For the ninth consecutive year, the Cigar Coop brand will be providing coverage of the International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers (IPCPR) Association Trade Show and Convention. We are proud to be a part of a very small group of media to say that. Our four-part series for the 2018 IPCPR Trade Show has you covered whether you are going to the show or following from home.

IPCPR 2018 Pre-Game – The Basics

In this installment, we review some of the basics about the show and hit some of the questions we’ve encountered in the past.

What is the IPCPR?

IPCPR stands for International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers. It is an organization for tobacco retailers and represents the interest of the tobacco retailers.  Previously, the organization was called RTDA (Retail Tobacco Dealers of America) until it was renamed in 2007.  By definition:

The International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association is the oldest, largest and most active trade association representing and assisting retail tobacconists. IPCPR members include retail stores throughout the world selling tobacco products and accessories (premium cigars, tobacco pipes, loose tobacco, cigar and pipe accessories and gift items) as well as manufacturers, distributors and service providers of high quality merchandise.

What is the IPCPR Trade Show and Convention?

It is an annual gathering that provides an opportunity for the cigar industry to showcase and sell products to cigar retailers. Typically cigar manufacturers will use this event to launch and showcase their latest products. Often “show deals” will be provided by manufacturers to offer incentives to buy product.

In addition, there are a series of educational seminars and social networking events. In recent years, the education piece has been more of a focus of the IPCPR. This education has been set up with the retailer in mind.

The Trade Show and Convention is an event geared specifically for retailers, manufacturers and service providers. All attendees, including members of the media, must be members of the IPCPR. The 2018 show is the 86th edition of this event.

When and where is this year’s Trade Show and Convention?

July 13-17, 2018
Las Vegas Convention Center
Las Vegas, Nevada

Photo Credit: The Cigar Shop

The Trade Show and Convention returns to Las Vegas for the third year in a row. It is also the sixth time in eight years it is being held in Vegas. This is the second consecutive year it will be at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Last year the Trade Show moved from its usual location in Vegas at the Sands Expo Center to the Las Vegas Convention Center. The move has not been popular with many attendees due to the fact the Convention Center is not on the Las Vegas Strip. In April, we were told that the Trade Show is moving back to the Sands Expo Center for 2019 and 2020.

Some seminars and the opening day reception are being held nearby at the Westgate Hotel and Casino.

What is the agenda?

July 13th

As in previous years, the first day of the IPCPR Convention focuses on educational seminars. For the most part, these are geared to the retail community and have a mix of retail best practices and FDA compliance education.

One big difference this year is that attendees will have an opportunity to see the world premiere of the movie Hand Rolled, an upcoming documentary about the premium handmade cigar industry.

General Cigar Company is sponsoring the opening night cocktail reception for the second year in a row. Many praised the job General Cigar did in putting on that event last year when they launched Macanudo Inspirado White and Macanudo Inspirado Black. It is expected that General Cigar will unveil a new CAO release at this year’s opening night reception.

11:00 AM – 12:00 PM: Manufacturers: How to Work with Regulatory Agencies

1:00 PM – 2:00 PM: Uncovering Growth Opportunities via Benchmarking

3:00 PM – 4:00 PM: Place Making & Visual Merchandising: Crafting a Retail Destination Experience

4:30 PM – 6:00 PM: World Movie Premiere: Hand Rolled

6:30 PM – 10:00 PM Cocktail Reception – Sponsored by General Cigar

July 14th

The IPCPR Annual Meeting and Breakfast will introduce new Executive Director Scott Pearce to the membership base.

The Breakfast will also feature Navy Seal Marcus Luttrell as the keynote speaker. It is anticipated that IPCPR will issue its “step up” awards to the retail and even manufacturer community. This is followed by the traditional opening of the Trade Show.

