February 2017

ECC Review: The Last Big Show?

By Norm Bour

The ECC convention held their fourth event  recently and this may prove to be the line of demarcation between “what was” and “what is” as the face of vape conventions has transformed over the past year. With shows dwindling over the past year, a return to ECC brought with it high hopes and expectations — as always.

The event took place outside at one of the most famous horse racetracks in the country, Santa Anita Racetrack.

Since the beginning, most vape events have been contained inside, either in a convention center or hotel. This was the third outside event I have attended and each is fraught with perils and risk. Rain is one risk; wind is another. During the winter months, cold temperatures are also a problem, even in perpetually sunny Southern California.

The Electronic Cigarette Convention Story

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Since launching in 2013, ECC was in the right place at the right time, and brought in over ten thousand attendees. That was the largest vaping event to date and several big liquid brands were launched there, including Space Jam. The following year, 2014, they doubled their attendance and had to secure outside floor space at the already large Ontario Convention Center. That year Propaganda and other brands were launched.

Last year, 2015, was challenging as they moved from Ontario to the massive Los Angeles Fairgrounds and took over six large hangars. Bigger has been shown to not always be better and this year’s event may change the future of ECC.

The county of Los Angeles, along with many other counties, will not allow vaping inside. When trying to house 100,000 square feet of noisy vapers and hundreds of vendors clamoring to get in, that becomes problematic. The answer this

year was to take it outside and several hundred exhibitors and many thousands of attendees were brought to the infield of the race track. That caused some logistical issues as the distance from the parking lot and the exhibition space was considerable.

Since all the spaces were outside, the morning of the opening B2B day proved to be an ominous sign as the heavy “Santa Ana” winds blew through the night before. Some quick work and tie downs had most everything back together when the gates opened.

The beautiful and massive racetrack in Arcadia, California, covers 320 acres and has a ginormous parking lot that rivals major league and college lots. The track also abuts the majestic San Gabriel Mountains which tower over the track and in the winter can bring hot desert air into the Los Angeles basin.

And right through the racetrack.

The Exhibitors Reactions

Coming into Day One and seeing signs and banners down and dust everywhere led many to think this might be a disaster. But fortune smiled and most thought it a good, but not great event.

Josh Horton from Cosmic Fog, is a veteran of ECC and in years past they have exhibited within massive towers and blasting music. This year Cosmic Fog was more subdued as they had several 10×30 foot booths joined with Liquid State and other lines with which they are associated.

“Being outside definitely made it more difficult,” Horton shared. “The turnout was lighter than we’re used in B2B day but better than expected. We’re really hitting the consumer (B2C) day heavy and expect to sell a lot of product.”

Which they did.

Of course, with new regs in place, the fervor over free juice was gone and no one came in expecting samples.

Some of the largest booths were manned by Ruthless and Charlie’s Chalk Dust. Charlie’s rep John said that “Day one was good, but when the sun dropped down the temperature dipped ten degrees very quickly.”

Of all the enclosures, the largest was the ZampleBox family.

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Housed in a massive military style tent, ZampleBox had over 20 of their signature products under one roof along with others that are part of the family. Founder Tony Mandarano was pleased with the event.

“For our brands, the show was absolutely phenomenal and we sold more product during the B2B days than prior shows. Saturday and Sunday (B2C) had less foot traffic than previous years, probably because we lost the 18-20 year old crowd (thanks to new California age laws), but it made for a more fun and intimate setting.”  

Though the major brands were well represented, some leaders were missing, including Space Jam and Five Pawns.

Some of the suggestions offered towards making this event better included adequate signage directing attendees into the massive parking lot along with information on the ECC web site telling which gate to enter.

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The Future of Events

What the future holds is hard to predict. For new or experienced promoters, the risks have never been greater as they must seek out a venue that allows vaping and remains affordable. Las Vegas has been a dominant player and since anything goes in Sin City, they will probably remain a prominent location.

In 2016 the number of events grew significantly and amazingly small cities hosted them. Most were utter failures.

Any event with less than 100 exhibitors is void of energy and will have a hard time garnering a crowd. The debacle of Vape Summit in August 2016, may remove them from the agenda, and that leaves just a few major players.

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Is exhibiting a “good value” for liquid companies?

As the market shrinks over the next few years there may be less market share to split, but significantly fewer companies to split with.

Some say that up to 97 percent of all vape companies will close by August 2018, and that includes retail shops as well as liquid companies. Considering how many rags to riches stories have been created over the years this is sad as many entrepreneurs banked their savings and their futures on the Vape Space.

I do believe there are opportunities yet to be seen. Yes, the market will be different. It will be more professional and it will be run by many less companies. The key to success is to find a need, a pain, a want, and find a solution that people will pay for.

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Norm Bour is the founder of VapeMentors and creator of the VAPE U online programs. They offer services & resources for anyone in the vape space, including vape shops, online stores and e-liquid brands. He’s also the host of Vape Radio, the largest vaping radio show in the world with more than 1.3 M downloads. Norm interviews the masters of vape and thought leaders in the vape space. Contact him at norm@VapeMentors.com.