For the seventh consecutive time, Cigar Coop presents a full “Post-Game Report” assessing the Premium Cigar Association (PCA) Convention and Trade Show. In this report, I talk more about the show mechanics and assess how things went.
This year I once again published five daily post–game recaps during the Trade Show. These were intended to be short daily recaps of the Trade Show. Today I present a more detailed “post-game analysis” of the show.
If you follow the cigar industry, there is simply no bigger drama than the annual PCA Trade Show. There are plenty who have an opinion on it. Those who make sure to tell you they don’t care about the PCA Trade Show, are sometimes the ones most commenting on the PCA Trade Show. This drama justifies a detailed article. The topics are not in a particular order, but were arranged somewhat for a logical flow.
This won’t put a close to the Cigar Coop 2022 PCA coverage. We still have more of our product-centric coverage and company reports coming out throughout August.
Finally, the thoughts of this article are the thoughts of this author and this author alone. They do not necessarily reflect the thoughts of the other members of the Cigar Coop team.
Guy Fieri Comes to the PCA Trade Show
Espinosa Cigars gets a top score here. The company did a fantastic job top to bottom with bringing celebrity restaurateur Guy Fieri to the Premium Cigar Association (PCA) Trade Show.
On Day 2 of the Trade Show, Fieri made two appearances at the Espinosa booth, one at the PCA lounge, and one at a private reception. There were crowds for all four events. Espinosa was organized and did a great job of handling Fieri’s presence and the crowds.
Fieri is collaborating with Espinosa for Knuckle Sandwich Cigars. The line made its debut a few months earlier in the year. In the world of “what’s new” that the cigar industry lives in, the company delivered a special limited edition cigar called Knuckle Sandwich Chef’s Special to keep the momentum going.
In a year that had a positive PCA Trade Show, Espinosa Cigars delivered one of the most positive stories of the Trade Show.
Fuente y Padrón Makes History
This was a big and historic launch. At the same time, the unveiling of Fuente y Padrón Legends was met with some criticism. While it wasn’t perfect, I will contend it still was one of the best things to happen to the cigar industry and the PCA Trade Show in quite a while.
Ever since the Fuente/Padrón project was announced, it’s been something that was met with much anticipation. It was two legendary families coming together for a cigar. The project was first announced in 2020. Some were surprised it didn’t get showcased at the 2021 PCA Trade Show, but personally, I wasn’t. First, I think both families knew that 2021 would be a down year for attendance, and given the show was put on with only 100 days’ notice, it probably wouldn’t have been enough time to get the project prepared for the show. This year seemed much better.
One thing that was evident from the massive crowds for the unveiling is that people were interested in seeing history. In my 12 years of covering the Trade Show, I never saw anything like those crowds for a cigar unveiling. While I realize crowds like this had never been seen at a Trade Show, I still think Fuente and Padrón should have expected a larger gathering. Personally, I would have liked to see both companies and PCA have better organization in terms of logistics for people to see and hear the unveiling better. They also should have made accommodations for the media. At the same time, this should not be a big negative on the project as a whole – in which the historical significance speaks for itself. The net/net is the pluses far outweigh any minuses here.
Since this was pretty much an unveiling as opposed to a launch of the project, we don’t know many of the details behind the cigars or when they will be available. It wasn’t even clear when the cigar would be available, and who you would order the cigar from. A lot has been made about this as well, but I think these answers will come in time.
In the end, to see a project like this be a part of the Trade Show is a great thing. While personally, I’m not a fan of crowds, the fact that we saw the crowd like we did for this, Guy Fieri, and the Fuente Friday Seminar show that reports of the PCA Trade Show’s demise are greatly exaggerated.
Fuente Friday Seminar
The day before the Trade Show opened is usually reserved for seminars and the opening night reception. This year one of the seminars was dubbed “Fuente Friday” and was hosted by Carlos “Carlito” Fuente Jr. and José Blanco. The two discussed and demonstrated all of the stages of a new cigar they made and there was playful banter between the two. As I walked into the Venetian Expo Center to register, it was about 30 to 35 minutes before the seminar started. There was a massive line that stretched far down the corridor.
About 18 minutes prior to the start, I recorded this video of the line:
So it’s time to do the time warp….. does anybody remember when Henke Kelner did his tasting seminar in 2010?
…or how about José Blanca’s Blending seminar in 2011 when he still was with La Aurora?
