen if those Teslas were just aboveground Ubers shuttles instead? Maybe for something like CES or World of Concrete where the aboveground traffic is really congested, the Hyperloop helps because it’s one more option that doesn’t lead to more street traffic. For TPE, this was not all that great beyond the novelty.
- Admittedly, it was cheap. A three-day pass ($14.50?) was basically the cost of one Uber ride. However, its limited hours didn’t make it great for me.
- TPE Should Have Pre-Fab 10 x 10 Booths — One of TPE’s standout success stories has been the booths inside the pavilion. It’s not a special roofed structure, rather, it’s a place where smaller pre-fabbed booths are in one rectangle with shared chairs and other facilities. The big advantages for exhibitors are two-fold: one, they are cheap, a bit more than $3,000; second, there’s basically no set-up or take-down logistics. Exhibitors just need to show up with their products to display on the provided shelf, and that’s it. This saves an immense amount of time and money. TPE should do this on the show floor for those companies that want a bit more space or a dedicated seating area. The upsell here is the convenience and cost savings associated with set-up. Just bring your product and we’ll take care of making sure your booth is already set up would undoubtedly be popular with many. It is possible for a company from Dallas to exhibit at this trade show staying just two nights in Las Vegas with no drayage costs.
- What Happens if Drew Estate Decides to Make TPE Even More Important — Just something I’ve been thinking about: what happens if Drew Estate made TPE the trade show it focused on with the total weight of the Drew Estate marketing machine?