Justin Harris 

There’s a huge misperception of what the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers (IPCPR) trade show is all about. Many think that it’s a “Trick or Treat” bag grab and smoke fest for dudes that like cigars, and this couldn’t be further from the truth. Like any other industry that is made up of independent businesses, premium cigar and accessory manufacturers need a place to display and sell their goods to a “captive audience” of retailers. Same holds true for shop owners that need to see what’s available to offer their clientele and what’s to come without parading hundreds of sales representatives through their doors day in and day out, all while actually trying to tend to said customers. The IPCPR makes it possible for all of these players, retailers and manufacturers, to be in the same venue to support and learn from one another without outside distractions.

From 7am-5pm, Monday through Friday, retailers and brand ambassadors go through a gauntlet of presentations, sales transactions, and workshops. Every conversation, every interaction, and every handshake is all in an effort to ensure that consumers have what they need to enjoy and promote the cigar lifestyle, and retail staff have the very latest regarding federal legislation, resources and product to help them do just that.

For the cigar company/vendor, it’s pretty straight forward…to get their product on as many shelves as possible or on THE RIGHT shelves. Exposure turns into to profit which turns into longevity. Teams of employees make themselves available by setting back-to-back appointments to uncover and meet retailers and distributor needs from floor open to floor close…and oftentimes well into the Vegas night.

For the retailer, it’s a little different. They must come in with strategy. While it’s so easy to break the bank or go crazy purchasing any and everything that’s available, general managers must balance excitement with realism. They must know client’s patterns and buying habits, while being in tuned with industry trends. They must have an open mind and discipline all at the same time, as each one ventures to the trade show with a budgeted amount to spend. The shop’s business for the year can be made or broken with one transaction, so the pressure is on to get it right, to bring in the right product at the right time that fits their shop demographic, and to establish relationships with the key people that understand and can help to sustain their brick and mortar business.

Similar to the way I say that truly learning about cigars requires a visit to a factory and farm, attending an IPCPR trade show sheds light on and demands a totally different respect for what brick and mortar retailers do on a daily basis. When consumers think that the shop staff is just shooting the breeze, they’re truly listening and observing what it is we like and dislike in our cigars. When we think retailers are bringing in too much new and boutique stuff or not enough new and boutique stuff, they’re doing their research, asking the questions, and weighing all of the options with their clientele in mind the whole time.

What the IPCPR ain’t, contrary to what many think, is a big ol’ party where folks and sucking down one cigar after another. As Sweet Brown would say, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.” It’s about work, education, sustainability, relationship and networking. While it can be fun, it’s intense and so necessary for our industry to survive and prosper.