The 2010 and 2011 events I mentioned were some of the best events on the day before the trade show opened. It took over a decade before we saw anything like this from IPCPR/PCA again. The inclusion of Fuente Friday was a great job by the current PCA leadership in bringing an event like this back to the Trade Show. In my opinion this should be the blueprint moving forward. The best people to host these seminar are people in our industry. It worked great in the past, it worked great this year, and it will work great in the future. There are plenty of industry people who I am sure would give their time and talent to host such an event like Arturo Fuente did.
Attendance vs. Foot Traffic
For the past three trade shows, here is the tale of the tape…..
|Retailer Attendees (Badges)||2036||1622||2085|
Sometimes the numbers don’t tell the whole story. First up, I wouldn’t pay much attention to the 2021 numbers. These numbers were for a show that was on 100-days notice and many attendees simply didn’t commit. But here is where the numbers don’t tell the story. The number of retailers actually is down from 2019.
We define foot traffic on Cigar Coop as the number of people on the Trade Show floor. The PCA doesn’t measure this, so most of it has to go with gut feel. If you looked at Day 4 of the 2019 show, I noted the “ghost town” effect with booths packed up early, and what seemed like very little foot traffic. If you look at 2022 it was a different story. While Day 4 was the slowest day in terms of foot traffic, there was a lot more activity going on this year than last year or 2019.
Much of the problem with 2019 was the gamble PCA (then the IPCPR) took on having a Trade Show on the weekend leading into the 4th of July. It clearly led to the massive drop on Days 3 and 4 that year.
While the numbers weren’t bad, there still is more work to be done to get people to the Trade Show. This is a challenge PCA will face in the next couple of years.
Economy of Scale Update for 2022
Last year, given a lot of uncertainty for the 2021 PCA Trade Show – and the fact that it was essentially planned in 100 days, PCA did not invest heavily in their booth configuration. As a result, many companies downsized or simplified their booths. Some companies like Perdomo did an excellent job in reducing their size (thus lowering costs), yet maintaining a very professional and expo-like booth setting. Other companies like My Father and Tatuaje opted for an open floor model with some glass cabinets to display products – moving away from their elaborate booths of the past. This year there seemed to be some improvement. Ashton opted to take the Perdomo approach – namely go with a smaller scale booth. Booths like My Father and Tatuaje still had open spaces, but there was better use of cabinets for the booths.
The scope of the booths for 2022 might be what the future entails for what booths will look like for years to come. While I still miss the huge Perdomo booth, it comes with significant cost. At the same time, I don’t miss the minimalist economy of scale booths of 2021.
One side note. The PCA Trade Show does not need to go to a model of card tables with pretty tablecloths in some parking lot or industrial warehouse. The PCA needs to have an expo component. Premium Cigars are luxury products, and thus need to be showcased as luxury products. The 2022 Trade Show demonstrated a good medium for doing this.
The PCA Lounge
This was something new for 2022. The PCA Lounge was basically a PCA-branded area that contained both seating and exhibit space for featured Trade Show products. It was also used for the PCA Happy Hour Lounge events toward the end of the day.
The PCA did a great job at adding this amenity. The PCA Lounge provides an excellent space on the Trade Show floor to increase the “experience” factor of the show as opposed to just sales. It also provides a very nice area on the Trade Show floor to showcase some of the best offerings at the Trade Show.
The PCA Exclusive Series
This was an area I was quite critical of last year, and one that I was critical of coming into this year’s trade show. My assessment for 2022 is the PCA did a much better job here, but some of the manufacturers still have a lot of work to do here.
One thing that was a little blurry is that there were PCA Show Exclusives and the PCA Exclusive Series. Technically any company could offer a cigar exclusively to show attendees – and do it on their own terms. This is what I term PCA Show Exclusives. As for the PCA Exclusive Series, these are also cigars offered exclusively to show attendees, but these are cigars promoted by the PCA. The PCA Exclusive Series are the cigars I am referring to here.
I like the idea of the PCA promoting a series of cigars, and I like it as an incentive to bring people to the Trade Show. The PCA certainly did its job of promoting the cigars. The problem is that the incentive needs to be offered much earlier than it was. Many of the PCA Exclusives weren’t announced until June. I contend these cigars need to be offered 60 to 90 days prior to the Trade Show. I believe the PCA did its part, putting a framework in place for the Exclusive Series. Now it’s up to the manufacturers to step up and work with the PCA to get the word out.
