Plenty of deals and resources offered at the 2005 NATO Expo.

By E. Edward Hoyt III, Editor

The 2005 NATO Expo - which was held March 29 - March 31 in Las Vegas - set up shop in its new home at the Las Vegas Convention Center, a much larger facility than previous years and one that still has plenty of room for future show expansion. It was the largest show in the Expo's three-year history and, rather than occupying two separate halls, the entire exhibit area was contained in a single large hall, a layout that attendees and exhibitors alike found much better suited to effective hall navigation.

This year's focus was "Strategies for Sales Growth," and several thousand retailers attended the three-day event - two full days dedicated to the exhibit hall, and one day of seminars.

In addition, the NATO trade association held its annual meeting and presented a legislative panel. The primary focus of NATO is to help tobacco stores fight to protect the right to sell tobacco products and the right of consumers to buy and use tobacco products. To that end, the legislative panel consisted of Frank Lester, R.J. Reynolds (smoking restrictions); Craig Williamson, Cigar Association of America (cigar issues); Bill Condon, Conwood Sales (self-service display bans); Fred Hoyt, tobacco retailer and former state legislator (contacting elected officials); John Long, Liggett Vector Brands (Internet cigarette sales restrictions).

Bonnie Herzog, beverage and tobacco analyst with Smith Barney, presented an overview of the cigarette industry, identifying current industry trends such as the deceleration of the deep discount category and decline in counterfeiting; Herzog also reviewed the impact of tobacco grower buyout legislation on the trade, the effect of recent price hikes, and an outlook for the smokeless category in 2005.

With one entire day dedicated to seminars and other educational opportunities, retailers were able to investigate a number strategies for sales growth in their stores.

In "Let's Talk Premium Cigars," Fred Hoyland, president of Tobacco Depot in Miami, Fla. and Craig Cass, owner of Tobacco Trader in Charlotte, N.C. and six Tinder Box shops, made a detailed presentation on the merits of outlets taking on premium cigars; what it takes to make a commitment to the category; and four sample commitment levels, from entry-level to full-blown, with space, equipment, and inventory suggestions for each. Customer demographics, staffing requirements and training, and product mix suggestion were also presented to give shops a concise strategy for seriously entering the category.

In "Visual Merchandising," Linda Cahan, a veteran retail design consultant analyzed the "look" of retail stores in general and smoke shops in particular, with an eye towards the customer experience and maximizing a store's space for maximum profits. From analyzing merchandise, traffic patterns, stockroom organization, color schemes, fixturing - even Feng Shui tips - Cahan offered numerous tactics to increase profitability by improving the shopping experience.

Look for more detailed coverage of NATO Expo 2005 in the upcoming June issue of Smokeshop.

SMOKESHOP - April, 2005