After a one-year absence due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 PCA Trade Show opened up in Las Vegas, Nevada. The theme was a “reunion” of the cigar industry, but the other theme that I think is prevalent is “Economy of Scale.”
This is a trade show where there were costs cuts made. PCA has had a very rough time with the cancellation of the 2020 Trade Show (which is the organization’s main revenue source) and continued legal bills in funding the fight against the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Economy of Scale has been seen throughout the show. At the opening morning breakfast, PCA reported a -$2,314,000 loss for 2020, compared to a -$31,000 loss in 2019.
The Economy of Scale could be felt at the Welcome Reception and Opening Breakfast. Both events had less in the way of food offerings. The Welcome Reception was definitely less extravagant than we saw in the past. The Opening Breakfast didn’t feature a keynote speaker. Both events had much more of an “industrial look” to them.
One thing I was very concerned with was whether or not a diminished Welcome Reception would create a negative vibe going into the actual PCA Trade Show. While I heard some grumbling from folks about the Welcome Reception not being what it has in the past, many were still happy to be back together as an industry. Many stayed at the Welcome Reception from start to finish. The “reunion” aspect was more than enough to transform into a positive vibe heading into Day 1. This was good news and was a far cry from the negativity around the failed CigarCon project of 2019.
There was definitely more in the way of transparency by the PCA at the Opening Breakfast. PCA recapped the challenges from the past couple of years (since the last Trade Show). These challenges were well documented – FDA and COVID-19. I would have liked to have seen some acknowledgment on the organization’s failed proposed consumer event, CigarCon not working out – but I also understand there was an effort to keep a positive vibe. The opening breakfast concluded with a very fiery Executive Director Scott Pearce recapping the victories the industry has had and a confidence to meet the challenges ahead. This was a stark contrast to two years ago where he seemed a little more beleaguered following the CigarCon announcement.
Media and Venetian Guests were given early access to the Trade Show. There is a push by PCA to get guests to stay at the Venetian/Palazzo properties as it is a part of the contract with the Sands to attempt to transform PCA registrants into Venetian/Palazzo guests. One note on the manufacturers – several were not present for the 9:30 am opening bell. There were several empty booths around the 9:30 timeframe. I thought it was a fail by these manufacturers and found it unacceptable.
As for the Trade Show floor, Economy of Scale once again comes up in terms of the smaller footprint. It was very easy to navigate from one side of the show to another. Not only were the booth sizes smaller, but they had a simpler structure. Many opted for open space with a carpet and a few cabinets. There were some with no cabinets and no product displayed.
Attendance and foot traffic is a little hard to draw conclusions from. As the next couple of days of the Trade Show progresses, we should have a better idea, but the concerns I had about foot traffic tailing off on day three are shared by me with several manufacturers. Many manufacturers said “great sales” – but there were many booths with little to no foot traffic.
Finally, while our team didn’t attend it, I heard attendance was not great for the After Hours Cigar Bar in the Exhibit Hall. The cigar industry seemed to navigate to the Palazzo’s Bar Luca – the cigar lounge that replaced the popular Laguna Champagne Bar a few years ago. I was a little surprised at this, but from talking to several – some just wanted to get away from the industrial feel of the Exhibit Halls and basically “feel like they are in Vegas.” Regardless, the cigar industry certainly likes a bar area.
Finally, I will say, this was a good start for the PCA. It certainly wasn’t perfect, and there are critics who are willing to take the organization down – especially because of the “Economy of Scale” changes. Overall, it was a good vibe and energy on day one. A positive vibe can’t be a bad thing for the Trade Show itself.
Photo Credits: Cigar Coop