I also think the manufacturers need to create more of a “wow” factor with PCA Exclusives. I believe Crowned Heads and ACE Prime did the best job at doing this with Sfumato in C Major and Maria Lucia respectively. These were compelling, well-promoted releases. My only complaint is more lead time was needed in terms of when they were announced. Some bad luck did happen to CLE Cigar Company as their PCA Exclusives did not make it to the show due to a delay in their shipping.
One final note, I mentioned the PCA Lounge as a great way to showcase products. This would be a great way to showcase the full set of PCA Exclusive Series products. Some of these offerings were here, but not all of them. Ultimately, I believe the PCA would love the entire PCA Exclusive Series here. For whatever reason, many of these products did not make it there. Having the entire PCA Exclusive Series showcased in one area would send a bold message for this collection.
The Trade Show Hours
Media is probably going to have the least say on this matter, so I might as well just take the position that the majority of attendees will disagree with me on this. The new Trade Show hours are not a good thing.
The new Trade Show hours shifted the timetable of the first three days of the Trade Show from a 10am to 5pm day to an 11am to 6pm day. Much of this was to accommodate exhibitors being out the night before. On top of that, the Happy Hour Receptions pretty much kept the Trade Show open till 7pm.
What this did is essentially compress time between leaving the trade show floor and the early evening cocktail hours and dinners. I liked having the short break of leaving the trade show floor and decompressing at my lodging or somewhere else.
While I’m sure most folks don’t care, media does have activities that need to take place after the trade show (team huddles, backups, etc). Not being able to do these tasks makes covering the PCA Trade Show more difficult.
The Social Activities
I applaud PCA for continuing to work to make the PCA Trade Show more than just a buying event. This year the PCA had a few social events. There was the Opening Gala, the Annual Meeting Breakfast, the Happy Hour events on the show floor, and the nightclub night at the Cosmopolitan.
Overall I think PCA made some strides in the events with some room for improvement in some areas.
Opening Night Reception
I was pretty satisfied with the opening night reception. I could do without the industrial look, but I also understand an elaborate look doesn’t come without significant costs. One thing to note is the opening gala used to be held in the ballrooms of the Convention Center, but with increased smoking restrictions, it has been moved to the Exhibit Halls.
The open bar and the cigar samples seemed to more than satisfied the attendees. This evening is probably the most important in-person networking event of the annual Trade Show and Convention, excluding the unofficial after-hours hub of Bar Luca at the Palazzo.
Annual Meeting Breakfast
Like in 2011, the Annual Meeting Breakfast was shortened. I don’t think this is a bad thing at all. I do miss some of the awards that have been handed out to industry people. Executive Director Scott Pearce used some of the time to talk about the upcoming drama of where the 2024 PCA Trade Show will be (I’ll cover this more in the Cigar Media section). For the second year in a row, there was no keynote speaker. With the exception of Mike Ditka and Marcus Luttrell, I’ve found the keynotes in the past unimpressive. Foundation Cigars sponsored the breakfast and owner Nicholas Melillo talked. As I mentioned with the Fuente Friday Seminar, I believe attendees would much rather hear their favorite industry personality talk.
Happy Hour Receptions
I can’t comment much on the Happy Hour receptions on the Trade Show floor as our team didn’t attend it. From my observations, these seemed to go well so I think the PCA is headed in the right direction. As mentioned in the PCA Exclusives section, the idea of a PCA Lounge on the Trade Show floor was one of the better things implemented during this year’s Trade Show. It was good to see the PCA Lounge leveraged for the.
Drenched After Dark: PCA Member Night
This one I can only comment on based on feedback from others, but for the most part, this didn’t seem to generate the buzz PCA had hoped for.
The problem every year seems to be the after-hours events. In the past, they have tried concerts, and this year they tried a nightclub night at the Cosmopolitan. Historically, unless you have a compelling event (i.e. free cigars and drinks), it is tough to get people to leave the Venetian/Palazzo property. For some reason, the overcrowded Bar Luca in the Palazzo is a preferred option by many. I do believe if PCA had its choice, they would have scheduled a Member Night at the Venetian/Palazzo property, so it’s hard to ding them on this.
