For the fourth year in a row, we are providing a full “Post-Game Report” assessing the IPCPR Convention and Trade Show. This year we added four daily “post-game” recaps from the show floor. At the same time, I felt the need to continue to have the detailed post-game analysis of the trade show.
In this report, we talk more about the show itself and give our thoughts on the impacts to the cigar industry.
This won’t put a close to the 2018 IPCPR coverage. We still have more of our product-centric coverage that will continue over the next few weeks.
The Show Floor
Much has been made of the “positive energy” at this year’s IPCPR. As someone who has covered nine IPCPRs, I can concur with it.
I would venture to guess that the doom and gloom of the implementation of the Deeming Regulations is now history. The cigar industry has learned to adapt to life in the regulated era. While there is less innovation, there still is new product (refer to our “The New Definition of New”). The three-year delay on premarket approval for products to remain on the market and the decision in Federal Court to indefinitely delay warning label requirements did not hurt things.
One interesting note was the Opening Breakfast. This year, the speaker was former Navy Seal turned author Marcus Luttrell. While he wasn’t a high-profile name like Rudy Giuliani, his speech at the breakfast was considered by many (including this author who heard 3/4 of it) to be the best in many years. While last year most attendees liked Giuliani’s speech (and disagreed with my comments on it), it was very much a political speech. This year’s speech was more of a “feel good” speech that many connected with – and I feel that positive energy carried over on to the show floor once the doors opened following the breakfast.
More companies continued to introduce packaging changes to comply with Warning Labels. Very few companies acknowledged they were changing packaging for that reason, but, when asked, very few companies denied that warning label compliance was a reason for the change.
The court ruling indefinitely delaying implementation of warning labels had little effect. As we expected, some companies came with warning labels, while others didn’t. There wasn’t a “war” between the two parties on who did and who didn’t. I didn’t hear of a retailer pushback on the companies that came in with warning labels ahead of the curve.
The Battle of the 50th Anniversaries
A lot of cigar companies had anniversary years. Three major brands had 50th anniversaries: Joya de Nicaragua, Davidoff, and Macanudo.
The winner was Joya de Nicaragua. To me, this was a company that was very proud of this milestone and it showed. They released two new products in the Joya de Nicaragua Cinco Décadas (many thought this was the cigar of the show) and Joya Silver. Joya’s anniversary was a big part of the overall presentation at the Drew Estate booth.
Davidoff seemed a little off with its 50th anniversary. Yes, they released a 50th-anniversary cigar with the Diademas Finas, but this was a cigar that was pretty much sold out before the Trade Show began. This left Davidoff without anything new to present for its 50th anniversary. While there were the remanded White Label Cigars with the commemorative 50th band, to me this fell short – especially since Davidoff has a great run of new products from 2013 to 2017. I personally felt unveiling the Diademas Final at IPCPR, then shipping to appointed merchants following IPCPR would have been the way to go.
Macanudo largely was quiet on its 50th anniversary. In general, I’ve noticed the anniversary projects are not something General has invested a lot in, so this was no surprise. Still Macanudo coming out with a coffee-infused cigar was something radical and unexpected – it just wasn’t closely tied with the anniversary.
The Story of Fuente, Padrón, and Oliva
Last year, much was made about Arturo Fuente, Padrón Cigars, and Oliva capturing the top three spots on the Cigar Aficionado Top 25. While many made the connection that all three companies lost patriarchs in the previous 18 months, one can’t argue these companies have been the model of consistency.
It made me think of a couple of interesting observations. Except for a couple of line extensions from Arturo Fuente, these three companies didn’t do any significant new product launches – something that shouldn’t be a surprise. These three companies have never felt the pressure to “come out with something new” at IPCPR.
The other ironic thing – these three companies have pretty much been constant with booth designs for as long as I have been coming to the show.
A Quieter Year for Plasencia
Last year, we noted that Plasencia’s launch at the trade show was probably the story of the trade show. This year was much quieter as the company didn’t have anything new being launched.
