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Trends Discovered At Recent West Coast Pipe Show

The recently completed West Coast Pipe Show at the fabulous Palace Station Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas was an absolute blast! The $65-Million Dollar upgrade that the hotel has undergone over the last year and a half has made this hotel (most famous for being where O.J. Simpson was arrested after his Nationally Televised SUV trip in LA), a pure pleasure. It boasts a movie theater, the largest buffet in all of Las Vegas, an enlarged casino, many top notch restaurant choices, etc. It is the only pipe show in the country that still allows smoking in the show room, and even boasted a smoking lounge next to the show room where the old buffet used to be located.

My wife (Beverly), and I always treat this show as sort of a mini-vacation. She helps me take care of the traffic at my vendor’s booth during the weekend – I always make more sales when I’m wandering the show room floor and she’s manning the booth solo. Go figure – and then when the show ends on Sunday, we have a tradition of going to Caesar’s Palace where I sit and watch Sunday football games, smoking my pipe while drinking a margarita or two at the famous Casa Fuente Bar & Cigar Lounge while she snatches my credit card and goes shopping. The longer she’s gone the more nervous I get and the more I drink!

As for the show itself, Steve and Linda McNeil (now in their 11th year as the show organizers), and their terrific staff of volunteers, ensured the success of the show from start to finish. The show opened Saturday morning with over 100 vendor tables and traffic was heavy and a lot of sales were made. I sold 36 pipes at my table and other vendors and pipe makers were also doing well. One of the things I noticed immediately was the large number of American pipe makers who were making sales. Prices on their pipes seemed to be holding steady and those with recognizable names were keeping prices about where they’ve been the last several years. The newer pipe makers without name recognition were pricing their pipes in the same range and went back home with most of the inventory they brought. I think they’ll learn that marketing and name recognition over a period of years will earn them the prices for their pipes that they wanted immediately. But again, the trend here was that the established pipe makers were making sure that they were keeping their prices fair to both themselves and their customers.

As usual, the pricing on pipe tobacco was all over the map. Many of those who brought well aged old classics and rare tobacco to sell kept their prices affordable, but there were some who had unbelievably high prices on their offerings. One gentleman had a $250 price tag on a 100g tin of Frog Morton from 2007. Say what?! Conversely, another individual had a $75 price tag on a 50g tin of old Balkan Sobranie. I did a double take and told the fellow that if he would price it at $200 it would sell before the day was over. His eyes bulged as he asked me if I was joking. Long story short, he changed the price and sold the tin before the day was over.

Another trend that seems to be the norm at many of the pipe shows that I’ve attended this year, if not all of them, was to see so many younger people participating in the hobby. The under 40 crowd just keeps growing. Us old folks were there, as usual, but seeing couples in their 20’s and 30’s as well as singles in that age group, having such a great time at the show sure made me feel great. I hope the trend continues! Those young people were full of energy, asked lots of questions, and I received a lot of feedback from other vendors that the younger participants really made the show special for them, too.

The Saturday evening West Coast Pipe Show Dinner was also a blast. I served as the MC for the event and Shane Ireland of smokingpipes.com spoke with me about several subjects regarding our hobby and his comments were well received by the crowd. There were 14 American pipe makers in the audience and at one point I called all of them up to the stage to introduce themselves and then take questions from the audience. That was very informative and a lot of fun, too. At that dinner, American Pipe Maker David Huber was presented with the “Best Pipe in Show” award, and boy, was it ever a beauty! The included photo here does not do that pipe justice. It looked like a piece of art!

 

 

Although he is now retired, Mike McNiel of McClelland’s fame (seen in this photo with Bev & I at the show), shared his thoughts during a long visit regarding current tobacco trends. Probably the biggest change over the last decade is the way collectors have focused more on quality Virginia tobaccos rather than Latakia laden English blends. Quality Virginia leaf is not as easy to find as it once was, and when you find a blend or two that you enjoy, cellar it because the future of tobacco farming is unclear. Growing Virginia tobacco and processing it is very labor intensive and there just are not as many farmers eager to spend so much time on growing and harvesting a plant with an uncertain future. Let’s just hope that our battle with the tobacco Nazi’s of the world is a winning one!

Finally, Bev and I always take in a show each year on our Vegas trip. Since she is so accommodating and helpful at the pipe show, I treat her to whatever show she decides she wants to see. This year it was Gwen Stefani’s “Just a Girl” show at Planet Hollywood. Definitely not  the country music that I enjoy, but Gwen is not unpleasant to look at and she was full of energy. And since she dates country music star Blake Shelton, I was the forgiving sort and somewhat enjoyed the pop music that she is famous for.

 

Happy puffing,

Steve