Vape Radio 52: The NATO Show: Who’s Who, Who Should Go

By April 8, 2015Podcasts
Vape Radio 52: The NATO Show: Who's Who, Who Should Go

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Welcome to Vape Radio, your source for everything you wanted to know about the business of vaping. Whether you’re a brick and mortar location, developer of e-liquids, online marketer, or anything else in the vape space, learn from the first and the largest educational providers in the country. I’m your host and founder of VapeMentors, Norm Bour. If you’d like to know more about what we do, or to catch up on our archive of over fifty past shows, visit vapementors.com. The show you’re about to hear is show number 52. We’ve crossed over the magic 50 mark. Our latest stats are about 400,000 lifetime downloads, about 60,000 a month, so thank you so much for that.

For those of you who are new to the show, welcome. I try to bring in people of significance, what I call “movers and shakers,” people who really have something interesting to share. If you listen to the last show, which is number 51, I spoke about the National Association for Tobacco Outlets, NATO. They’re having an event in Las Vegas later this month. Tom Briant is the executive director of NATO, and Tom and his team work tirelessly in all 50 states to help keep tobacco retailers open for business through their efforts. The NATO Show was established to help fund NATO’s efforts for the local, state, and national markets. The NATO Show is not only the nation’s premiere all-tobacco show, it also directly funds efforts to help retailers, wholesalers, and manufacturers of tobacco. You know what? They are very, very big in the vaping space as well, so if you get a chance to go to NATO, I suggest you do that. I’m going to be out there. The interview you’re about to hear is with Greg Martin. He is the trade manager of NATO, so without further ado, cue it up, Paul.

Welcome back to Vape Radio. This is Norm Bour, the Voice of Vaping, and I have Greg Martin on the phone. You might not know Greg’s name, but you might know the organization that he’s involved with. It’s called NATO, and that’s the National Association for Tobacco Outlets, not the NATO organization that’s involved in politics, even though, with that being said, there might be a little bit of politics involved in the world of tobacco. Greg Martin, you are the trade show manager. Welcome to Vape Radio.

Greg Martin:

Thanks, Norm. I appreciate what you and your organization are doing.

Norm Bour: 

Oh, our pleasure. First off, for those out there listening who might not be familiar with what NATO is, can you share a little bit about what you do and your background?

Greg Martin:

Absolutely. NATO is the National Association for Tobacco Outlets. It was formed in 2001 by a couple of gentleman, Paul Walsh and Don Bores. Folks that have been around the industry for a long time will recognize those names. They recognized the need for a face-to-face marketing effort and a gathering place for individual tobacco outlet owners. That’s how it started, hence the name. They started a face-to-face marketing effort, which is what a trade show is, for tobacco outlet owners, that was later expanded to include tobacco retailers, recognizing that the interest and the needs and the desires and the concerns of tobacco outlet owners are the same as any tobacco retailer. Whether that tobacco retailer is in the full-line C-store business or grocery, or whether they’re in a tobacconist shop, the concerns are the same, products are the same, etc. It was initially started for tobacco outlet stores.

Norm Bour: 

Okay. The trade show seems to be the pivot of an organization that is more than a trade show. Is this the major event that you have during the year and everything else revolves around that?

Greg Martin:

Absolutely. There’s an enormous amount of activity. One of the things that we’ll touch on as we go through this, Norm, is the importance of what NATO does. NATO the organization is involved daily in looking out for the interest of tobacco retailers. They’re hard at work every day looking out for the interest of anyone that’s related to the tobacco industry. As far as a face-to-face effort, face-to-face gathering place for those in the tobacco business, the NATO Show is the premier opportunity for those in the tobacco business to gather and do all the stuff that we do.

Norm Bour: 

All right. When you say that these tobacco outlets need support, Greg, what does that really mean? Are they being attacked by other people, or they basically need support as far as marketing and overcoming public perceptions and everything? What is support actually defined as being?

Greg Martin:

You and your listeners are very aware of the scrutiny that any business that’s related to tobacco is under from governmental standpoint. A large percentage, I’d say the majority of the percentage of time that NATO the organization spends, is in the regulatory and legislative arena seeking to clear the path to allow tobacco retailers to conduct their legal businesses as efficiently and as profitably to align with government regulations as much as possible.