At the same time, the booth didn’t seem to lack activity., In fact, it was quite the opposite. The sales team seemed to be always busy writing orders for both new and existing customers. While sometimes we tend to judge a company’s IPCPR on whether they have new product or not, Plasencia Cigars showed that is simply not true.
If you are one that loves a celebrity sighting, this year was definitely the IPCPR for you. The list of celebrities seen on the IPCPR show floor included Karl Malone, Ed Reed, Rick Ross, and Arturo Sandoval.
Karl Malone was there promoting his new cigar brand called Karl Malone Barrel Aged. He spent much of the last 1 1/2 days walking the trade show floor and taking many photo ops. As for Rick Ross, I saw him at the Drew Estate and Foundation Cigar Company booths. When Ross was with Jonathan Drew, I asked the question “who is that with JD?” and was told it was Rick Ross. My next question was “Who is Rick Ross?”. I had no clue who this guy was.
I’m still not a 100% sure why Ed Reed was at the show. Arturo Sandoval was there with CRA and Arturo Fuente. While I heard he was accessible, I don’t think it was quite in the way Karl Malone was.
Innovation wasn’t totally dead, but it clearly was on the decline for this year.
As we mentioned in our 2018 IPCPR Pre-Game, there was plenty of new product at the 2018 IPCPR Trade Show, but the definition of “new” has changed. This has been done by: 1) Reintroducing grandfathered products; 2) Several grandfathered and predicate blends have been re-blended; 3) Many were introduced before August 8th, 2016 as what we term “stealth products”. As a result, there was a lot less in terms of unique products.
There were still some innovative releases we saw and some highlights included: Bombay Tobak introduced MQBA, an Ecuadorian puro. Drew Estate introduced two new Liga Privada releases using Corojo and Criollo wrappers grown in the State of Connecticut. The M by Macanudo might have been a coffee flavored cigar, but it actually used a binder from the Philippines. La Galera introduced four unique sizes as a part of its Cubes series. Finally, Total Flame Cigars quietly introduce Persia, a blend that contained Iranian tobacco in the filler.
The bottom line is that the cigar industry has found a way to work in the regulated world of premium cigars.
Small Company: Southern Draw Cigars
Last year, Plasencia wowed this author by doing a full-blown brand launch presentation at the 2017 IPCPR Trade Show. At the time I commented that this is something small companies might not do, but Robert Holt and his team at Southern Draw Cigars proved me wrong.
The company delivered a strong pre-IPCPR media campaign in making its product announcements. The announcements detailed the releases that Southern Draw had planned. The company scheduled two formal “unveilings”: Day One was for Cedrus – The Hogan and Day Two was for 300 Hands. Literally, Southern Draw held off on showing the product until these unveilings occurred. They were complete with a presentation from the company of the vision for these two projects.
In particular, Southern Draw deserves credit for the Day Two presentation. The electrical fire delayed the opening of the trade show for three hours, and thus delayed the unveiling of 300 Hands. Southern Draw was still patient and held off on unveiling 300 Hands until the presentation was complete.
My sincere hope is that once the big print publications catch on to what Southern Draw Cigars is doing that nothing will change for online media. This isn’t to say that the company will go down this route, however past history with other companies has shown once big print media gets involved, online media is often cast aside.
Large Company: Drew Estate
Cigar Coop covered this on the eve of IPCPR. I expected a big IPCPR from Drew Estate and they came through with flying colors.
Nearly four years ago, Swisher International acquired Drew Estate. At the time, the reaction was polarizing and many wondered if Drew Estate would ever be the same again. While in a lot of ways Drew Estate is a different company, I felt from my vantage point, Drew Estate did a very good job at preserving the culture it built. Particularly at IPCPR, the energy and excitement at the Drew Estate booth was a constant.
At the same time, Drew Estate didn’t rest on its laurels and made a series of management changes internally – including bringing in a new CEO in Glenn Wolfson and Jonathan Drew returning as the President. This was supplemented with a strong effort by both executive management and marketing teams.
