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Commentary: IPCPR Trade Show at a Crossroads

26 Jun 2019

Next week the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association (IPCPR) Trade Show takes place in Las Vegas. It will, without a doubt, be the largest gathering in the handmade cigar industry this year, as it is every year.

Still, there are more questions about the annual convention (and the organization behind it) than ever. And planned changes only serve to heighten those questions.

New Name, New Look

When we first covered the annual cigar trade show, the organization behind it was just changing its name from the Retail Tobacco Dealers of America (RTDA) to IPCPR. The idea was sold as necessary to emphasize that handmade cigars and pipes are different products from cigarettes, which is the most common tobacco product.

This year, IPCPR will again be getting a new name. (You can try to keep these things under wraps, but when you file for a trademark it will become public record.) According to reports, IPCPR will be rebranding as the Premium Cigar Association (PCA).

Why, you ask? Well, on the most basic level, the new name better reflects what the IPCPR is. Plus, for the small number of pipe smokers (and those who supply them), they already strongly associate pipe tobacco and accessories with premium cigar retailers, so there is little incentive to feature pipes in the name (at the expense of having a longer, more complicated name).

I suspect one of the under-appreciated reasons for the change is the opportunity for a new logo. As Seinfeld fans may note, the “cigar store Indian” (the logo of the IPCPR, but apparently being dropped in favor of a leaf for the PCA) is not appreciated by all. In today’s hyper-politically correct environment, eliminating that controversy makes a lot of sense for a group that seeks influence in Congress and in state legislatures.

Still a Selling Show?

The primary reason for the existence of the IPCPR Trade Show has always been for retailers to place cigar orders with manufacturers. Frequently, this comes in the form of new cigars introduced exclusively at the show, and special deals offered to those retailers by manufacturers at the show.

Prior to modern communication (the internet, email, text messages, cell phones, etc…), if you wanted the latest cigars and the best deals there was no substitute for face-to-face meetings at the annual gathering. There are now many on both sides (retailers and manufacturers) questioning the value face-to-face transactions given the costs.

In addition to the availability of other methods of conducting business, the value proposition of the trade show gets further thrown off as manufacturers get nickel-and-dimed all over the trade show floor. Want to hang a sign over your booth? Or have reliable internet? Or food service? Or large displays shipped to the venue? Expect to pay tens thousands of dollars, if not more. Plus, cigar manufacturers that give out samples are, under Nevada state law, supposed to get a license even to give out samples to retailers and other IPCPR members.

Further, from the retailer side, there is an increasing sense that the “trade show specials” are available even if you don’t actually attend in person. Also (as my inbox can attest to), the announcements of new cigars are no longer held until the show starts. Manufacturers seeking attention for their new brands are likely to announce those offerings days, weeks, or even months before the show. And that information is increasingly easy to find publicly with the proliferation of online media.

A Consumer Day at the Industry-Only Trade Show?

For years, the cigar trade show has been billed as an industry-only event, not for consumers. When we first attended, media members were permitted to attend but only with the IPCPR’s permission. Later, media members were required to be members to attend.

Now reports are that IPCPR (soon to be PCA) is considering a Consumer Day for 2020. The concept, so far as the limited details reveal, is that there would be a day where consumers would be welcomed onto the floor. It would be a sharp contrast from past years when IPCPR was apparently cracking down on retailers who were inviting (and, in some instances, selling passes to) customers.

Presumably, this would be a revenue-making day for IPCPR, with cigar smokers paying to attend, much like they do other cigar events. At such events attendees usually get samples from each manufacturer booth, though it’s hardly clear that would happen and some manufacturers have already indicated they aren’t fans of the plan.

Many years ago, such an idea was floated but quickly shut down. One factor in this is the persistent rumors of IPCPR merging with Cigar Rights of America (which is a consumer lobbying group).

If PCA can create “CigarCon” (the presumed working title of the Consumer Day) it could be used to create pressure on CRA to embrace that merger, as it would get PCA the contact information for many of those likely to be CRA’s most engaged members.

Suffice to say, if a cigar event around the cigar trade show actually includes the main owner/principles of each brand, that would be a significant draw for many cigar smokers. But manufacturers are most interested in attending consumer events because they are attached to the largest retailers with whom they do a lot of business; they view attending as a favor to their largest accounts.

Would retailers and manufacturers embrace such an event when they already run thousands of dollars of costs to attend the cigar trade show? Could IPCPR still be a retailer-oriented organization with such an event? Those important questions still need to be worked out.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

2 Responses to “Commentary: IPCPR Trade Show at a Crossroads”

  1. Jackson Wednesday, June 26, 2019 at 10:49 pm #

    That they are embarrassed about the word tobacco is an embarrassment to me as a cigar smoker.

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    […] (formerly known as the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association, or IPCPR) the widely anticipated CigarCon was formally announced. The event will, for the first time, officially open the convention […]

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