Had a chance to visit Tobacco Plus Expo 2020 in Las Vegas last week. It was a great time! I spent 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 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 has been incredibly positive and humbling. Cigar Life Guy is a media brand that engages cigar smokers. It’s also a life insurance brokerage that offers cigar smokers life insurance at non-smoker rates. I’m very grateful and appreciate the support.
Tobacco Plus Expo: Show Mix, Attendees, and Exhibitors
The cigar participation in Tobacco Plus Expo was way up this year. Spoke to many brands – big and small – where this was their first time at the expo. Perdomo was here for the first time. Many of the small folks I spoke to seemed pleased with their results. On Thursday morning, (the start of second day), they said they were at a positive ROI based on day 1 alone. How, exactly, they measure ROI will vary, but that’s their phrase, not mine. I also heard manufacturers and reps talking about taking the focus beyond cigars. It was an idea to attract different buyers by exposing them to new opportunities.
For perspective, cigars or cigar-related items filled about 20-25% of the floor space in the exhibit hall. The balance was other tobacco, CBD, cannabis, vape, and alternatives. The big tent approach wasn’t a hit with everyone,though. One well-respected, long-time tobacconist said, “This just wasn’t my crowd.” Then, he mentioned that he wouldn’t be back.
Educational Workshops at the Tobacco Plus Expo
My schedule allowed me to catch two educational sessions. Both were very high quality.
Sisters of the Leaf: Selling, Marketing and Promoting
There were a couple of key takeaways, here. Make women feel welcome. Don’t make assumptions about experiences or preferences based on gender. It’s worth noting that about two-thirds of the audience was men. It’s encouraging for a male-dominated industry to see the importance of female consumers. Special events and social media engagement are important. Again, make people feel welcome.
Fun fact: Women perform 60% of cigar production (e.g. rollers).
Here’s my take on the whole thing. It was great stuff and very well done. It was right to highlight female consumers, but most of the strategies presented were good marketing and retailing … period. These are tactics that can be more broadly applied. Cigar shops that have a woman problem likely also have a male problem or a 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 visited in the last year that didn’t make me feel welcome or valued. But, I left never to return. Good retailing is good retailing.
Jump start and Rejuvenate Your Retail Operation
There are a few key takeaways for this. You are only as good as your people. There was a huge emphasis on getting the right employees in the door and constant training. Engaging in events outside your retail space (e.g. golf outings, wine festivals, charity events) offers huge marketing opportunities to entice high-value customers. You need to view this as a marketing investment, not sales opportunities at the event. Focusing promotions on price (buy three get one free, etc.) lessens the value of your brand/experience. It’s also disrespectful to the brands you sell. Retire swag giveaways (buy this or that and get a lighter/cutter/shirt, etc. free). Focus on bigger, higher impact promotions. Manufacturers are open to partnering on larger promotions.
This is great stuff with a successful panel and great knowledge dropped. That said, it was almost too successful of a panel. Two were guys in the business for 30+ years. One was an employee of a billion+ dollar conglomerate. The other had the backing of a country music superstar. I would have liked hearing about how someone with a more limited marketing budget is winning in the marketplace. Most of the shops I visit don’t have their resources. It’s not that some of the stuff they shared doesn’t have applicability, though. But, I’ll suggest their reality is very different than the marketing reality of most in the room. I would have loved to hear from someone who’s been in the business as an owner for less than five years with severely limited resources, but has winning in the marketplace. Food for thought for next year.
The Final Thought
It was a great show for me. I am 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