8:00 AM – 9:30 AM: IPCPR Annual Meeting and Breakfast

10:30 AM – 5:00 PM: Trade Show Opens with early 9:30 AM access to those who make PAC Donations

12:30 PM – 1:30 PM: Lunchtime Learning Series: IPCPR Federal Update

4:30 PM: IPCPR Daily Raffle

July 15th

10:00 AM – 5:00 PM Trade Show Open

12:30 PM – 1:30 PM: Lunch Time Learning Series – Retailers Best Practices Panel

4:00 PM: – State Association Cocktail Reception

4:30 PM: – IPCPR Daily Raffle

July 16th

10:00 AM – 5:00 PM Trade Show Open

12:30 PM – 1:30 PM IPCPR Lunch Time Learning Series – Cigar Aficionado Manufacturers Panel

4:30 PM: – IPCPR Daily Raffle

July 17th

90:00 AM – 1:00 PM Trade Show Open

12:30 PM: $10,000 Grand Prize Giveaway

IPCPR 2018 Pre-Game – Additional Thoughts and FAQs

The following is an editorial piece. Except where noted, it represents the thoughts of this author and this author alone.

Is the Laguna Champagne Bar (a.k.a “Circle Bar”) Really Gone?  Will Something Replace it?

In previous years, since the Sands Expo Center was adjacent to the Venetian and Palazzo Hotels, those hotels served as hubs for after-hours activities and networking. In particular, the Bellini Bar (aka “Circle Bar”) at the Venetian and Laguna Champagne Bar at the Palazzo were popular because both allowed smoking.

The former Laguna Champagne Bar; Photo Credit: The Palazzo

In March, we reported on the closing of the Laguna Champagne Bar due to a major renovation that the Palazzo has undergone. Arguably, the Laguna Champagne Bar was the most popular after-hours gathering spot for IPCPR attendees because of its proximity to the Sands Expo Center. This was enhanced by the fact it allowed smoking, served drinks, had couches, and was open 24 hours.

The Palazzo

The area where the Laguna Champagne Bar once stood

A new 24-hour casino floor bar called Bar Luca has replaced the Laguna Champagne Bar, but it had more of a sports bar feel. The Bellini Bar is still open.

Even with the move to the Las Vegas Convention Center in 2017, the Laguna Champagne Bar remained popular. Part of the reason is many people had hotel reservations at the Venetian and Palazzo Hotels at the time the Trade Show was moved from the Sands to the Las Vegas Convention Center. This year is a bit of an unknown. Given the fact the Laguna Champagne Bar is closed and given many people may be looking at lodging options closer to the Las Vegas Convention Center, it’s possible the Venetian and Palazzo will not be the epicenter for evening activities at IPCPR.

At the Westgate Hotel, the International Bar located just off the main lobby did see some congregation. Other congregating areas included the SLS Hotel and Encore Hotel.

Was Attendance Really Down Last Year?

In 2016 I said, I would no longer cover specific attendance numbers, and I will stick by that.

This will be the last time we will talk about attendance in our IPCPR coverage – ever. The conclusion I have reached is that there is no point. For one thing, while it is possible to get the attendance numbers, I’m not sure it does anything in the long run. In the end, the Trade Show is a selling event and unless the sales numbers are disclosed, there is really no point in having a debate. For example, Company XYZ has 50 retailers come to the booth and closes $50,000 in business. However, if 25 retailers come to the booth and the company closes $75,000 in business – which is the more successful booth day? To me, sales are what matters.

While the numbers are one thing, the Trade Show still needs foot traffic in order for both the IPCPR and the manufacturers to cover costs. If there is less foot traffic, it could endanger the Trade Show as we know it.

The IPCPR has never generally disclosed an attendance number to media. But one didn’t have to look at a data sheet to see that attendance numbers were down last year. Many felt this was due to a July 1, 2017 increase in California on the tax of cigars 153%, the dissatisfaction with the venue change, and to a lesser extent, a perception that there would be no new product.

I keep hearing some media and pundits say there is no new product, but all I see are new product announcements.

Two words – Fake News.

First up, keep in mind that “new product” has a different meaning now. Under the FDA Regulations a new product introduced after August 8th, 2016, requires FDA pre-approval to go on the market. Those products introduced after February 15th, 2007 have until November 2018 to apply for an FDA pre-approval to remain on the market.

