The Premium Cigar Association has announced it is postponing CigarCon, the proposed consumer component as a part of the annual Trade Show and Convention until 2021. Very simply, this was the right call made at the right time.
At the 2019 IPCPR Trade Show, the IPCPR announced it was rebranding and refocusing the mission of its organization — taking on a new name, Premium Cigar Association (PCA). The organization would take on an expanded mission beyond the retailer community it has served for 87 years, and for the first time would take on a consumer focus. The change in focus was decided upon because the PCA believes there is strength in numbers and adding consumers to the mix builds the numbers. PCA believes larger numbers will help the organization take a more pro-active role in the fight against the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). At the same time, the CigarCon consumer event was meant to provide a signature event for all members of the PCA (Manufacturer, Retailer, or Consumer) while helping fund legislative efforts.
The concept of a consumer event tied to the annual trade show has been perhaps the most controversial topic that I’ve seen in the ten years I have been covering the Trade Show. While PCA is not proposing consumers be allowed in the trade show, they were planning on piggybacking a consumer event up against the trade show for 2020. This plan has been equally controversial.
Plans for CigarCon came off the tracks very quickly. For starters, news of the CigarCon leaked out a little over a week before the 2019 Trade Show where the announcement was scheduled to be made, creating a firestorm among many in the cigar industry. Once it was announced, the controversy did not die down.
We outlined many of the details of where we thought the plan fell short. At the same time, we also outlined “Things the PCA Needs to Do to Sell a Consumer Event to the Industry“. One of those things was to delay the launch of CigarCon until 2021. On August 20th, 2019 that is exactly what the PCA did. In addition, PCA has also announced it is forming a subcommittee to focus exclusively on CigarCon.
Overall, the decision to punt on CigarCon 2020 was a good one. I still have some concerns about the subcommittee approach, but overall I think its at least a step in the right direction. Here are some of the reasons why this was the right decision – and some additional insights on the road ahead.
1- A Go/No-Go decision on launching CigarCon was needed now
PCA took quick action here in announcing the cancellation of the proposed 2020 CigarCon event and postponing the actual launch of the event until 2021. Planning and putting on the annual Trade Show and Convention is slightly longer than a full-year process. A Trade Show with CigarCon is going to be vastly different than a Trade Show without it. A go/no-go on CigarCon was needed quickly and PCA opted for the latter.
Staying the course presented a huge risk – especially if the financial and logistical details were not finalized, and the resistance from the manufacturers and retailers continued. Now it gives PCA a chance to work on both things, and focus on repairing the Trade Show in its current form.
Another aspect is booth sales, which for many companies usually starts just before the start of the prior year’s Trade Show. With all of the controversy around PCA 2020, sources have told Cigar Coop that many companies have not yet locked down their 2020 booth space. Whether this was posturing or due to uncertainty about the future of the trade show is a question, but if the booth sale numbers were lagging, quick action was also necessary.
2- The PCA can focus on its rebranding activities
What was lost in the whole CigarCon announcement was the rebranding efforts being made around the Premium Cigar Association. There was some very good work that was started here.
The new logo and it’s color scheme is a very effective tool at painting a picture to the cigar industry for someone who does know about that industry. According to the PCA: the green in the logo represents the tobacco fields where the leaves are grown that are eventually used in premium cigars; the brown represents the curing of those leaves, and the gray represents the burning of those produced by consumers. Presenting this logo allows for an easy three-minute talk on what the cigar industry is all about. This is a huge tool to have in the cigar industry’s pocket.
PCA is also working to establish itself as a full-service organization for the cigar industry. There are plans to roll out a new website combining elements of the old ipcpr.org, ipcprlegislative.org, and cigaraction.org websites. There is a new publication called PCA Magazine (which from the first issue impressed me with the quality).
There are also plans for a new series of tools and resources that will also combine to form an integrated learning program. PCA has said they will include a portal that will allow retailers to look up sales reps. On paper, this portal seems like a great idea, but I’m not sure how practical it will be, nor how encompassing it will be.
