NATO Trade Show Gains Support

The National Association of Tobacco Outlets (NATO) reported that key manufacturers have formally committed to its 2011 trade show and conference in Las Vegas. Supporters currently include Altadis USA, Swisher International, Swedish Match, Republic Tobacco, National Tobacco Co., King Maker Marketing, Smoker Friendly International and Zippo Lighter Co.

During NATO’s annual awards dinner last month, association President Andrew Kerstein announced that the group’s board of directors had decided to create the new show.  The event will coincide with NATO’s 10th anniversary next year. A date for the spring show was not announced at presstime.

“Having our own trade show allows NATO to take all of the income generated and direct it towards legislative activities,” Steve Sandman, vice president of sales and marketing for Republic Tobacco, who will serve as the show’s committee chairman, told Convenience Store Decisions.

NATO is a non-profit organization and gathers virtually all of its income to fight for tobacco rights from its retailer, wholesaler and manufacturer members.

“Our previous relationship with trade shows only allowed us to receive a small percentage of the show income. Bottom line, with more resources from a trade show, NATO can do more to help the industry,” Sandman added.

NATO has committed to hosting the show for at least three years. Despite the country’s current economic conditions, the group felt the time was right to launch the new show for two main reasons.

“First, the industry is looking for a strong show that focuses exclusively on tobacco—one that is not lost in a sea of non-tobacco products and foodservice. That’s something retailers have been telling the industry for a long time,” Sandman said. “Secondly, tobacco retailers and suppliers are fighting legislative and regulatory battles at a fever pitch. The tobacco industry has been assaulted on many fronts and has embraced the idea of supporting NATO knowing its resources are directed at combating these attacks. Supporting a trade show that stands behind tobacco—as opposed to a for-profit show—is an easy decision for the industry to get behind.”

Focus on Education
The positive response from the industry has been “overwhelming,” according to Kerstein. “The commitment by these key manufacturers clearly means that the tobacco community has great confidence in NATO and they are happy to lend their support behind an organization that fights for the tobacco rights of consumers, retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers,” he said.

Sandman agreed that while NATO anticipated a lot of support from the industry, the support is even better than anticipated. “NATO retailers have already been telling us they love free admission to the trade show, the seminars and the events we have planned,” he said. “We believe based on the initial feedback and commitments we’ve received, the NATO show will flourish and allow the organization to do even more good things for the entire tobacco industry.”

Greg Martin, president of Suwanee, Ga.-based Renaissance Association Management and CEO of the Southern Association of Wholesale Distributors, will produce the show for NATO. He intends to position the event “as the premier tobacco trade show in the country,” he told CSD. “We will accomplish that by creating an environment that will allow NATO members and prospects to increase their profitability, decrease their exposure to risk and boost their opportunities for personal and professional development.”

Furthermore, Martin, working with NATO President Tom Briant, recognizes that industry retailers are busier than ever and carefully evaluating the time they spend out of the office at industry events.

“Just one compelling reason to attend a meeting is almost not enough anymore,” Martin said. “Retailers are trying to achieve as much with each out-of-the-office event as possible. They want top-notch education, access to key contacts at the companies they do business with, exposure to a variety of new products, and they want all of it in an environment that fosters inclusion and networking. The NATO show will meet all of these needs and much more.”

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