Because of that August 8th, 2016 date, many companies put product into the marketplace without any marketing or fanfare. The idea was to introduce it to before the deadline and then defer marketing and mainstream sales until a later date.  I call these “Stealth Products”. While there will likely never be as much new product announced as in 2016, I still stand by my assessment that there will be enough “new” product to keep us interested. I’ve heard enough “off the record” conversations to be sure some of these products will be at the show.

Keep in mind several companies are reintroducing “grandfathered products” – i.e. those introduced before February 15, 2007, which were somehow discontinued since then. Some, like Illusione, have acquired dormant grandfathered blends.

Many companies are taking advantage of the ability to rebrand products. This came about in 2016 as the result of a court decision that labeling changes do not constitute a packaging change. Many grandfathered products and even pre-August 8th products are now being rebranded, cleaned up, and released as something different.

Will the Crisis in Nicaragua Impact the Trade Show? 

Possibly, but it won’t bring the show to a standstill. Most certainly it’s impacting companies being able to get samples out for distribution at the trade show. It is also impacting packaging getting ready.

The travel situation in Nicaragua remains a big problem. Many brand owners and manufacturers based in Nicaragua are going to have to build in extra travel time in order to come to the States. It’s possible that the violence may force some based in Nicaragua to stay back to attend to safety concerns for family, friends, and workers.

Photo Credit: La Voz del Norte

Getting post-trade show shipments out could become a bigger challenge post IPCPR if the situation in Nicaragua continues.

Are Booth Sizes Shrinking?

This is a question which is a difficult one to answer. In the end, I think its safe to say there might be a slight decrease in the average booth size, but this is a rough estimate.

Photo Credit: Plasencia Cigars

We’ve heard discussions of companies such as Davidoff and General cutting down on booth space. Altadis recently said on KMA Talk Radio that the booth size is actually a bit larger, but they had reduced floor space a few years ago.

Some companies like Cubariqueño Cigar Company have moved into other booths (like Espinosa). Some companies like La Barba and Oscar Valladares Tobacco & Co have moved into their own booths. Some companies like Matilde Cigars and MLB Cigar Ventures are splitting booth costs.

De Los Reyes Booth

On a side note, the size of the booth is used for a booth design competition. IPCPR gives awards to small, medium, and large-sized booths each year.

Photo Credit: IPCPR

Are Early Show Specials hurting IPCPR attendance?

This is what we wrote last year:

With IPCPR being a trade show, many manufacturers offer “show specials” to retailers who buy at the show. In recent years, it has become more common for these specials to be honored pre or post IPCPR – regardless of whether the retailer attends the show or not.

Yes, it’s a problem, and unfortunately, it is not going to ever go away. The month before the show, it is challenging for many sales teams in the cigar industry to make numbers, as IPCPR is often looming with big specials. Many retailers choose to wait as there is usually more incentive to do so. Good or bad, the early show specials have been a way to counter this problem.

Sometimes companies offer exclusive limited product to those who attend the show. In the end, I don’t think this has an impact and hasn’t really created enough buzz on attendance at the show.

We have gotten word that many companies based out of Nicaragua were offering show deals for fear of not being able to get product out longer term.

What Happened to the Cigar Bash?

The Cigar Bash is not on the 2018 agenda. This was an event that was held the third night of the show where a concert was provided exclusively to IPCPR attendees.

In 2015, the band America highlighted the entertainment in New Orleans. In 2016, Eddie Money highlighted the 2016 entertainment and last year was 38 Special.

What do the new FDA regulations mean for free samples?

For at least this year, free samples are allowed. This is covered by a “Business to Business Exchange in the FDA’s Draft Guidance on Free Samples of Tobacco Products.

As per the IPCPR:

Under FDA’s guidance, it is permissible for a business to distribute free samples in a limited quantity (i.e., no more than necessary to achieve a business or marketing goal, such as awareness of and exposure to the product for the purposes of product or inventory selection) to another business as part of a genuine effort to sell or market a tobacco product to that business.

There still is some gray area here, but samples will be given out at the Trade Show. Keep in mind this is still “draft” guidance and it could change before it becomes final guidance.

Isn’t media at IPCPR just for free samples?

On-going Fake News. We covered this last year and here is our response.

