21 Jul 2015
StogieGuys.com has been covering the annual International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association (IPCPR) Trade Show for nearly ten years now. To kick off our post-convention coverage—which will certainly include lots of details, commentary, and reviews—I wanted to first provide my high-level impressions. So I’m summarizing some of those today. (I chose the word summarizing carefully here; we’ll likely expand on some or all of these topics in future articles.)
Before I get started, though, I’d like to make a few comments. First, this year my colleague and I chose to simply share brief Facebook updates (which were embedded here live). We wanted to keep our hands as free as possible for note-taking, picture-taking, materials-gathering, walking the huge floor, networking, and—of course—smoking. So while we’ll concede our coverage thus far is less than comprehensive, we feel this strategy will result in you getting the complete picture over time, rather than a regurgitation of everything all at once. Besides, let’s face it: These days there’s no shortage of cigar information websites, many of whom do a good job getting all the new release info out there quickly. We encourage you to read widely and patronize our peers.
Second, bear in mind I’m organizing my thoughts while on a plane home to Chicago from balmy New Orleans. I haven’t yet had time to read the coverage and commentary from other media outlets. For all I know, what I have to say today may already have been written and published elsewhere. Maybe not. But please do not mistake any consistency in my impressions with plagiarism; if today’s commentary is very similar to other thoughts you’ve already seen, that really wouldn’t surprise me. After all, we all attended the same show.
Overall Attendance Seemed Down
The New Orleans setup is more spread out (and rectangular) than the Las Vegas site, which seems square and more compact. Even so, it’s safe to say attendance seemed lacking this year. Several cigar makers lamented this off the record, while many others claimed their sales were higher than anticipated (a running theme: “Yes, attendance is lower, but the serious buyers are here.”). A few hypotheses for the lower numbers include higher costs to attend, a feeling that attendance is less necessary than it used to be given how quickly info spreads via the web, and the oft-heard claim that New Orleans is a less exciting, less accessible venue than Vegas. Word is the next three Trade Shows will be held in Vegas. My take? Aside from the humidity, New Orleans is a fine host city with ample convention space, easy access to lodging, great cuisine, and no shortage of nightlife.
The Sheer Number of Exhibitors Was Staggering
I heard the number of exhibitor booths was up to nearly 350 this year. I couldn’t help but have the thought that looking at the floor directory map was almost like peering directly into the cigar bubble. For an industry facing a tremendously perilous political climate it’s surprising to see the volume of new releases, new manufacturers, and elaborate booths (the most expensive of which were upwards of $300,000). If any single person can claim they visited every booth, I’d be surprised and impressed.
Cautious Optimism Concerning the FDA
Our comparative advantage in the cigar media space is thorough, well-informed coverage of the political challenges facing premium cigars. So we went out of our way to ask as many cigar makers as possible what their thoughts are, how they’re preparing, and what they think the most likely outcomes are. With the very real possibility of every cigar introduced after February 15, 2007 being made illegal by the U.S. government, it was interesting to hear so much cautious optimism. Major themes from cigar makers include: operating business as usual until the new regulations are announced; confidence that an exemption for premium cigars over $10 (or a similar price) will be adopted; and confidence that the date will be moved to the date the regulations are announced or enacted. Fun fact: IPCPR estimates 85% of cigars currently held in humidors were introduced after February 15, 2007.
Little Talk About U.S.-Cuban Relations
This was the first Trade Show since officials in Washington and Havana have made strides toward normalized diplomatic relations, yet few seemed interested in discussing the topic. I don’t expect anything to change vis-à-vis the embargo anytime soon. Still, I was anticipating more hype about the possibility of Cuban cigars in the U.S. (or Cuban tobacco within cigars imported into the U.S.). Again, the common theme among cigar makers was business as usual until otherwise notified. But I have to think some outfits are excited about the possibilities, while others are likely lamenting the escalation of trademark wars, new competition, and added complexities.
Most Exciting Cigars
I’d prefer to not speculate about which new releases will be the hot best-sellers. If you want this kind of analysis, I suspect you won’t have trouble finding all sorts of opinions. But at the expense of almost certainly failing to mention several cigars that will likely wow me, I can share with you the new smokes I’m personally most excited to try. They include Sobremesa from Steve Saka’s new Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust (pictured above), Henry Clay Tattoo, CAO Pilón, Kilo, Neanderthal SGP, Partagas Aniversario, Padrón Dámaso, Undercrown Shade, AVO Synchro Nicaragua, Pinar del Rio’s Connecticut Valley Reserve, and El Güegüense from Nicholas Melillo’s new Foundation Cigar Co.
Stay tuned for lots more from the IPCPR Trade Show, plus a flurry of reviews.
photo credit: Stogie Guys