Norm Bour: 

All right. Let’s talk about how this organization is now being encroached upon by the vaping industry, because this is something that wasn’t there, certainly in 2001, and it probably wasn’t there until 2008 or 2009 when Don Bores actually brought the first e-cigarette into the NATO convention. Share with us how vaping is interfacing with the world of tobacco and with the NATO organization, Greg.

Greg Martin:

I don’t know that encroaching upon the industry may be the right terminology. This is an evolution of technology, and it’s a different delivery system for nicotine. I think it’s an evolution. I think it’s an inevitable evolution of technology, just like a lot of industries have had to face technological innovations. I don’t think that the industry is threatened by that. In fact, I think from the trade show standpoint, and really there’s a lot better prognosticators, Norm, of industry trends. I don’t claim to be an expert on industry trends for tobacco or vaping, but I can speak to it because I’m aware of it and I can speak to it from the perspective of how it manifests itself in the trade show world. Google Trends is a very powerful tool. If you were to look at Google Trends, it tracks over a ten-year period, mentions of certain things in … Any term that you enter, it will track it.

If you were to go to Google Trends and you enter the term “vaping,” what you would see is that you don’t see it mentioned at all anywhere in 2009, 2010, ‘11. 2013 starts showing a bit of a blip upward. In ‘14, it just starts rocketing through the roof and continues on through 2015, so it wasn’t even a part of our vernacular, obviously, because the technology didn’t exist. The trend didn’t exist. I think that we see it translated on the show floor in terms of the number of exhibitors who were showing e-cigarette and vaping products. For us, probably 30% of the show, 40% of the show, are exhibitors that are exhibiting either e-cigs or vaping products. Those are traditional companies, as you know. This is not a fringe. If you talk to the experts, it’s not a fad, it’s a trend that’s here to stay, but what I do think is going to happen, and we saw this with fourth-tier cigarette companies when, as a result of the Master Settlement Agreement a number of years ago, you saw this massive increase in fourth-tier cigarette companies.

From the trade show perspective, you saw a lot of interest in people wanting to exhibit and get their products before buyers. There was this massive swell of fourth-tier cigarette companies, which eventually flattened out, declined, and then a lot of those companies that were springing up like mushrooms after a spring rain, went away. You were left with the stronger, better-funded, more visionary companies that stayed in the marketplace. I don’t think that that is an uncommon story that we’re going to see played out with vaping products, so we’re seeing the swell. We saw it last year. Norm, last year, the NATO Show sold out, had 50 exhibitors on the waiting list. Of those 50 exhibitors, the majority of them were e-cig and vaping companies. We’re going to sell out this year, but that swell of vaping and e-cig companies is not there. I think that’s reflective of what you’re seeing in the news and what you’re seeing in the marketplace. I think what you’re starting to see is a flattening out, and I think that you’re starting to see the beginning of what that trend where you’re going to end up with, “Okay, who’s going to stay and be the long-term players in the space and who’s not?”

Norm Bour: 

That is 100% on-target with what we see in the vaping community, Greg. I have a personal relationship with NATO, especially at your event last April, because that was the very first trade show I had ever been to. To say I was overwhelmed is an understatement. I was absolutely astounded and impressed with the level of education that you’ve provided, the high-level thought leaders that were putting together panel discussions and wonderful conversations, and, of course, I was able to have wonderful conversations with the people out there on the trade show. I saw a preponderance of vaping and electronic cigarettes on the floor and also in your brochure, which surprised me. We see the vaping community going through its own evolution. What used to be a very wild, untamed frontier is now being transitioned into by high-level entrepreneurs with experience, with money, with intention, with focus. What you have is two, three years ago, any novice could start in the business and be a success in spite of their inexperience.

Today we have people who are being destroyed by other people with a much larger sense of history and experience and money. Probably the evolution that you are seeing in the more, I’m going to call it “high-level industry,” is indicative of the direction of the marketplace. It’s easy to start an e-cigarette company, but it’s hard to sustain an e-cigarette company. You’re probably seeing that as well, as far as the major players will become more major and significant and some of these also-rans will have a harder time getting their foot in the door. I realize I just went on and on much longer than I care to, but I just thought it might be a good sense of perspective to know that we are seeing the same evolution in vaping as you have seen in the electronic cigarettes and its effect within the world of NATO as well.

