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The Value of Pipe Shows

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I’ve been thinking lately about pipe shows. They’re always a lot of fun, and I get an opportunity to see familiar faces, but why do we bother to go to them, other than to sell stuff? I have a better understanding of this now that we don’t actually sell our tobaccos at the shows, which we decided was best due to potential issues.

Pipe shows cost money, plain and simple. There’s the cost of the table, transportation, lodging, supplies, and, of course, labor. When I go to a show alone (which is the majority of cases), it’s okay since I work for Pepsi, Cheez-Its, and all the pipe tobacco I can smoke, but when I bring other employees, it costs the company a decent penny. It’s also time consuming because there’s at least a couple of days preparation the week before a show to assemble what I’m taking with me, not to mention travel time and the time away from our home base, during which I can’t do my regular work. And since I’m salaried, it means that I’m going to add a couple more workdays to my week. For all the reasons above, we have had to take a long look at the shows to see if they’re a wise investment.

So far this year, I’ve gone to the New York/Newark show, Raleigh, Chicago, and Kansas City shows. At Newark, I was able to handle some business face-to-face with some people, so the show was successful. When I went to Raleigh for the first time, I met a lot of potential new customers and a fair number of existing ones whom I have never had the pleasure of meeting. I also had a nice chat with Chuck Stanion, the editor of Pipes & Tobaccos magazine, and as a result, we are having a number of our newest blends reviewed in the fall edition of Trial by Fire. All in all, I’d have to say that it was more than worthwhile.

Chicago is always a whirlwind, and there’s so much to do that, even with an extra day or two, it’s hard to accomplish everything. This year was no exception, and I knew that this year was going to keep me hopping as I was one of the competitors in the Seattle/New York Pipe Club Sobranie 759 Throwdown, and I had been asked to do a blending seminar during the show. To my shock, we won the Throwdown, so with the positive publicity that created, the value of the show was incredible. Even now, at least a few times every week I will talk to someone who brings up the Throwdown to congratulate me and to inquire about the winning blend, which we call BlackHouse. But more than that, going to Chicago means meeting more people and running into more friends and acquaintances than at any other show.

I made my first trip to Kansas City this year, and now I’m really sorry that we hadn’t gone sooner. It was a very well organized event, and the hospitality was wonderful. I had a number of “I’ve never heard of you guys,” comments, but even more “I’ve been buying from you for years,” so it was of great value to let these folks know that we value their support.

I have four more shows ahead of me- Columbus (a well-attended show that is only one day), Richmond (the second largest show, and one that feels like home), West Coast (only in its third year and already one of the larger ones, and being held in Vegas doesn’t hurt) and a return trip to Newark to cap off the year. I haven’t been to Columbus for a few years, but I’m really looking forward to getting back there, and with the new wholesale distribution of our original line, the introduction of our Landmark and Marquee series, I’ll have enough to talk about.

I love the Richmond show. They make everyone feel comfortable, and the show is well-attended. The food is always good there, and I have friends in the area, so I look forward to the show each year. The West Coast show had a lively atmosphere, and being able to smoke on the show floor was a big bonus. I was truly impressed with how well done the show was, and with the turnout. Even more rewarding were the comments from west coast pipe smokers who truly appreciated that we would invest the time and expense just to let them know that we appreciate their business.

Newark is unique. It’s the only show that is held more than once a year, it’s a one-day event and it’s close enough to Albany that we can drive down in the morning and be back home that evening. Even though the show is on the small side, some of the most enthusiastic and knowledgeable people in the hobby attend it regularly. Plus, it holds a special place for me, as it was the first show I ever attended.

When I went to my first shows about six years ago, I knew very few people, and since I was flying blind, I had no idea of how everything worked. I’m not the most outgoing person, so I felt out of place, as none of the veteran vendors and carvers knew me, and I didn’t want to bother them. Then I attended the Richmond show when, unbeknownst to me, Erik Nørding (who rarely goes to pipe shows) was there. Erik and I had developed a friendship from events he had done in our brick-and-mortar store, and he found out that I was there before I learned that he had made the trip. When he was told that I was in attendance, he left his booth immediately, walked across the room and being the gregarious person he is, approached my table with his arms open and a bright and loud “RUSS!” ringing across the aisle. He gave me a hug, and all of a sudden I noticed that people who had walked past my table were wandering back my way. These people knew Erik and figured that if he knew me, then maybe I was worth talking to. His friendliness broke down a barrier, and I started to feel welcome. Just as importantly, a number of vendors and pipe makers began to chat with me, and friendships started.

Now when I go to a show, it’s like old home week. We see each other in hotel lobbies, restaurants, and at show activities and it’s as if we just spent time together last week. Hands down, the people in this business are the friendliest and warmest I’ve ever dealt with, and I’m really proud to be included in the group. Certainly, the shows are one of the most enjoyable aspects of my job, even with the long hours, the travel and having to play catch-up when I get home.

Next year, I expect my schedule to be pretty full as we will probably include the February show in St. Louis as well. If you get the opportunity to go to any of these shows, you should do so. The experience will be enjoyable and you’ll meet some great people. If you go to any of the ones that we attend, please take the time to stop by; it’s always great to put names and faces together.
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