The International Premium Cigars and Pipe Retailers Convention and Trade Show IPCPR 2017 has once again come and gone. Now I’m left to sort out the good, the bad and the ugly for this year’s show. 2016 was my first IPCPR Trade Show and I was a little overwhelmed by the entire experience. So, clearly, in 2017, I am now a seasoned professional. To get some of the basics out of the way, IPCPR 17 ran from Monday, July 10 through Friday, July 14 at the Las Vegas Convention Center, a departure from all of the other times the Trade Show was hosted in Las Vegas when it was hosted at the Sands Convention Center at the Venetian. The official hotel was the aging Westgate Casino and Resort. More on both of these later.

Early in the morning on July 10, Harris and I departed Birmingham. Given that a handful of reps live locally, we were not entirely surprised to run into Jonathan from Oliva in the airport, before we’d even boarded the plane. After an uneventful flight, we ran into Pedro and Kyle from Drew Estate and Christian Eiroa while we waited at baggage claim.

Once we checked in at the Westgate and dropped off our luggage, we were off retailer registration. IPCPR provided a Palio cutter for retailer attendees this year. For some Cigar Café trivia, Palio makes one of my favorite double guillotine cutters, so I was glad to pocket another one. We stepped over for a couple of seminars intended for the retailer audience. Topics included customer retention, business growth and FDA regulatory compliance from a tobacconist standpoint. Fratello sponsored one of the talks with an Oro and Crowned Heads sponsored another seminar with their Four Kicks Maduro. Both were solid sticks to get the show started.

Keep in mind, to this point, the trade show floor hasn’t even opened. But after General’s Light Up the Night Party and a morning keynote from Rudy Giuliani, IPCPR PAC attendees were admitted, an hour before retail attendees were granted access. And here we are, back in Babylon, greeted immediately by booths by Davidoff and Drew Estate.

Think of this first post as the flyover. There’s no way I can cover 4 days of the Trade Show in 800 words. And, ultimately, between the opportunities to network with blenders, with other retailers, other Internet media organizations and complete strangers, to smoke new blends and to get my hands on new accessories coming on the market, I can’t ever see the week going badly on the whole. So here are the early takeaways.

IPCPR 2017 The Good

For all of the fear, uncertainty and doubt looming over the show because of the FDA deeming rules in 2016, the overall mood of the show was much improved this year. Part of this had to do with injunctions and regulatory delays, but part of it, if we’re being honest, is that the industry has already started to move towards compliance with the new regulations. Across the board, manufacturers noted that their gross sales numbers broke their previous trade show sales records. My sophomore year did not disappoint with the nightly dinners. We had another fantastic night overthrowing Morton’s Steakhouse with CHIMP and My Father, a private dinner with Christian Eiroa, Tom Lazuka and the rest of the the Eiroa brands, a night out with Ken from Gurkha at Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill. Nish Patel even finally pinned me down for tequila at Benihana of all places. We’ve added video to our interviews this year and had the opportunity to catch up with old friends like Jose Blanco and Steve Saka and make new friends like Pedro Ventura.

IPCPR 2017 The Bad

Even though the overall mood of the show was improved, retailer attendance was down. Estimates at booths ranged from 14-18% lower retailer attendance from 2016. Also, there seemed to be a downtick in attendance from some of the smaller boutique brands. Of the vendors who did attend, there were a number who wondered aloud whether or not the FDA was onsite to bust manufacturers on reasonable promotional sample sizes. An unfortunate side effect of the venue change this year was that Davidoff lost their booking for their annual Golden Band Awards. Legend has it that it the black tie affair should be back in 2018, but after having dinner in the same room as Avo Uvezian in 2016, I was personally looking forward to seeing what Davidoff did this year

IPCPR 2017 The Ugly

As I mentioned earlier, the Westgate Casino is showing its age. The service and accommodations were fine, but there were lines everywhere, the casino floor was tiny, At best, there were two lines for the entire resort to stand in for coffee or breakfast. A single lobby bar served conference attendees as well as other resort guests. My room was fine, but there were plenty of audible complaints from other guests that indicated not everyone’s stay ran as smoothly.

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