Many retailers and even some manufacturers still believe media attend the show for the free samples. As we discussed in 2015, Cigar Coop incurs a considerable cost to cover the IPCPR Trade Show. Many online media outlets also invest quite a bit of time and money to come to IPCPR and while free samples help offset some operating costs, it is not a driving factor for any of these outlets being there. I have pretty much given up arguing with the retail community. By now I had hoped that the quality coverage that Cigar Coop and many media outlets do would have proved my point.

These days, it seems IPCPR gets blamed for everything that goes wrong, and this is unfair. However, if there is one area where I will level criticism, it is the IPCPR’s ban on media asking for free samples. This is a policy that I have stated is outdated and not in line with other industry trade organizations where online media is present. I believe that if free samples are ultimately allowed at the trade show under the new FDA regulations, IPCPR needs to do away with media restriction of asking for samples for future trade shows. While Cigar Coop disagrees with the policy, we have also complied with it.

Some can argue that established media should have no problem getting samples. Again, I point to other industry trade shows and I would challenge one to find me another industry trade show where requesting samples (regulations permitting) is not allowed for the media. There is no reason why the cigar industry cannot be in line with other industries.

One side note. Unlike some media outlets, Cigar Coop will rarely use the IPCPR samples for cigar reviews. We will smoke IPCPR samples to get a feel for the smoking experience. We feel the conditions many of these samples are subject to are not ideal for our comprehensive review format. We disclose this policy when we are offered samples.

Editor’s Note: Under the B to B rules, it has been clarified media can receive samples.

How easy is it to smoke in Las Vegas?

Same answer as last year. Here is what I wrote:

While Las Vegas offers more in the way of areas to smoke than New Orleans, it is getting increasingly more difficult to find a place to enjoy a cigar. This is not your father’s Las Vegas.

For starters, getting a smoking room in a hotel is more difficult. In fact a little over a year ago, MGM Resorts changed all of their properties to have smoke-free hotel rooms. While you can still obtain a smoking room at certain hotels, it’s becoming more and more difficult. In fact, I’ve also found that some of the travel websites are not correct on whether a hotel has smoking rooms available or not. My advice, call the hotel directly to check the availability of smoking rooms and make sure you have one reserved.

I believe there are two factors driving hotel rooms to become smoke-free. First, I believe the anti-tobacco movement is at play here. Second, I think the hotels prefer to have people smoking on the casino floor rather than being tucked away in a hotel room away from the temptation to spend money. The reduction in smoking rooms has impacted the availability of hospitality suites during the trade show. There is probably more demand for hospitality suites that allow smoking since it is banned almost everywhere, but there are fewer suites which allow smoking.

I am also noticing that the casinos, lounges, and restaurants are reducing the space where you can smoke. It seems like each year, there are more “smoke-free” areas popping up in the casinos and lounges. In fact, over the past three years, I’ve seen a great reduction in smoking areas. The majority of the sports book areas are now smoke-free. As for a restaurant – good luck finding one where you can smoke. And it’s not just the indoor areas, I’ve seen several areas that had restrictions in some of the outdoor areas as well.

I’d also like to note that casinos consider the smoking areas to be one size fits all. Cigar and pipe smokers will be mixed in with cigarette smokers. Not an ideal arrangement for many cigar enthusiasts.

If all seems like it is bad news, the good news is there are some premium cigar lounges where you can enjoy a cigar. The strip is now home to cigar bars such as Casa Fuente, Davidoff, and Montecristo. While you will pay “Las Vegas” prices for your cigar, the good news is you will be in a cigar-friendly environment where you can also enjoy a fine spirit.

Can anyone go to the IPCPR Convention and Trade Show?

No, it is not open to the public. This is strictly enforced by the IPCPR. In fact, the messaging is “consumers are not welcome”.  There is a reason for this – and it goes back to the fact that while on the surface it might seem like an Expo, it still very much is a retail buying show.

In 2013, IPCPR considered a Consumer Day. It was quickly defeated. As much as we know consumers want to come (the trade show floor a great thing to see), it just wouldn’t work. We gave our thoughts here on why we felt this was the right decision.

