Source: CHAMPS Trade Show
ARTICLE FOR B2B WHOLESALER MAG ON CHAMPS
Since 1999, CHAMPS Trade Show has established itself as the premier counterculture business-to-business wholesale trade expo for the smoke shop industry and has proven to be an extremely successful event with 3 days of great business and networking for everyone involved. Attracting manufacturers, distributors and retail store buyers from all over the globe, CHAMPS brings them all together under one roof to view the massive selection of tobacco and smoking accessories, hand blown glass, 420 products, clothing and other specialty gifts found in your local smoke shop or specialty store. The most recent event at the Las Vegas Convention Center (CHAMPS 27th Las Vegas show) had over 420 exhibitor booths and encompassed 140,000 square feet of floor space.
CHAMPS has long been known as a trail-blazer and over the years the show has evolved and grown into the world’s largest and most popular convention for the industry, happening twice each year at the Las Vegas Convention Center (February and August) and also in May on the East Coast in Atlantic City.
This event is highly significant in bringing exhibitors in direct contact with its attendees and connecting them with thousands of retail and wholesale buyers. Exhibitors use the opportunity to meet their customers face-to-face while they hand out samples, make deals and take orders from their full product lines while exponentially growing their sales and profits.
Show Attendees including buyers, wholesalers, distributors, retail stores and importers view thousands of tobacco related products in the exhibit hall – many of which are new product launches. The show has become the best venue for exhibitors to launch and introduce their newest products to the whole industry and create awareness about their brands.
For over 13 years now Gage Enterprises has produced CHAMPS Trade Shows with president Jeff Hirschfeld helming the effort. Over the course of a dozen years, Gage Enterprises took great strides in forging successful business relationships with thousands of clients across a broad spectrum – manufacturers, distributors and retail buyers. Hirschfeld tells us about how the company got its start:
My two partners and I started Gage Waterpipes in 1997 with the goal of getting our merchandise in over 5000 retail stores. We attended trade shows in the tobacco and general merchandising arena.
Back in 1998, we at Gage Waterpipes, along with approximately 30 other businesses who usually participated in these events, were told that we wouldn’t be invited back to either show and that the management had deemed us undesirable by these shows. We felt rejected to say the least as we all had legitimate businesses. We had payroll, taxes, and bills to pay and yet there we were. Dismally, this meant we needed to again hit the road and go door-to-door (Retail-to-retail) or run our businesses out of the backs of our trucks heading to just about anywhere we could sell our products including festival parking lots across the country just to stay afloat. We also tried placing magazine advertisements, but nobody would dare take them or didn’t run our ads.
Between the rising gas prices of approx. $1.20 per gallon and the cost of food and travel, we were spinning our wheels. Back then, in one of my previous ventures, I had worked for a company that sold business machines. My job was to run the sales team that went to various shows across the country from the smallest business fairs in Fresno, California to the granddaddy at the time, the Comdex Show in Las Vegas. I was always wondering what it would be like on the other side of the fence. In discussing this with one of my partners he said, “I used to run raves in San Francisco” in which I giggled. I had never been to a rave before and I thought that comparing business trade shows to a rave was quite a reach. Well, reach we did.
In February 1999, four months after being booted from the other trade shows, we held the first Contemporary Tobacco Accessories (CTA) show held at the Gold Coast Hotel in Las Vegas with a grand total of 34 booths. After returning home our phones lit up. All the vendors were coming back that August and about 40 others were being added. Two months later, Gage Waterpipes was sold off although we transformed a portion of our business to continue on by starting Gage Rubber to sell rubber grommets and O-rings that were required for waterpipes so that we would no longer be competing with our exhibitors.
Over the next few years we grew rapidly to 250 booths and needed more and more space. With the growth came growing pains, especially the ongoing problem of finding a suitable venue that would let us come year after year. We moved from hotel to hotel including Palace Station, Stardust, The Riviera and Mandalay Bay, but the main issue was that we were forced to remain small. We began thinking that we could move to the Las Vegas Convention Center where all of us could do business in a professional and safe environment. But it wasn’t to be… just yet.
In 2003, as we in the industry call it “Black Monday” hit. You might remember when Tommy Chong went to jail, but this was just the tip of the iceberg. Many companies were hurt financially with heavy government regulations, red tape and various prosecutions. The industry was scared and on the run. Unfortunately, Black Monday was only 8 days before our next show. A news conference called it “Operation Pipe Dreams” and broadcasts on the national news spoke about our convention in Las Vegas where all these “bad” people were going to be.
