This time next month, I—along with much of the U.S. cigar industry—will be in Las Vegas for the cigar industry’s annual trade show.
Normally, this is the part where I would write about how in the coming we will write hundreds of articles about new products, etc. But that’s not entirely clear. For reasons both related to the trade show and unrelated to the trade show, this year’s trade show and our coverage of it are going to be a lot different.
WHAT IS PCA?
It stands for Premium Cigar Association, a Washington, D.C.-based trade organization that represents retailers who sell premium cigars as well as manufacturers, suppliers, media, and other businesses associated with the cigar industry.
In the context of “PCA 2021,” it refers to the annual trade show that the organization hosts each year.
Like most of its members, halfwheel—more specifically its parent company, Rueda Media, LLC—is a member of the trade organization exclusively for access to the trade show because in order to get into the largest event in the cigar industry, you must be a member.
The money generated by the trade show is used for a variety of purposes, most notably, the PCA is one of three plaintiffs in a lawsuit against FDA regulations.
WHY DID IT REBRAND?
In 2019, the organization—which had been called the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailer’s Association (IPCPR) from 2007-2019—rebranded to PCA.
The organization said the move was done to simplify its messaging to legislators and their staffs, as well as to be more descriptive of its mission to serve the entire premium cigar association.
Along with the rebrand, the organization announced new programs and initiatives for its members, some of which have come to fruition and others seemingly not.
WHAT IS THE SHOW?
For as long as I’ve been writing about cigars, the trade show—which is now on its third name in 15 years—is oftentimes just referred to as “the show.”
In past years, the five-day convention and trade show is one of the busiest times of the year for the U.S. cigar industry. There are essentially two parts to “the show,” one is a seminar aspect and the other is a selling aspect. Typically, the PCA Convention & Trade Show sees both a large number of new items and also aggressive discounts from cigar companies.
While there are oftentimes are some international retailers, the trade show is heavily focused on the American market.
WHEN IS IT?
WHERE IS IT?
The Sands Expo Convention Center in Las Vegas, more often referred to as The Venetian because the convention center is attached to The Venetian and Palazzo hotels.
The first part of the event begins on July 9 and includes the seminar-like portion of the trade show. There will be seminars, panels, and other industry discussions that cover a wide range of topics. This year’s topics range from legislative updates to selling cigars “in a Post-COVID World.”
For most people that attend, the trade show won’t begin in earnest until July 10 which is the first of the four days of the selling portion of the trade show. Manufacturers will set up booths, ranging from as small as 100-square-feet to over 50 times that size. Retailers will then walk around the show floor and visit booths where they will meet with their local sales representative or other manufacturer employees.
In addition, other companies ranging from those who make boxes for cigar companies to media entities like halfwheel will also be in attendance.
HOW WAS LAST YEAR’S SHOW?
It didn’t happen.
HOW MANY COMPANIES ARE STILL GOING?
As of June 9, the PCA’s website listed 120 exhibitors. It’s not clear how accurate that list is as there are a variety of companies who say they are attending who are not listed there. Some of them, like halfwheel, make sense, but others are cigar companies that say they will have their own booths.
There are more than 30 companies that exhibited at IPCPR 2019 that have told halfwheel they are not attending PCA 2021 for a number of reasons. The most notable ones—Altadis U.S.A., Davidoff of Geneva USA, Drew Estate, and General Cigar Co.—announced in January 2020 they would not be going to the 2020 trade show, they are also not attending the 2021 trade show.
WHY ARE SO MANY COMPANIES NOT GOING?
While there’s always a bit of turnover amongst exhibitors, there’s no question that this year is much different than normal turnover.
Each company probably has its own set of reasons for not going, but I think it can be boiled down into three main explanations:
- Issues with trade show profitability — As explained in much greater detail here, trade shows of all kinds are expensive. It’s even more expensive when you consider that many, if not most, exhibitors justify their attendance based on the orders they get in return. Given that these orders are usually placed by existing accounts, the economics are troubled.
- Issues with PCA management — Some of the companies—particularly the four largest companies who have pulled out—have issues with the PCA as an organization.
- COVID-19 explanations — Some companies are still wary of travel, some foreign companies have issues traveling to the U.S., and other companies are adjusting to the new world by making changes to how their business is being run.
WHY DO PEOPLE GO?
For a variety of reasons:
- Manufacturers — Because it’s a selling trade show. Over 750 retail stores attended the 2019 IPCPR Convention & Trade Show.
- Retailers — It’s a chance to see new products, sample new products and take advantage of special discounts.