In 2018, the company came in with strong innovation, excellent brand development, and commemorating two big anniversaries with Liga Privada’s 10-year milestone and Joya de Nicaragua’s 50-year milestone.
The end result: Drew Estate executed, delivered, and in this author’s eyes exceeded the high expectations I had.
Crisis in Nicaragua
The civil unrest continues in the Central American country. The one thing that has changed is many of the blockades have been removed, thus freeing up the transportation routes throughout the country. The result is that product seems to flowing throughout the country again.
While the crisis still very much exists in Nicaragua, for the most part, it was business as usual for many of the cigar companies. Still, in many side and private conversations I had with brand owners, there are fears that things could escalate into civil war.
The reports of the Norovirus reported at the Westgate Hotel and Las Vegas Convention Center didn’t disrupt the trade show. While some events were moved out of the Westgate Hotel, these were pre-announced before the trade show.
Healthwise, there have been no reports of attendees or staff contracting the virus.
IPCPR gets beat up more than any organization I have ever seen. They are not perfect by any means, but I think most of the criticism they get is completely unfair. When things go right, they don’t get the credit they deserve. In this case, the fire before Day Two at the Las Vegas Convention Center is one of those instances.
First IPCPR deserves a lot of credit in getting the word out about the delayed opening. While it was certainly helped by the gossipy nature of the cigar industry, I can tell you many people got the word proactively from IPCPR through the App or email. IPCPR’s communications have greatly improved over the past few years (this year disclosing attendance numbers was a big step in my book), and this is a great example of how far it’s come.
Secondly, I still find it amazing that there only was a 3-hour delay. The fire damage was minimal, but more problems resulted from water discharged from the sprinkler system.
For the last two years, I commented how when it comes to IPCPR coverage, written media seems to be going the way of the dinosaurs. This year confirmed it as video coverage continued to be on the upswing. Brands like Cigar Dojo and Blind Man’s Puff increased their video coverage. While Halfwheel still had a large amount of written content, they upped their game adding podcast coverage to their already strong IPCPR coverage model. I miss the written content, and it’s disappointing the “green visors with typewriters” are becoming extinct.
This year, I also saw something that I really liked. For years we have been referred to as “bloggers”. It’s a term I hate because it is too limiting in terms of what we do. Now I hear us called “online media” or “cigar media”, which was a refreshing change. While I still would like more written coverage out of IPCPR, I credit the great work done by all of the video people as a reason why “bloggers” simply isn’t used as much anymore.
Many online media outlets still seemed reluctant to spend time in the big company booths unless invited by the company. Coverage of Arturo Fuente, Oliva and Padrón were minimal – including by Cigar Coop.
Finally, it is important to know that many media might not be “writing pieces” or “shooting video” at IPCPR, but using the time to strengthen relationships and learn about the product. Perhaps this is the part of media coverage that gets the most lost, but it is the most important piece. I’ve heard people say “what is so and so doing at IPCPR, they aren’t publishing anything”. Remember media pays to be at this event, so I certainly think a media brand is entitled to cover it any way they see fit within the bylaws of IPCPR.
Media Coverage of the Fire
I thought the fire was a bigger story than it really was. It was a three-hour delay. I think media as a whole (including this author) could have done a better job on one key point – how good a job IPCPR and the Las Vegas Convention Center did in getting the show back up and running with only a three-hour delay.
In fairness, I think much of this is due to the fact that the cigar media has moved away from written word coverage. Many of the post-show podcast recaps did acknowledge this. There wasn’t quite as much social media buzz on the job done here. We did have it as a part of our IPCPR Post Game Recap for Day Two, but it was buried and in hindsight it deserved more attention.
I did see some media outlets printing press releases on events being delayed. We opted not to do it because I’m not sure if the average person in Bangor, Maine cares the Davidoff Golden Band Awards were starting an hour later. I’m also not sure how many attendees were glued to their phones checking out the various online media outlets. I think they were more or less tuned into social media outlets like Facebook and Instagram.
