by Stephanie Guadagno, executive director
The 49th annual meeting of the Tobacconists’ Association of America (TAA) was held March 12–16 at the Sheraton Grand Los Cabos Hacienda del Mar in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Among the beautiful backdrop of blue water and sunny skies, leading tobacconists and premium cigar manufacturers met to discuss current industry trends and conduct business. The attendees met throughout the 3 1/2 days for a variety of sessions and topics.
One of the highlights of the meeting was the Dream Machine Question & Answer session, which utilized a custom digital application that created an open forum for retailers and manufacturers to discuss the issues facing the industry today. While specific results of the Dream Machine are proprietary to the attending members, the platform allows for “share and compare” results of data collected over the years. Topics for discussion included partners and promotions, customer continuum, key performance indicators, and results from the TAA Insights Data Benchmarking Surveys that aggregate store and employee data collected from retail members each year. These topics are generalized as a group during the session. Extracted hot topics are then later discussed in a Deep Dive Session similar to a town hall format. The Dream Machine session was closed out with a live auction for retailers in attendance.
The legislative update, moderated by John Anderson from W. Curtis Draper in Washington, D.C., informed the audience about the ongoing issues between the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the cigar industry. Members of the panel included Mark Pursell, CEO of the IPCPR; Daniel Trope, federal affairs director of the IPCPR; and Glynn Loope, executive director of Cigar Rights of America. The panel presented current legislative and legal strategies and discussed future outreach to the current administration. While the industry and the government still struggle to fully understand the extent of the FDA’s regulations, the legislative portion of the program allows for members to discuss the impact of the deeming regulations for day-to-day business. It further helps members to be reminded that constant connection with legislators is the key to moving forward.
Kevin Harrington—award-winning TV host, original “shark” from the TV show Shark Tank and “As Seen on TV” entrepreneur—spoke as the TAA keynote speaker. His message to the packed ballroom was to be agile in marketing their businesses. Retailers and cigar manufacturers need to keep their customers engaged on all social media platforms, which are ever changing. Harrington also highlighted the need to be aware of marketplace disrupters and distinguish your brick-and-mortar business as different from online retailers.
The TAA board of directors announced the TAA Exclusive Series products that will be rolling out throughout the year. Exclusive to TAA retail members, the portfolio will include limited editions such as Asylum 13 70 x 7 BP, Crowned Heads The Angels Anvil 2017, Jaime Garcia Reserva Especial Torpedo BP, La Aroma De Cuba Mi Amor Reserva Belicoso, La Flor Dominicana TAA Exclusivo 49, La Palina Bronze Label, Padron No. 48, Tatuaje TAA 2017 and the Xikar TAA XO Cutter.
Also, the TAA ongoing production line introduced two new lines to the portfolio: Alec Bradley Black Market Illicit and Rocky Patel Martinique. They join existing ongoing production of Ashton VSG Robusto Especial, Drew Estate Acid Big Bang and Herrera Esteli Maduro, Nat Sherman Panamericana, and the Padron 1964 Toro.
After celebrating 49 years of our annual meeting, a statement about the TAA given by Malcolm Fleischer, TAA executive director in 1975, still holds to the value and intent of the TAA today: “Founded in 1968 by a small group of determined retail tobacco merchants, the Tobacconists’ [Association] of America is recognized as a leading organization representative of the finest pipe and tobacco shops in the nation. … For its members, the TAA has developed a multitude of interests, which included a worthy code of ethics, a peripheral products division, stimulating and educational meetings with a significant trade show in an exciting and relaxing setting each year. It is in the relaxed mood of the TAA’s annual meetings that much is accomplished for the progress of its individual members. The TAA is proud to stand as a beacon and a symbol for the value of individual enterprise. Its members are proving that the consuming public craves personal recognition and identifies with the merchant who practices the motto of TAA, which proclaims: Quality, Service, Integrity.”
The Tobacconists’ Association of America will celebrate its 50th year during its next annual meeting, to be held April 15–19, 2018, at the Westin Dawn Beach Resort in St. Maarten.
For more information on the TAA, visit thetaa.org.