- Media — There are lots of new products, plus most of the cigar industry is under one roof for four days.
- Consumers — Because manufacturers give out free samples. #freecigars
SO CAN I GO?
If you have to ask, probably not.
In order to attend, you must be part of a company that is a member of the Premium Cigar Association. That being said, many people who are not employees of these companies are given badges that allow them to attend, even if it oftentimes is against the official rules.
WHAT ABOUT CONSUMER DAY?
When I published this post in 2019—which was published one month from the start of IPCPR 2019—the talk of the show was a planned consumer day.
At the start of IPCPR 2019, PCA confirmed its plans to add CigarCon, a one-day consumer event, to the upcoming 2020 trade show. Less than two months after the planned event was announced, the PCA announced it was canceling CigarCon, presumably due to the poor reaction from both retailers and exhibitors.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO ATTEND?
The event is free to all PCA members, though membership starts at $400 through a discounted rate for retailers and other companies. That $400 includes three trade show badges.
That of course just covers the ability to get into the trade show. In order to exhibit a manufacturer would almost certainly have to spend at least $5,000 for the smallest booth, very little furniture and other related costs; most companies spend far more than that. For larger companies who have more elaborate booths, large staffs, dinners and parties, the overall costs are well into the six figures and have oftentimes eclipsed the $1 million mark.
We spent more than $40,000 covering IPCPR 2019, not including staff salaries.
CAN YOU SMOKE INSIDE?
WILL HALFWHEEL BE THERE?
We will once again be providing live coverage of the PCA Convention & Trade Show. In 2019, we covered more than 145 companies. In addition, we provide daily blogs and vlogs, contests and an extensive pre-show coverage, part of which you are reading right now.
HOW WILL THIS YEAR’S COVERAGE BE DIFFERENT?
While we are going to try to do the same things we always do, there are some things that are dramatically changing this year’s coverage.
- There are fewer exhibitors — As of June 9, there were 32 companies who exhibited at IPCPR 2019 who are not exhibiting at PCA 2021. We covered almost all of them amongst the nearly 150 booths we wrote about in 2019. Just from a simple math perspective, that’s 20 percent fewer booths to write about. While there are a handful of companies that were not at IPCPR 2019 that will be at PCA 2021, I suspect that the number of not attending companies will end up finishing close to 50 companies when all is said and done.
- Some of the ones not exhibiting are the major companies — Given how much time we spend in the booths, not having to cover Altadis U.S.A., Davidoff of Geneva USA, Drew Estate, and General is probably a full day’s worth of work for a single person. Those companies also tend to have lots of new items launched at the trade show, which means fewer news stories before the show.
- COVID-19 has reduced the number of new items being released — This is something the PCA, the organization, has no control over. For a number of reasons, it’s much more challenging to release new products right now, which means fewer news stories for us to write:
- Cigar sales are up, so why release new products — Many companies are dealing with more demand than they have supply. When this happens, companies typically don’t want to release new items.
- Packaging suppliers are having real issues — Even if companies want to release new items, the companies that produce the bands and boxes for cigar companies are having lots of issues. Despite some claims about “vertical integration,” pretty much every company relies on a third party for cigar bands.
- Accessory companies are having even worse supply issues — While cigar companies think they have it bad, the accessory companies are having an even tougher time trying to get new items. Global manufacturing and shipping issues have affected the accessory companies far more than they have cigar companies.
We published 354 posts on this website related to IPCPR 2019. That doesn’t count reviews of new items, but it does include all the pre-show coverage, the event coverage, blogs, etc. I would be surprised if that number reaches 250 posts this time around due to the reduction in exhibitors and the lack of new items.
I don’t have historical data to compare it to from previous years, but this post will be the 14th one we’ve published regarding PCA 2021. I’d imagine most years our 14th post regarding a trade show is being published 75 days out from the start of the show, not 30.
WILL THE LIVE SHOWS BE BACK?
The following is a list of times for all of our Facebook/YouTube Live Shows.
- June 11 (12:00 p.m. CDT) — The Companies We Will Miss the Most
- June 18 (12:00 p.m. CDT) — Mystery Show?
- June 25 (12:00 p.m. CDT) — Top 10 Products We Want to See
- July 10 (12:00 p.m. CDT) — Day 1 (Guest TBA)
- July 11 (12:30 p.m. CDT) — Day 2 (Guest TBA)
- July 12 (12:30 p.m. CDT) — Day 3 (Guest TBA)
We will not be doing our “big” pre-show live show for a number of reasons this year.