Some people mentioned the fact that the big Christian Eiroa 50th birthday/CLE and Asylum 10th Anniversary party was competing with this event. This was a large event hosted by CLE Cigar Company that was held at Resorts World – which is a lot closer than the Cosmopolitan to the Venetian/Palazzo property. Unfortunately, there is little PCA could do here to avoid a conflict. I did attend this event and it was held at the Eight Nightclub – a cigar-friendly place. While the music was too loud, the lounge was great – and it was a lot closer than the Cosmopolitan. I wonder if PCA can work with Resorts World in the future for its social events.
More Show Sponsorship is Needed
While the Opening Reception, Annual Meeting, and Happy Hour had secured sponsorship, I still feel if there is one item that I think the PCA could do better at is increased sponsorship of Trade Show activities.
It’s a little difficult to quantify this, as it was difficult to tell what was sold and when. Prior to the Trade Show, the website still saw unsold sponsor slots. My gut tells me there just was more that could have be done here. The more sponsor slots sold, the more amenities that can have costs covered and help the PCA Trade Show reach its ultimate goal of raising money to fight the ongoing legal battles the cigar industry faces.
Status of the Big Four
While the Big Four (Altadis, Davidoff, Drew Estate, and Scandinavian Tobacco Group) did not have full-fledged booths, they were present in some form.
Cigar Coop could positively confirm the presence of Davidoff, Drew Estate, and Scandinavian Tobacco Group (STG) at the 2022 PCA Trade Show. Since Ferio Tego’s distribution is handled by Davidoff, there was no surprise there. We also saw one representative from Drew Estate.
As for STG, since they acquired the Room101 brand, they essentially had a beachhead into the PCA Trade Show. There were two STG products being exhibited (but not sold) at this year’s Trade Show: Sancho Panza and Los Statos Deluxe. There were also several STG staff members at the Room101 booth. While it wasn’t returning to the PCA show with a Big Bang, I think it’s fair to say STG might have been the first of the Big Four, albeit in a limited fashion to return to the PCA Trade Show.
The COVID-19 Outbreak at PCA 2022
We began to hear as the Trade Show closed and when attendees went home, there were many positive tests for the COVID-19 virus reported. Cigar Coop heard from 34 people who tested positive and we imagine there were many others who tested positive that we don’t know about. In addition, several companies exhibiting at the Trade Show reported staff members as testing positive, but declined to discuss numbers (if company numbers were not given, I counted it as “1” in the 34 count).
Since the lockdowns and before PCA 2022, there have been several cigar events: The Great Smoke, The Big Smoke, Tampa Cigar Festival, TPE 2021, TPE 2022, and PCA 2021. This is the first event since coming out of the lockdowns that there was a COVID-19 outbreak.
If there is one thing the PCA blew in 2022, it was not informing the attendees once initial cases were confirmed. I realize that at this point the threat of COVID-19 is a part of everyday living and I get a convention is going to be a place where you are at higher risk, that shouldn’t be an excuse not to notify attendees and staff that were probably exposed to the virus.
The communication would have been especially beneficial because many of the attendees came in from other countries. It is important to understand that many international attendees have stricter rules than the U.S. currently does when returning to their own country. Informing the attendee base would have been very beneficial to them so they could have gotten tested and meanwhile taken steps to avoid exposing anyone else to the virus.
While I didn’t test positive, if I did I would have changed my flight coming home from Las Vegas and I imagine others would have also done this if they thought they might be contagious. Finally, as the PCA attempts to become more transparent, I believe this would have gone a long way.
Let’s be clear. The COVID-19 outbreak is not PCA’s fault. I’m not saying the convention should have been shut down. I’m simply saying the PCA should have communicated that there were positive cases once that was known.
High Drama: The Location of the 2024 Trade Show
Just before Day 3 of the 2022 Trade Show, I attended a press conference for the media hosted by the PCA. This is the second year of the PCA hosting a press conference. I personally have been very appreciative of PCA hosting this for the media.
This year the first 20 minutes of the press conference focused on questions regarding the 2024 Trade Show. I was simply blown away how for one-third of the press conference the cigar media was talking about a Trade Show that is two years out when there was so much to talk about that was going on with the 2022 Trade Show. The focus of this discussion centered around where the 2024 Trade Show would be held.
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised because, in my 12 years of covering IPCPR/PCA, the location of the annual Trade Show is a source for drama that would rival anything daytime television could put on.
