Walking the aisles of the 23rd annual CHAMPS trade show in Las Vegas from Feb. 2-5, the consensus was clear among exhibitors and buyers: It was the busiest CHAMPS event yet, and it was a hit. Founded in 1999, the expo has certainly grown and evolved over the years, along with the larger public positive perception of cannabis and increasing wave towards legalization.
“We’ve been growing everywhere,” said Jeff Hirschfeld, founder and owner of CHAMPS trade shows, which take place annually in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Denver, Orlando and Chicago. “Besides the COVID year , we’ve never had a down year. This will be our largest show for both vendors and buyers.”
Hirschfeld says that numbers are on track for a 10-15% increase in booths, and 22% increase in buyers. Pleased with the turnout, he says CHAMPS is going “up, up, up;” but it’s not just getting bigger. As cannabis becomes almost mainstream and more companies enter the space, he says it’s increasingly about representing a wide range of products and businesses.
“It’s more about variety today,” Hirschfeld said. “That’s what you want. The market changes very quickly, so you can’t sit on stuff. When we started, we were basically a water pipe/bong show. At one point, it was 70 percent all water pipes; today, it’s 20 to 25 percent.”
Known for its glass art, this month’s Las Vegas CHAMPS also featured 39 of the best glass artists from 2021 who all competed in a glass-blowing competition called “Glass Games,” which was set up in the center of the convention hall.
“Glass Games started in 2009 to highlight the beautiful artwork and quality of American glass,” Hirschfeld said. The winner will take home $10,000.
CHAMPS’ dedication to preserving cannabis culture and celebrating the community’s creativity is also evident. Whether you’re working behind a booth or walking the floor, most everyone seemed to have a smile on their face—happy to connect with new and old friends in the industry.
Preserving Creative Roots of Cannabis Culture
Sean Dietrich, a painter/illustrator out of Washington state, has designed the covers of CHAMPS Show Magazine for three years now. He’s been coming to CHAMPS for a decade to promote his artwork, and in that time, he says the biggest evolution he’s seen is in marketing and branding, and how people have started having more creative approaches with their products.
“This is a massively creative community,” Dietrich said. “I was worried it was going to go away, but I think it’s going in the right direction. CHAMPS has been great at promoting that. They’ve been very supportive of the arts.”
For Dietrich, who’s not a big social media person, CHAMPS is especially important for both product promotion and building connections with his target market.
“For me, it’s being able to interact with stores personally,” he said. “We get to invite the shops into the booth so they can actually hold and touch the products.”
Businesses Branch Out, Reach New Consumers
In addition to cannabis artists, a range of businesses flocked to CHAMPS, including cannabis, CBD, Kratom, Delta-8, nicotine and HHC brands. The introduction of new cannabinoids and smoking products was prevalent.
Longstanding lighter companies BIC and Zippo, historically associated with cigarette smokers, were also tapping into the cannabis market. In the background of BIC’s booth, a commercial for their EZ Reach lighter featuring Snoop Dog and Martha Stewart ran on a loop. Meanwhile, Zippo promoted their relatively new butane inserts in an attempt to appeal to cannabis and cigar smokers preferring a “cleaner” tasting experience.
Todd Townsend, Director of Domestic Sales with Zippo, has been to four tradeshows in the past two weeks, and said CHAMPS has been the busiest by far.
“There have been a lot of first-time retailers we’ve met with and been able to convert them to Zippo,” he said, adding that CHAMPS is a great place for them to branch out and introduce the product to a new consumer group.
“The butane inserts are designed for alternative uses and play to this market very well,” he said. “We’re that retro product that’s not disposable.”
While Zippo and BIC are using CHAMPS as a way to break into the cannabis space, some others are more focused on connecting with existing clients and building brand recognition. Returning to CHAMPS for their eighth consecutive year, Futurola released seven new products at the show and also offered demonstrations of their Cone Master 1500, an automated pre-roll machine.
“It’s a chance for us to really showcase products to the consumer market,” said Bri Tolp, a Futurola Account Executive. “We’re able to get in front of buyers and strengthen existing relationships and show new products we have.”
The Denver-based Blazy Susan team also seemed to be having a good time with their constantly packed booth, filled with both friends and clients. The company’s brand manager, Zach Rudio, said he was excited to reconnect with clients and some of the social media influencers they work with.
“CHAMPS is the best,” he said. “We get to see everyone from a distribution perspective as well as influencers we work with. CHAMPS is a really good place for us to come and make connections.”
Connections. Not just business transactions, but valuable relationships. That’s perhaps the biggest reason why people keep coming back to CHAMPS trade shows, year after year.
“I’ve been very fortunate,” Hirschfeld said, clearly proud of how successful CHAMPS continues to be. “I started in my garage in 1999, and it’s been an incredible journey.”