It remains an ongoing debate. While those against a consumer day will argue that there are events such as Cigar Aficionado’s The Great Smoke and the major cigar herfs satisfy this, these events (while many are excellent) do not fill the void of a true consumer expo.

What went wrong with Cigar Coop’s IPCPR Coverage in 2017?

The biggest problem last year was when Cigar Coop was partnered with the Smooth Draws Radio Show and had to wear two hats covering both brands. I personally loved my time with Smooth Draws, but ultimately wearing two hats was a big mistake to both brands.

Both Cigar Coop and Smooth Draws had different objectives. Cigar Coop has been and always will be focused on product-centric coverage. Smooth Draws was more about doing audio interviews. Given limited resources on Cigar Coop, it was a big mistake to take on both hats.  Ultimately wearing both hats diluted the coverage on both brands. Booths were missed, photos were not taken, and information was not gathered. I personally spent much time after IPCPR getting information that should have been obtained before the show floor doors closed.

This was also compounded by organizational issues as well.

This year, specific steps have been taken to ensure these problems don’t happen again. With the sunset of the Smooth Draws show, there won’t be an issue of wearing two hats. In addition, a detailed process and game plan internal planning document was put in place. Bear Duplisea, the co-host of Prime Time Special Edition will be working the trade show this year. Finally, with maybe one or two exceptions, interviews will simply not take place during show floor hours. We have two highly successful podcasts and will use that forum for interviews.

There were some problems in terms of show floor access (namely selected media was still on the show floor before the doors opened). While that situation made nothing easier for us, the problems from last year were still on the Cigar Coop end.

Why Won’t You be Covering the World Premiere of Hand Rolled?

Editor’s Note: Pete Johnson of Tatuaje Cigars reached out to me based on the comments below. After a gracious invitation (as Pete has played a big role in the development of this project), I have decided to attend this film premiere.

I first mentioned this on Prime Time Episode 57.

While I personally will not be at the world premiere, this is my personal decision and my personal decision alone. My focus is to fix the problems Cigar Coop had last year with our coverage and it involves being laser focused on time management and tasks that impact our mission around IPCPR coverage.

The ideal way to have covered this film would have been to interview the filmmakers behind the cigars. Last October, I personally put in a request in writing (email) to invite someone representing the film to come on Prime Time or Prime Time Special Edition. The request was never responded to. After the request, the folks associated with the film appeared on other podcasts and publications. I’m fine with that – Prime Time isn’t for everyone and while disappointed, I respect it.

If there were an opportunity at IPCPR for a media press briefing or a one-on-one interview, it would make more sense to attend the premiere. At the present time, going to the movie to simply watch the movie is not reason enough to devote what limited time Cigar Coop has at IPCPR to do so. I will definitely watch the movie in the future, and hopefully, there will be another time to connect with the filmmakers from a media standpoint. If an opportunity to get more of the “behind the scenes” coverage exists at the Trade Show regarding the movie, we would gladly welcome covering this.

Finally, Cigar Coop doesn’t want to be in the business of movie reviews. Cigar Coop is more interested in the story behind the movie – which we simply did not have a chance to get. We are an industry-centric operation and want to remain as such. I would anticipate other media outlets will provide reviews of the movie itself.

At the same time, this is still a project the cigar industry and cigar enthusiasts should get behind and encourage many to check it out.

Will Prime Time Be Doing Any Shows from the Trade Show?

From the Trade Show floor, not this year. Logistically it is challenging to do a live show during the trade show business hours as many companies are more focused on sales and marketing. Plus, we find bringing the guests into a more relaxed atmosphere such as Prime Time or Special Edition makes for a better broadcast. We are exploring an option next year to broadcast from the Trade Show Floor the day before it opens. Unfortunately, it did not work out this year.

I may try to do an impromptu Prime Cuts broadcast from time to time to update folks on important happenings.

Other Installments of the IPCPR Pre-Game Series

Prime Time Episode 57: 2018 Prime Time IPCPR Pre-Game Show

7/1 A Look at This Year’s Trade Show and Convention
7/8 The Trends to Watch
7/13 Predictions for the Five Hottest Cigars
7/14 Around the Show Floor

Photo Credits: Cigar Coop, except where noted