On March 18, 2023, Smoke Inn held its 17th annual “The Great Smoke” event. The main event was held at the South Florida Fairgrounds in West Palm Beach, Florida. Over the years, I have seen this event grow into one of the premier cigar events in the world. As I have done in the past, I document some observations about the event.
Since 2020, The Great Smoke has had a theme. This year’s theme revolved around Mardi Gras. Next year, the theme will be Year of the Dragon.
The Great Smoke has a great track record and this is demonstrated by the attendance as many cigar enthusiasts come from all over the country and even some from abroad. Because of the number of people who come into town, Smoke Inn put on a series of pre and post-game events starting from Thursday, March 16th through Sunday, March 19th. These included:
March 16: Pre-Event w/Jonathan Drew of Drew Estate
March 17: Red Meat Lovers Club Dinner with Michael Herklots
March 17: Pre-Event with Steve Saka
March 18: The Great Smoke Tailgate Party with Erik Espinosa
March 18: The Great Smoke Main Event
March 18: After Party with Matt Booth
March 19: Sunday Brunch with Terence Reilly
The main event is where attendees could get 32 premium cigars, exclusive swag, meet the manufacturers, hear Mardi Gras music and taste Mardi Gras-themed food. There was also a virtual component that allowed people from home to watch the action plus get the cigars and swag.
We will take a closer look at the Main Event below.
The Secret Sauce – Easy Check-In
I’ve gone to most of The Great Smoke events over the past ten years. This event has grown and continues to grow. When an event increases in scale, things are bound to change and ultimately adjustments have to be made. In the case of The Great Smoke, it has always been a process of continuous improvements. One thing that has to be noted is how easy and efficient the check-in process was.
The Coop team arrived a little over 30 minutes before the event, so I can’t speak for things beforehand. What I can say is the check-in process took less than five minutes. There was virtually no line to wait, and using the QR code system – things were an absolute breeze. This is simply an incredible feat given this is an event that is drawing over 1,000 people.
Some folks chose to wait in line to get in, but there really was no need to – unless you were in that much of a rush to get cigars. The picnic tables in front of the entrance worked out very well. It provided an area for a pre-event smoke, and to interact with people before – and after the event.
Smoke Inn should patent whatever behind-the-scenes process they implemented. It was simply brilliant.
Stakeholders Were There…….
Over the past few years, Smoke Inn has done a good job at ensuring that you can “Meet the Manufacturers” in the industry. It was great to see the likes of many of these personalities present under one roof.
There were a small amount of the main stakeholders were not at the booths for long periods of time, spending spent more time on the floor. In the cases where I noticed a stakeholder was not at the booth, I still found each of them to be very approachable to consumers that came up to them. The problem is many consumers want to meet people and are intimidated to introduce themselves when a stakeholder is not at the booth.
Tim Ozgener, who came back into the industry last year, did a great job at his booth. He covered both Ozgener Family Cigars and Crowned Heads. He did a great job at interacting with consumers at the booth from start to finish. This was especially good because many consumers attending the show might not remember him from back in his CAO days. He gets my gold star for working the booth.
The Vibe of the Event was Captured Very Well
Over the years, I have struggled to fine-tune the formula used to cover an event. Over time I have come to the opinion that event recaps suck. With my recent Procigar and Puro Sabor coverage, while I have recapped the days, I think the approach of “observations” is something different.
This year, Smoke Inn and the manufacturers did an amazing job at capturing the vibe of the event. For the third year in a row, Smoke Inn provided a full day of event coverage. In 2021 “The Digital Experience” was substituted for the in-person event that did not take place during COVID-19. Abe Dababneh and his team brought in a professional production crew combined with virtual and in-person interaction to deliver a show like no other. Last year, the production was on in parallel with the in-person event. Once again, there was a high-caliber virtual production in parallel with the in-person event.
Smoke Inn seems to have mastered this. The production is highlighted by Michael Herklots hosting the event and doing some live interviews. Meanwhile, Paul DeGrocco and Kim Keeney are roving field reporters capturing things going on the floor. Smoke Inn proprietor Abe Dababneh took to the stage several times. In addition, several raffles took place. There was even a segment where Bradley Rubin shaved his mustache off as part of a charity fundraising promotion.
I believe when The Great Smoke went to this hybrid model in 2022, while it served as a high-quality broadcast, it also brought more people to the 2023 event. Prior to the event, Dababneh commented several times that the in-person event was in higher demand this year – and I noted a visible increase in the number of attendees.
The manufacturers deserve some credit. A month ago manufacturers did a poor (actually horrendous) job at capturing their own activity from the Total Product Expo (TPE) 2023 floor. Not such the case at The Great Smoke. While I don’t know the actual social media metrics, from simple observation the manufacturers clearly did more social media activity from The Great Smoke than TPE 2023. Sometimes I think social media interaction is overblown in the cigar industry, but not when it comes to big events and trade shows. In this case, the manufacturers deserve a lot of credit for posting their activity at The Great Smoke. This really went a long way to contributing to capturing the vibe of the Trade Show.
Launching New Releases
For the past two years, Smoke Inn has run a series of five “TGS (The Great Smoke) Event Only Cigars.” These are cigars contributed by manufacturers specifically for the event. This started at the 2021 Digital Experience event, and has contributed to the 2022 and 2023 events. While event-only cigars are interesting to many, I look at what some manufacturers did in terms of regular production launches.
These manufacturers and cigars that premiered were:
Gurkha: Gurkha Ghost Connecticut
Micallef: Micallef Leyenda Connecticut
Oscar Valladares Tobacco & Co: Island Jim Connecticut No. 2
While all three companies promoted the releases, Gurkha definitely gets the edge in terms of doing the best job here. They actively promoted the Smoke Inn debut from the time they launched the Gurkha Ghost Connecticut at TPE – and also connected with the media.
Dababneh mentioned that for 2024, the event-only cigars will be reduced from five to three – and I think that’s a good thing. At the same time, this may provide more visibility for other companies to launch new ongoing releases at The Great Smoke.
March was a better time for this event
In all of my previous years attending The Great Smoke, this has been a February event. This year the event moved to March in order to secure the venue.
In the cigar industry, the first two months of the year are among the busiest for larger events and happenings. In previous years, these are the events that were on the docket this year in January and February
Total Plus Expo
Factory Visits (Many cigar companies do this in January and February)
The Great Smoke
This year was a welcome change to have The Great Smoke pushed out into March. This does seem like a one-time thing as it was announced The Great Smoke 2024 will take place on February 24, 2024.
I thought the March scheduling of The Great Smoke was a welcome break from these other activities – and it made the event stand out. In fairness, someone will always complain about when an event is scheduled, so you can’t make everyone happy. To its credit, in the past, The Great Smoke competing with all of the events has still done amazingly well. But I also think having some breathing room from the February events was a good thing.
Photo Credits: Cigar Coop, except where noted.
Originally posted on March 21, 2023 @ 6:18 am