What Have You Done For Me Lately?

As the Premium Cigar Association’s annual convention approaches each year, much discussion takes place about how the industry-at-large benefits. From the outside looking in, participating brands always seem generally enthusiastic about their placements, launches, and seeing friends they’ve made over years and years of being in the industry. It doesn’t take more than a quick peek behind the curtain, however, to see that not everyone sees the state of the industry the same way.

The $1,000,000 elephant in the room – or not in the room in this case – is the group of four major brands that pulled out of the show in 2020 and have not returned. Though they continue to pay into the association’s stated larger mission of advocating for the rights of those who make, sell and smoke cigars – Davidoff, Altadis, Drew Estate and General have major issues with how the association’s annual convention is planned and executed. In a move that was disappointing to many who’d hoped for more, PCA’s response back in 2020 shortly after the 4 large brands made their joint statement did not address their concerns and seemed to serve only to try and sell off the floor space left by their departure.

Respected companies like Arturo Fuente remain as dedicated as ever to the mission of the PCA because AF genuinely loves the retailers that the association is responsible for advocating for, and because they know what the industry could look like without such organizations/associations –  but many observers have noticed for a while that the mission and the reality of what is happening on the ground isn’t always communicated well. Many that we asked were confident that the PCA benefits the industry in myriad ways but few could list specifics. This isn’t to say that the PCA isn’t doing anything, rather that they just aren’t always that great at telling their own story. The concern that some have as a result is that they are sometimes left to wonder how the association can tell the consumer’s or manufacturer’s stories if they can’t tell their own, especially when “retailers” aren’t even a part of the association’s name anymore.

In a world that gets more connected every day, where we can jump on a zoom or grab our phones for a facetime call, an ever increasing number of brands are re-evaluating the what the benefits may be of making their way to Las Vegas with a booth, products and staff. It used to be that you needed to attend in order to get your products sold or to get your convention discount if you were a retailer looking to stock up. There is strength in tradition, but we don’t live in that world any longer and if we’re honest we haven’t lived in it for a long while.

Davidoff, Altadis, Drew Estate and General are not the little guy – obviously – but the points they make about how much of the convention costs continue to rise while their return on investment does not, and how some of those funds could be better spent fighting the legislative battles we face as an industry, rings true to many. 

It’s not just the big companies either. Boutique outfit Warped will not be attending because founder Kyle Gellis sees that time and those resources best spent working on new and better blends for the growing community that already actively seeks out his products. Blackbird won’t be attending either, but not for lack of want. Their operations are growing and while they’d like to attend it just isn’t viable with logistical issues to solve at this time.

If the story being told remains the same, more brands may see that those not attending are still able to flourish and sell their products.  If that were to happen, even more could continue to question what is best for their own longevity and that of the industry. To be clear, nobody that we corresponded with wants to see the the association go away, especially without first trying to encourage more positive changes – they just really want know that it is rising to meet the times and the challenges ahead. Gathering together to map out the year ahead and get in front of potential challenges is important in any industry, but are there other – perhaps better – ways beyond how we’ve always done it?  

Head down to the comments below, we’d love to know what your thoughts are!