Within two days we had over 165 cancellations, leaving us with only approximately 55 companies exhibiting. We had spent all our money to produce the show and now the business was broke. Even though many of our exhibitors understood the situation, they still expected or desired their money back. I was lucky enough to own a home at the time so after talking to my family, I mortgaged my house and refunded every exhibitor who requested it. Thankfully, many of the companies still on life support agreed to come to our next show.
In 2004, a new birth, CHAMPS TRADE SHOW was formed with approximately 80 vendors in attendance. As CHAMPS, we made the major transformation into emphasizing our commitment to American glass artists. In 2010, we moved to the Las Vegas Convention Center to provide a reliable venue where we can grow exponentially and allow us to actively seek out established, new plus exciting distributors that have the products that you want all in one place, but our exciting growth didn’t stop there.
Our trademark is that CHAMPS is the “Premier Counterculture B2B Expo Since 1999”, but really my belief and goal for CHAMPS is to have anything and everything that goes into a modern day 420/Smoke Shop.
The formula is simple but our goal is to first provide a safe and legal venue to showcase the largest and best wholesale, manufacturers and distributors for our industry. As a part of this goal we also focus on giving smaller-sized companies or new products an opportunity to reach over 3000 wholesale buyers.
Second, we created the CHAMPS Glass GamesTM to have the greatest American Glass Artists and Glassblowers display their wares, showcase their talents and to also offer them big money prizes to help create maximum exposure for these artists. Originally titled the Flame-Off and well known as one of the largest glass blowing competitions in the world, we wanted a different approach to the traditional flame-off event. Enter DFO Winner Matt White, CHAMPS Glass Coordinator. White raised the bar for the Glass Games by creating highly competitive events with truly exciting themes such as “Sound, Light and Movement” for February 2012. Glass Game winners walked away with over $35,000 in cash prizes.
The third component of CHAMPS mission is inviting every retailer in our industry to attend whether by phone or other available methods (which have changed through the years) and to create business-friendly environments.
Our last show in February 2012 was by far our largest with 445 exhibitor booths, over 36,000 different products on display and the attendance of approximately 5000 retail store buyers. This was by far our largest numbers ever. After a hard day’s work on the show floor, many of our exhibitors throw wild after-parties, which keeps the fun going till the wee hours of the night. It’s an experience that I would like to invite all to try. On a rare occasion you may see me, but more than likely I will be in my own room soaking my feet and preparing for another long day.
Other show highlights include the CHAMPS CASH GIVEAWAY that began at our 25th show in Las Vegas. This August we’ll be giving away $1000 in CHAMPS CASH every hour to 27 lucky retail store buyers – that’s 27 winners and $27,000. Additionally, we are also able to leverage our large customer base to negotiate incredible room plus food deals available only for CHAMPS attendees. We worked out contracts with hotels including the Hard Rock and The Tuscany Suites (the official CHAMPS headquarters) where we pre-buy 1000 room nights at $38/night. We also started providing a free shuttle service running all three days of the show to improve the experience, plus save your hard earned dollars along the way.
For many years our East Coast Customers have been asking us to do a show in the East. So in 2011 we held our first CHAMPS EAST Show with approximately 160 exhibitor booths and 1000 retail store buyers. Our next event is scheduled for May 22-24 at the Atlantic City Convention Center.
We have ramped up our advertising budget and hope to effectively increase our numbers…Not that we think Atlantic City can ever beat Las Vegas. And for those of you that know me, I have lived West Coast California style for over forty years, but I was born in Brooklyn, NY – as they say you can take the boy from Brooklyn, but…
CHAMPS Trade Show has stood by Gage’s principles of Fairness, Consistency and Quality both in words and in practice, maintaining the level of honesty and integrity that our friends and associates have come to expect and helping solidify the CHAMPS Trade Show as the #1 Glass and Accessories Business-to-Business Trade Expo. We are proud to be the Premier Counterculture B2B Trade Event, constantly getting bigger and better, taking each show to another level.
Hope to see you all in Atlantic City May 22-24! If you can’t make it then we’ll see you in Las Vegas August 21-23, 2012.