Greg Martin:

Sure. The major tobacco companies that have been around forever, these are top marketing companies. You have some of the best marketing minds. These are up there with Nike and Coke and anybody else that’s out there. They know how to market product, and so if, in fact, they decide to step into a given space, they bring all of that marketing experience and all of those marketing resources to the table to support the products that they choose to launch. It’s massive. A smaller player, who might have tried to get in for a brief period of time … It’s difficult for them when the larger, more established companies with this massive amount of marketing experience step in. It’s just hard for them to deal with.

Norm Bour: 

Yeah. It’s hard to find an outlet for retail space simply because there’s not a lot available, and so the only option is to go online, which is becoming very, very crowded. Let’s talk for a moment about the NATO trade show coming up, because of those of you who are listening right now, this is not for everyone, ladies and gentleman, so we want to be very clear about this. This is not for the public at large. These are for members of the trade. Greg, maybe you could define who would be part of the trade and what kind of people are entitled and invited to come to the NATO expo in Las Vegas, and share with us all the details of that event as well, sir.

Greg Martin:

Sure. Norm, thanks so much. I appreciate you bringing that up because it’s very important. Because it’s a tobacco show, there’s very specific laws, rules, and regulations that deal with the hosting of a tobacco trade show that are different from a normal show. This is not a consumer show. This is a show for licensed wholesalers and retailers of tobacco products, and then, of course, on the manufacturing side, anyone who manufactures anything to do with tobacco or that wants to get into the tobacco space. In the case of tobacco retailers, right? If you want to access tobacco retailers in this space at this time, then it’s a great opportunity for manufacturers or anyone who sells anything that would go into a tobacconist shop, that would go into a full-line C-store, because the tobacco buyers will be there. It’s a great opportunity for those folks, but it’s not open to the public. Unfortunately, it’s not a consumer show. It is open to people who are only involved in the trade.

In terms of what the show’s about, I think falls into several buckets, right? The first and foremost, I guess, is education. We have one of the most, actually it’s the most, robust education offering to the tobacco industry. Headlining at the show is Mitch Zeller, who is the FDA’s Director of the Center for Tobacco Products. He doesn’t speak often and he has chosen to participate with us for several years. This is one of those face-to-face offerings. Paired with him on a general session panel is Jim Dillard, Senior Vice President of Regulatory Affairs for Altria Group and Dan McGee, General Counsel for General Cigar. That’s going to be a very, very powerful session, and for these tobacco retailers to have the opportunity to hear from the top governmental personality that oversees the regulations related to their businesses, it’s very, very important.

All tobacco retailers understand the importance of speed to market, and they know that knowledge is power. Having the opportunity to hear from these top-level officials that drive the decisions that impact their business is very important, because it will help them know how to position their businesses to take advantage of what’s coming down the pike in the legislative and regulatory arena. In addition to that, one of the main things from your perspective that I think is getting a lot of positive press is the health-related issues of non-combustible product. We’ve got Dr. Brad Rodu, who is the professor of medicine, Tobacco Harm Reduction Research out of the University of Louisville. He’s going to be talking about why consumers as well as regulators should be paying attention to non-combustible product as a more healthy alternative, I guess. Not exactly sure the correct way to word that, Norm, but-

Norm Bour: 

I understand.

Greg Martin:

… but of vaping and e-cigs versus combustible products. Reality of it is combustible products are here to stay. They are the foundation for the industry and they’re not going away any time soon. Recognizing that, we’ve got a session on talking about what is going to be happening with cigars, a fast take on cigars. If any of your listeners have ever watched the TED Talks, this is patterned after the TED Talks. We’ll have people coming from a wholesaler perspective, a retailer perspective, and a manufacturer perspective doing a TED Talks-style session on nothing but cigars. We’ve got a power-packed session on baking and e-cigs headed up by the President of Republic and Chief Operating Officer for Republic Tobacco, Steve Sandman. On that panel is also Vito Maurici with NJOY, Larry Wexler, President of National Tobacco, and Joe Murillo, President and General Manager of Nu Mark. That session is being moderated by industry analyst, Bonnie Herzog, so when-

Norm Bour: 

Oh, wow.

Greg Martin:

When I tell you that this is the best industry education offering that you’re going to find anywhere, I’m not blowing smoke.

