Thoughts on Tobacco Plus Expo 2020
Had a chance to visit Tobacco Plus Expo 2020 in Las Vegas last week. It was a great time spending the better part of three days smoking cigars, sharing the Cigar Life Guy brand story and learning about other businesses in the cigar space. I’ll keep this focused on some high-level thoughts and keep it from delving into a bunch of product reviews.
First, a big thank you all of the brands, reps, shop owners, and cigar smokers I spoke to or enjoyed a smoke with last week! The response to the core Cigar Life Guy concept – a media brand that engages cigar smokers coupled with a life insurance brokerage that offers cigar smokers life insurance at non-smoker rates – has been incredibly positive and humbling. I’m very grateful and appreciate the support.
The cigar participation in TPE was way up this year. Spoke to many brands – big and small – where this was their first time at TPE. Notably Perdomo was here for the first time. Many of the small folks I spoke to seemed pleased with their results saying on Thursday morning (start of second day) they were at a positive ROI based on day 1 alone (how exactly they measure ROI will vary, their phrase not mine). Another theme I heard from manufacturers and reps was the focus beyond cigars and pipes attracted a different buyer exposing them to some new opportunities.
For perspective, probably only 20-25% of the floor space in the exhibit hall was taken up by cigars or cigar related items. The balance was other tobacco, CBD, cannabis, vape, and alternative. The big tent approach wasn’t a hit with everyone. One well-respected long-time tobacconist told me privately, “This just wasn’t my crowd” (and he won’t be back).
My schedule allowed me to only catch two educational sessions, but both were very high quality.
Sisters of the Leaf: Selling, Marketing and Promoting Tobacco Products to Women
Key takeaways: make women feel welcome and don’t make assumptions about experience or preferences based upon gender. Worth noting probably 2/3rds of the audience was men, which should be encouraging that many men (in what is a male-dominated industry) see the importance of the female consumer. Special events and social media engagement are important. Again, make people feel welcome.
Fun fact: 60% of cigar production (e.g. rollers) done by women.
My take on the whole thing: great stuff, very well done, right to highlight the female consumer, but most of the strategies presented were just good marketing and retailing, period; and can be applied more broadly. Cigar shops that have a women problem probably also have a male problem or new smoker problem. Make everyone feel welcome! Make everyone feel comfortable! I can’t tell you the number of shops in the Atlanta area I’ve visited just in the last year that didn’t make me feel welcome or valued and I left never to return. Good retailing is good retailing.
Tobacco Retail Rebooted: Jumpstart and Rejuvenate Your Retail Operation
Key takeaways: You are only as good as your people. Huge emphasis on getting the right employees in the door and constant training. Doing events/engaging outside your retail space (e.g. golf outings, wine festivals, charity events) are a huge marketing opportunity to bring in new, high value customers. Need to view as a marketing investment not just sales made at the event. Promotions based on price (buy three get one free, etc.) lessen the value of your brand/experience and are disrespectful to the brands you sell and swag giveaways (buy this or that and get a lighter/cutter/shirt, etc. free) are tired. Focus on bigger, higher impact promotions. Manufacturers are open to partnering on larger promotions.
My take on the whole thing: Great stuff, incredibly successful panel. Great knowledge dropped. That said it was almost too successful of a panel (two were guys in the biz 30+ years, one was an employee of a billion dollar+ conglomerate, and the other was backed by a country music superstar). I would have been interested in hearing about how somebody with a more limited marketing budget is winning in the marketplace. Most of the shops I visit don’t have their resources. Not that some of the stuff they shared doesn’t have applicability, but I’ll suggest their reality is very different than the marketing reality of most in the room. I’d have loved to hear from somebody that’s been in the business as an owner less than five years, had severely limited resources but is winning in the marketplace. Food for thought for next year.
Great show for me personally. Blessed to make some new friends and see some old ones….until next time!
Note: written by Dave Arlinghaus on 2/2/2020, photo is with Karl Malone