In the IPCPR rules for online media, it is stated that online media cannot ask for samples. For the past couple of years, I have been very vocal on the need to change this dated and archaic rule.
The rule was put in place about eight years ago to deter startup media companies looking to go to the show for the sole purpose of getting free samples from coming.
The problem is this: samples are a part of online media doing its job. Cigar Coop doesn’t review show samples as it doesn’t fit in with our philosophy. We still are dependent on those samples because the best way to cover products is to not only see products, but ultimately smoke the products to learn more about them. Meanwhile, there are those media outlets that will review samples – and there is nothing wrong with that. Companies aren’t consistent in giving samples out, so if we don’t ask, we don’t always get.
The rule was put in place to combat a problem that existed a long time ago. The media who was at the show this year was all professional.
While I’ve talked to several media outlets on this issue and most agree the rule is silly, nobody is willing to take the case further. Many still seem worried if they are vocal with asking for samples, it could damage their reputation. My response – this isn’t 2009, this is 2018 and times have changed.
Assessing Cigar Coop’s Coverage
I said it last year, IPCPR 2017 was an unmitigated disaster for this brand. While on the surface it looked like business as usual, it was a nightmare. I described this in the Pre-Game Report.
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 compounded by organizational issues as well.
First up, the freedom of not having to do radio interviews was a big help. I miss our unique radio show, but I just couldn’t wear both hats. It gave me a chance to talk to manufacturers in more of a conversational tone.
Second, an organizational process document was made internally. Much of it was for my benefit as well as to give my partner in crime Bear Duplisea an idea of what we wanted to accomplish. While we didn’t follow everything to the letter of the law, I felt the framework was solid and it helped enormously.
Third, Bear Duplisea did an amazing job for his first IPCPR. Working with him, you would think he covered IPCPR for nine years. I’m very proud to have had him working alongside me this year. He was a huge help when we had to divide and conquer. It was something I wished I had during the Stogie Geeks days for sure.
While there were booths missed, they were the ones that either were focused more on working with a single print publication, the ones that had sidebar conversations with other media outlets, or ones that had a ridiculously long exclusive press release window where we were on the outside. A decision was made by me to prioritize these booths as lower. In 90 percent of the “why weren’t you at our booth” questions I got, I can point back to the fact that we didn’t get the proper pre-show information when others received the information. This wasn’t meant to be a punishment. It was simply meant to maximize what little time we had. I’m also not saying this is optimal, either. Our goal is to get to every booth, but covering IPCPR is a business venture and we need to wisely use our limited resources. Frankly, there aren’t a lot of Bear Dupliseas or Aaron Loomises (who had his crew from Developing Palates out there) who can hit the ground running.
Our biggest hole is photography. It was something I hoped to address in 2018, but its something I think that needs to be improved in 2019. There were less missed photos this year, but the quality isn’t where I want it to be.
Overall Cigar Coop took some steps this year, but more work is still ahead of us.
MMQB (Monday Morning Quarterback)
For the past few years, I’ve said I wouldn’t talk about attendance because in the end, IPCPR didn’t disclose attendance numbers. Well, this year, the organization did, and since I was walking a tight-rope trying to avoid the topic, this is as good a time as any to open up this can of worms. I think IPCPR did a good job at disclosing the numbers to its membership base. I hope this becomes a regular activity.
The official numbers:
Total retailer badges: 2,054 (up 6.6%)
Retailer companies represented: 778
Total stores represented: 1,742
Total attendees: 5,328 (up 3.3%)
While the numbers do show an increase in overall attendance, what it doesn’t show is a breakdown of the foot traffic by day, nor how much business was generated. In particular, our unofficial observation was that the first two days attendance was up, but there was a significant drop-off the last two days. While I still believe the last two days saw a drop-off, my observation was there still was more foot traffic days three and four of the 2018 Trade Show versus the 2017 Trade Show.
