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The PCA situation. Usually, Ministry of Cigars stays away from the American market. We focus on what’s going on in the international cigar markets. But with the news that Altadis, Drew Estate, Davidoff, and General Cigars are withdrawing from the world’s largest cigar and pipe trade show, we will give our thoughts.

That news created a flood of press releases. Several companies released press releases that they will continue to support the PCA and the trade show. Both cigar manufacturers and retailers chimed in. Others, such as Famous Smoke Shop, released statements that they aren’t visiting the trade show. With that, they follow 2 Guys Smoke Shop owner David Garofalo who announced he won’t be at the show right after the last trade show on The Cigar Authority.

An outsider view

We are not as informed as Halfwheel, Cigar-Coop, and the other USA based cigar websites. So our view is that of an outsider. But we have been following the news for the last few years, and we have a few suggestions. And for the sake of an industry that’s under attack, we hope that things will be resolved. The industry can’t be divided in the worldwide battle against the legislation. We and that includes media, cigar smokers, retailers, and manufacturers should stand as one. 

The IPCPR, The International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers, recently changed its name to PCA, Premium Cigar Association. They did that without consulting its members. With that, they made a mistake. IPCPR came from RTDA, Retail Tobacco Dealers of America, and is an organization for the tobacco retailers. To change the name and lose the retailer part didn’t go well. A lot of retailers were dissatisfied with the name change, as it is no longer clear that it is a retailer organization. 

Ministry of Cigars - The PCA situation
the old IPCPR logo

Another complaint is the rising cost of the trade show. Not specifically the floor space. But building up the booth is getting more and more expensive. Last year, Skip Martin from RoMa Craft vented on Facebook how crazy expensive it is just to raise a banner. And that it’s not allowed by the venue to do it yourself. Now, even though those fees are not going to the PCA, as the organizer of the show, PCA should negotiate a better deal with the venue. 

Transparency 

From what we hear, the PCA board isn’t very transparent. And they aren’t open to suggestions of its members. There has been a rumor that PCA is merging with Cigar Rights of America. PCA hasn’t been transparent whether that is a possibility or even if there is some truth in those rumors. Both organizations fight for the same thing, the right to smoke cigars, and fight the legislation. Although there has been an issue with that as well. PCA hired a law firm that claimed to have connections with the Trump presidency. It turned out that those connections are non-existing. 

But that’s not all, PCA surprised all of its members that they were adding a consumer day to the trade show. That surprise didn’t fare well, and after a lot of protests, that plan has been put on ice. It did not do the reputation of PCA any good though. Again, it’s a retailer organization and a consumer day would directly influence sales for the retailers in a negative way. Every cent spent on cigars a consumer day can’t be spent at the retailers.

Declining visitor numbers

Year after year, the number of visitors to the trade show is declining. Now that’s partly the fault of PCA. The timing of the trade show is wrong. It always takes place in July. And that’s a busy month for retailers. It makes it hard for retailers to take a few days off to go to Las Vegas. And last year, the trade show took place around Independence Day. For a lot of retailers, that is the busiest week of the year.

Not all of the declining numbers are due to the PCA though. Brands, especially the ones with plenty of sales reps visiting the shops, offer the show deals to the retailers in the month before the trade show. That takes away the incentive to even jump on a plane to Las Vegas. 

In our opinion, the trade show should be more inclusive as well. The new ‘hot’ trade show in America is TPE. The TPE uses the blueprint of Intertabac, a trade show we visited for the last decade and enjoy tremendously. Intertabac is the largest tobacco trade show in the world. Intertabac takes place in Dortmund, Germany every September. TPE is taking place in Las Vegas in January. Those trade shows include all kinds of tobacco products and accessories. From cigars, pipes, cutters, lighters to vape, cigarettes, and even cash register systems for retail shops. For retailers, it makes sense to visit a trade show that includes all that they are selling instead of just a part of their inventory.

The end of the trade show?

Is the statement made by the big four the end of the trade show? It doesn’t have to be. It is a big wake-up call for PCA. And they can use the wake-up call to make some changes. Changes that desperately need to be made. But it also gives other manufacturers opportunities to shine at the show. Smaller companies can get more attention now. And PCA can use it to negotiate a better deal with venues to fight the rising costs. The amount of support from other brands for the PCA has been overwhelming.

We came up with a few suggestions for PCA, that can turn the tide around:

  • Change the date of the show. Do it earlier in the year, during a time in the year where the retailers have more time to travel. For example in March, before the summer. That way, all the new cigars come in during the high traffic months, driving sales up.
  • Include retainers in the name. PCRA for example, Premium Cigar Retailers Association. 
  • Create an advisory board with retailers from all over the USA, small mom & pop shops and bigger retailers such as 2 Guys Smoke Shop. And listen to their advice. Plus do surveys amongst the members
  • Talk to Intertabac, include more products. A lot of retailers have a lounge where they offer drinks to their customers. So include liquor distributors to the show. Plus cigarette companies, vape, etcetera etcetera. Or even try to work with Intertabac, ideally, PCA would be in March and Intertabac in April (for the exact same reason as our suggestion #1). 
  • Create more transparency. To the members, but also to the public.  
  • Work with manufacturers on special show deals that won’t be offered to non-attending retailers. 

We feel that, if PCA is open to change things, the trade show will be booming again. If not, then it could be the end indeed.

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