These are not trivial activities the organization is taking on. While it sounds like there still will be cycles devoted to crafting what CigarCon will be, ultimately some time and resources will still be saved to focus on implementing the vision of PCA becoming a full-service organization.
3- Focus on fixing the Trade Show itself
There is no way to sugar coat this – in its current state, the PCA Trade Show is broken and needs fixing. This presents an opportunity to turn its attention to addressing this.
The bottom line is the Trade Show is still a revenue generator for the PCA, and if it fails it could have a catastrophic impact on the organization’s future.
The foot traffic numbers on days three and four have to be quite alarming. At the same time, the rising costs for exhibitors associated with the Trade Show in its current form can be considered to be equally alarming. The Trade Show is still very important to the cigar industry. It’s still a revenue generator and revenue is needed for the legal and legislative battles PCA is embarking on. With or without Cigar Con, the Trade Show component still needs fixing. As I wrote in the Day Four Post Game Report, changes are needed.
The idea of a subcommittee to focus on CigarCon is a good step, but I hope this group will also address the issues of the PCA Trade Show and Convention as a whole and not just be focused on making CigarCon a reality.
4- More work was needed to strengthen the business case, logistics, and implementation
When the PCA announced its rebranding and plans for CigarCon at the 2019 IPCPR Trade Show, they did a very good job at positioning the rebranding and explaining why CigarCon was being proposed. From the announcement session and subsequent media press conference, the details were thin – especially when it came to the financial model, logistics, and the implementation plan.
There were a couple of takeaways from the media press conference. PCA set a goal of selling 4,500 tickets. Director Scott Pearce stated like any business, it was going to take a while to turn a profit. He mentioned that there was a potential at CigarCon operating at a loss for three years before going into the black. As one manufacturer told me, presenting a plan with a four year ROI was simply mind-boggling.
The idea of how the logistics of CigarCon would operate was also very much open to criticism. Many have questioned the model of retailers selling tickets (without making a margin), and then being tasked to “host” their customers on the show floor. There are many other logistical questions and debates that remain unanswered – ranging booth configuration, how cigars will be distributed, and what day CigarCon should be held.
There was a huge risk going into the planning for an initial CigarCon with these questions unanswered and details being thin. Now, PCA is essentially getting a do-over here. I believe they need to get things figured out by 2021 because I don’t think they get another postponement. They must use this opportunity to flesh out the business case, logistics, and implementation plan. They simply cannot go into the 2020 Trade Show with a bunch of concepts and ideas that are going to be subject to questions and Monday Morning Quarterbacking. The good news is that the opportunity is there. The challenge will be delivering on it. The bigger challenge will be selling what they deliver.
5- There is second chance to heal and unite
One of the biggest head-scratching things with the whole CigarCon thing was introducing a religious war into an industry that is already divided. As I mentioned, in the ten years I have covered IPCPR, there was nothing more controversial than the concept of having some sort of a consumer component associated with the IPCPR. It was clear from the day the information leaked to the days following the close of the 2019 IPCPR Trade Show, many manufacturers and retailers felt left out. The postponement now provides a window to include them – and more importantly, it provides a chance to introduce a healing component to this division.
The establishment of subcommittees is a way to address this, but as I mentioned up front, I have concerns. As with many collaborative initiatives by the cigar industry, it’s easy to get people to say they are “interested”, but getting “commitment” is another story. Commitment is going to be needed to make this effort work. In this group of committed individuals, it’s going to be important to have a cross-section of different industry roles. It’s going to involve “reaching across the aisle” and making sure there is some new blood incorporated into the mix.” This group ultimately is going to be tasked with not just coming up with ideas, but possibly being a part of a healing. It’s also going to be important to have crisp and controlled communications. As we have seen with IPCPR and now PCA’s track record, leaks seem to be par for the course – and ultimately if incorrect or half-baked information is leaked out, it’s not going to help with the healing effort.