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August 1998
Volume 25
Number 4

PAINTING A VISION OF THE POST SHAKE OUT ERA

Never in recent memory have expectations for the annual Retail Tobacco Dealers of America (RTDA) Trade Show and Convention, the industry's largest order-writing and product launching event, been tempered with such guarded optimism. The wildly shifting status of merchandise availability in the cigar segment has had nearly everyone busy calculating exactly where the supply and demand ratio will come to rest next. If you think you're alone as a retailer, rest assured that even the giant manufacturers have had to do their homework, and it hasn't been easy.

For several years now you've heard time and time again that production increases don't happen quickly in the world of cigars. And if anyone doubted that fact, the onslaught of forgettable merchandise drove home the point. We can split atoms, but there's no way around the fact that the laws of quantum physics that define time have yet to be conquered. In other words, cigars take time, in addition to all of the other quality factors, and there's no way around that.

On the other hand, when there are suddenly too many cigars, the shutting down of factories can occur at a moments notice. And so it has throughout all of the industry's major manufacturing regions. You can kill the engines, but much like the maligned Titanic, the shear momentum of its motion fails to respond immediately. And so it is with the industry-wide volume of existing cigars currently in the distribution pipeline. Consumers are showing little interest in a vast majority of this merchandise, and retailers must be careful in gauging which of today's brands will be gone tomorrow. What will emerge from the aftermath will be a new era, an era of greater stability and greater dependability. It will be a welcome change.

Our cover story in this issue probes one individual who is at the heart of this situation. I can't think of anyone who is as knowledgeable from firsthand experience in each and every aspect of the industry as JR Cigar's Lew Rothman. He started as, and will always be, a retailer at heart, just like you. Building his business during tobacco retailing's longest decline ever has armed him with a perspective that many newer retailers lack. His high-volume wholesale purchasing, manufacturing, and retailing have granted him a powerful influence on nearly everyone in the industry in one way or another. We spoke extensively with Lew in an effort to prove that despite many opinions to the contrary, Lew is not the enemy. He is, in addition to being a formidable factor in steering many industry trends, a goldmine of valuable advice.

This year's RTDA show will once again exceed the previous year's show in size and space - over 900 exhibitor booths, over 435 companies, and more acres of trade show floor to scrutinize than ever. It has been said that consumers are the ones in the driver's seat these days when it comes to cigars. And at RTDA 1998, retailers will finally be the ones determining their merchandise destiny. Let your wallet and instincts guide your purchasing: here, you will largely be the ones' in the driver's seat.

E. Edward Hoyt III