I’m not sure IPCPR will ever solve the Day Four problem of people going home. It certainly isn’t for lack of trying as they have done several incentives to retailers. As someone once told me, “after one or two days, my budget for IPCPR is tapped out.”
There just doesn’t seem to be an ideal time to have IPCPR. This year saw the Trade Show spanned a full weekend for the first time since the 2012 IPCPR Trade Show in Orlando, Florida. The next two years will also see a similar scheduling model as well.
Days one and two of this year’s IPCPR fell on Saturday and Sunday. Like Orlando, I heard of many retailers only wanting to deal with IPCPR on Saturday and Sunday. Several retailers had told me that they planned on only going to IPCPR for two days, so they could be back at their shops on Monday or Tuesday. Many have told me that they actually prefer the weekend scheduling of the trade show for this exact reason.
While these dates might satisfy the membership base, the problem is it is still a significant investment for manufacturers to exhibit at IPCPR. For them to set up a booth and staff it for only two days worth of business is questionable in my book.
Consumers at the Trade Show
As per the IPCPR, when it comes to the trade show: “The IPCPR Convention & International Trade Show is a Members-Only show and is not open to the general public…Consumers are not welcome and not allowed. We ask all to help us spot offenders so that we can maintain a productive, professional atmosphere in which to conduct business. All consumers will be escorted out of the convention center.”
This year, it seemed to this author there were more consumers walking around the trade show than in previous years.
Typically, I’ve seen consumers come into the show one of two ways. The first is as a “guest” of a retailer. This is a major no-no under the IPCPR rules. While I didn’t personally run into any, I heard several manufacturers tell me that they felt there were many consumers who entered the show under a retailer badge.
The second way is a little more legitimate. Many manufacturers need help at the trade show, so essentially they look for people who will work for free. I’ve called these “indentured servants of IPCPR”. Others are social media ambassadors who are not on a payroll, and often work in exchange for product and/or IPCPR badge access. For the most part, the majority of the people who take on this role legitimately work the trade show for that manufacturer.
Then there are others that have abused this privilege. They are walking the floor more than they are working the booth. I encountered several of these – and it’s a problem.
Online media has been saddled with the rules of not being allowed to ask for free samples. Online media cannot also enter the trade show early. Yet these “indentured servants” who still are consumers, can get on the show floor early and ask for samples.
While it might be an enforcement issue, something seems broken with this system.
What was the Best Cigar of the Trade Show?
Always a tough question to answer, but right now Joya de Nicaragua Cinco Décadas is the leader in the clubhouse. I’ll avoid mentioning honorable mentions as someone always gets left off.
Before the show, the following cigars were predicted to be the five hottest cigars among retailers by this author.
- Liga Privada – 10 Year Aniversario
- Liga Privada H99 Connecticut Corojo
- Tabernacle Havana Seed CT No. 142 by Foundation Cigar Company
- Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust Sin Compromiso
- Southern Draw Cigars – Cedrus – The Hogan
Assessing how this list is a subjective activity. I think one can certainly ascertain that the two new Liga Privadas were red hot. One can definitely make the case that Steve Saka did it again with Sin Compromiso in terms of being the hottest cigar at the show. It did seem like Foundation Cigar Company’s new Tabernacle had a little less buzz, but you wouldn’t know it from how busy the Foundation Cigar booth was. Finally, one could argue that it was actually 300 Hands by Southern Draw that got a little more buzz.
How did IPCPR do?
Overall, IPCPR deserves a lot of credit for putting on an excellent trade show. There are two things I will say when it comes to the IPCPR. Nothing comes easy, and the organization takes an unfair pounding.
Sure it’s easy for me to be a pundit and nit-pick, but in reality, this was a very good show for them. Dealing with the distractions thrown at them this year, and delivering a positive trade show is something they deserve to take credit for. Personally, I was re-energized on covering the trade show and look forward to 2019.
Photo Credits: Cigar Coop