The issue was that PCA essentially is at a crossroads when it comes to having the Trade Show in Las Vegas. Executive Director Scott Pearce essentially said there were two options. Option 1 is to leave the PCA Trade Show in Las Vegas just after Independence Day (as it is now), or Option 2 would move the Trade Show to New Orleans for April dates. The PCA will be soliciting feedback from its membership to assist the body in making a final decision.
This will be an ongoing debate for the next few months and I don’t think it was something that needed to be addressed extensively at the 2022 media press conference.
In this author’s opinion, there is no way the PCA should be even considering the city of New Orleans for its annual event. I don’t think New Orleans deserves to host the industry’s signature event since it has enacted a comprehensive smoking ban. I would love to see the PCA Trade Show leave Las Vegas, but not for New Orleans. It’s also worth noting that I don’t hate on New Orleans. Cigar Coop was born in the city of New Orleans. But as long as the smoking ban remains as it is year-round, we shouldn’t be doing business there.
One other point on New Orleans, if folks remember the 2015 Trade Show, you will remember it was very difficult meeting up for after-hours events. For those who love to drink and smoke at Bar Luca, and especially those who prefer Bar Luca to the actual Trade Show, you simply won’t have an equivalent experience in New Orleans.
As I mentioned above, this trade show needs to have a feel of supporting luxury products. It does not need to be in some warehouse, industrial building, or parking lot. We are an industry that should be putting our best foot forward when it comes to showcasing our products.
I get comments every year on this section on why I include a section on cigar media. The answer this year is the same as every previous time I get the comments. I am a part of the cigar media, thus I feel covering our craft at the cigar industry’s signature event is something worth mentioning.
First up, I will say most of the cigar media worked hard and acted very professionally. If I had to MMQB (Monday Morning Quarterback) the cigar media coverage as a whole there were two notable things: 1) Not enough written coverage; 2) Too much personality and not enough product coverage.
Today, video coverage is the rage. Even Cigar Coop has gone into video mode this year. The writers at the Trade Show are slowly disappearing, and this is a shame. Outside the print magazines, as far as I know the only written pieces being done were by Cigar Coop, Halfwheel, Cigar Craig, and Smokin Tabacco. I still contend we get great ROI from our written PCA articles – so that’s why they are done. People love the Trade Show and they still want to read about it.
Much of the coverage was focused on personality-driven video coverage and less on product coverage. By no means is the Cigar Coop coverage perfect, but we did emphasize product coverage. We tried to come up with a theme for each company at the Trade Show and avoided asking “how’s the show going?”
One interesting company that seemed to be ignored by the majority of the online media was Oliva. I believe Halfwheel and Cigar Coop were the only online media brands to cover Oliva. Oliva had a significant amount of releases. As I saw other media coverage, I kept asking myself why Oliva was not being covered. Other companies like Ashton, E.P. Carrillo, La Aurora, and Miami Cigar and Company also had little to no coverage from the online community.
Overall Grade for the PCA: B
If I was grading the Trade Show, 2019 would have been an F and 2021 would have been a C+. Once again, the trend goes upward and I give this year’s show a solid B.
If you read all of the words in this article, you can see there is room for improvement. This certainly isn’t to nitpick on the PCA, but to point out things that could continue to drive this to an “A’ in the future. One thing I always pointed out is the Trade Show ending up a good experience depends on the vibe of the Trade Show being positive going into the show. I think 2022 probably had the most positive vibe since 2014. The PCA certainly has been more transparent and has taken input from the membership base very seriously.
The result was I saw a lot of smiles on the faces of manufacturers, retailers, and media. There were smiles going in and there were smiles coming out. This is something we didn’t see in 2019, and the fact that PCA turned this around is a major credit to the organization. Let’s not get wrapped around the axle about 2024 just yet. I personally look forward to covering the 2023 show.
Photo Credits: Erron Nielsen and Will Cooper for Cigar Coop
Thank you for your hard work, Coop. Same to your entire Coop Coalition (the Coalition of the Willing). This was an enjoyable read.
I completely disagree with you, however, on moving the 2024 PCA trade show to New Orleans. I think NOLA is a great idea. I am biased, though. I live in Mississippi and would love to have the show in the Big Easy for selfish reasons. New Orleans has so much more culture than Vegas. You can pretty much do whatever you want on the streets in NOLA. The venues are much more intimate. Which could be a blessing and a curse.
Smoking bans are a problem everywhere…