Norm Bour: 

I concur with you, Greg, because I go to a lot of events. I basically classify vaping events in one of three categories. There’s fests, which are parties looking for a place and a reason to happen, and then there’s the mid-range, which are the expos, so they don’t offer a lot of education, but when it comes to the top of the educational chain, there’s not too many trade shows. You guys, as far as I’m concerned, are the big dog. You’re the ones who bring together … I mean, to bring Mitch Zeller in? Dude, save me a seat right in the front row, because I want to be there. Again, for all of the radio listeners out there, this is not open to the public, but it is open to members of the vaping community. Is that a correct assumption, Greg? If someone had a vape store, would they be entitled and able to go to this?

Greg Martin:

Absolutely. If they’re a tobacco retailer, and vape stores fall into that category, so it’s the guys with hookah stores, hookah shops. If you’re a tobacco retailer, a tobacco wholesaler, in which, absolutely, the non-combustible tobacco retailers, nicotine retailers, fall into that category, you’re welcome and invited and encouraged to attend.

Norm Bour: 

The dates of the event, Greg, are?

Greg Martin:

They are April 22nd and 23rd. Those are the actual show dates. There’s some preliminary stuff on the 21st, but it’s April 21 to 23. Norm, I’m not sure if we have time, but I would like … There’s a lot of reasons for people to attend. You got education as one, networking is one, and I want to point out at a face-to-face marketing event, only so much information can be passed educationally. A ton of stuff is passed in the halls with retailers talking to retailers, wholesalers talking to wholesalers. Honestly, some of the best information you’re going to gather is in the hall talk outside of the education sessions. In addition, the guy coming is going to be able to pay for his trip by show deals offered on the show floor. Probably 70% of the exhibitors are going to be offering show deals. New products are going to be offered there, and that will be introduced. Matter of fact, I know of one company who has embargoed a press release on new products, so the NATO Show is also a place to see and get information on the latest products out there. Dude, Vegas if fun. It’s a fun place to be.

Norm Bour: 

You can actually vape on the floor. The website to go to, Greg, for more information is?

Greg Martin:

It’s natoshow.com, www.natoshow.com. Very simple.

Norm Bour:              right. Listen, on behalf of Vape Radio and myself, and also the people out there listening, this has been a wonderful resource, Greg. Again, I and we at VapeMentors and at Vape Radio, we position ourselves as being providers of education. I always say, “Those who do not study the past are doomed to repeat it,” so if we look at the history of a lot of major industries, including tobacco, this may be an indicator of where the vaping community is going and where the tobacco companies are transitioning as well. Ladies and gentleman, this is a major, major opportunity for education, so if you are near or can get to Las Vegas the 21st to 23rd of April, Paris Hotel is going to be where it’s at. I am going to be there. If you’re there, please let me know and we’ll connect. I’m going to be interviewing a lot of your people, Greg. I want to let you know I’m going to be a pain in the neck because this is a rare opportunity to bring together some of the most significant people out there. To be honest with you, I want to hear their words and I want to share it with our audience, because this is what it’s all about, is getting the word out to the people.

All right. We’re back, live in the studio, and I hope that you got as much value out of that as I did. Again, if you are in the vaping industry, this is an event that you really need to make a point to attend. This is not a smoke-fest, guys. This is not a loud and rambunctious event. This is a place to go to really get insight. You’re going to find out information there that is probably six months to eighteen months away down the road. If you are in this industry for serious, and you want to know where the industry’s going, I would recommend you go there. He mentioned Google Trends, so after I interviewed him, I actually went to Google Trends to find out when the first instance of a first-page article on vaping was, and it was in June of 2007. We’re going on almost eight years now since the very first instance of vape on the front page of the paper. In 2013, that’s when it started going ballistic. Again, you’re going to see an industry that is just primed for growth. It’s just going to keep going and going and going.

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Visit them www.holygrail.life or call them at 866-823-6174. Tell them you heard about this on Vape Radio and you get a free t-shirt with your purchase. Why Holy Grail? Because it’s a lifestyle. Give us a shout at Vape Radio, we’ll introduce you to their team of pros. Vapreneurs, do not go away. You’re listening to Vape Radio, the number one worldwide source for updated information, streamed straight to your phones and tablets. Be part of our growing community of VapeMentors and head on over to vapementors.com to learn more, catch up on past shows, and learn how to start or grow your vape space success. Do not go away. We’re going to be right back.

Author: Norm Bour

Norm Bour is the founder of VapeMentors and the host of the award-winning podcast Vape Radio. He’s a vape industry coach, speaker, author and can be seen rubbing shoulders with the top influencers in the vape industry.