By Norm Bour
Like the fictional Mos Eisley Cantina in Star Wars, the March version of Tobacco Plus Expo (TPE) brought in a unique variety of vendors and exhibitors. Tobacco, hookah, vape, CBD, Kratom, and assorted miscellaneous smoking devices were all on display for thousands of attendees.
TPE is one of three events that I consider to be a traditional “trade show.” There is a notable lack of ear splitting music, less vapor in the air, and usually, a better mannered audience. No educational programs were offered, but the sheer variety of different businesses and introductions to new people make this an annual “must go” for many.
According to Edward O’Connor, President of event host TMG, “We had close to 400 exhibitors, which was up, but attendance was down from prior years. Some of that was due to
having this event in March, when it is normally held in January or February. This year we ran up against other events as well as Easter holiday and March Madness.”
Vapor Beast, one of the largest distributors in the US, was a sponsor and I asked Kyle Kurtz, Director of Operations and Purchasing, about their best-selling liquids. In this hypercompetitive market, the title of “best-selling” juice is a moving target, but Kurtz responded with: “’Cosmic Fog.’ It’s the best-selling brand and Liquid State’s Apple Butter is their number one line. Pretty much all the Cosmic Fog flavors sell well,” he replied.
He also shared that Hall of Fame, which is a recent collaboration between Cosmic Fog, KILO and Ruthless, is also strong seller. See April’s article in VAPE for the story behind that unique partnership.
We talked about price wars that are creating downward pressure on many vaping products, including liquids. “Prices are soft with newer lines, but holding firm with established ones.” He held out a 60 ML bottle of a relatively new and unknown brand which retails for $25.
One Hit Wonder is another of their best sellers and currently the liquid leader. We caught up with them as well.
Getting to Number One — and staying there Tony Tellez sits atop an enviable throne as his Muffin Man is the number one selling liquid in America according to many reviews. Their battalion of “men” presents a formidable army with Muffin Man in the front, followed by Milk Man, Police Man, Rocket Man and My Man. These men are more than one hit wonders.
Though they only started in 2014, they have become formidable and are manufacturing in excess of 100,000 bottles per month. That is impressive by any standard.
Like many “masters of vape,” Tellez is modest and humble about their flavors and accomplishments. They are also contract manufacturing for others, but Tellez confided, “It’s not really want we want to do. I do it for special lines and special situations.”
This show, along with the three others I attended in the month prior, were heavy with contract manufacturers. The
vape space is shifting and many existing liquid brands are outsourcing and new brands are starting off right with third party professionals.
Where it all started: Tobacco
The tobacco industry is seasoned and has been with us our entire lives. They have fought battles similar to what vape is fighting currently and have been under pressure for decades. The TPE was founded in tobacco and even though the show has expanded into other product lines, tobacco will always be their main focus.
And tobacco products are still a strong seller.
Barton Laws from Wind River, one of the exhibitors, held up a one-pound cluster of fire-cured tobacco leaf that could make hundreds of cigarettes. It wholesales for about $10, but would usually be used in snuff or some types of chewing tobacco rather than analog cigarettes.
Laws is a twenty-year veteran of tobacco and has been attending TPE for a long time. When asked about the transition of the market and the influx of new products, Laws shared, “It’s not just vapor products that have diluted the market. The huge growth of e-cigarettes and hookah are also significant.”
Trade shows like this offer lots of eye candy and fodder for the imagination. The comments from attendees was that this show seemed less organized than in years past since they previously grouped many “similar” products together. This show was more scattered with no specific organization of the vendors.
Two observations from Tobacco Plus Expo, 2016. Many vape shows are dominated by liquid manufacturers and offer little hardware. That was not the case here as dozens of hardware manufacturers were represented. Also significant was the Chinese presence, which is always stifled by language and communication barriers.
It’s always a good idea to know your competition, whether it involves the shop down the street, online retailers or different market segments.
One of the topics of conversation we had with O’Connor was the challenge of trying to be “everything to everyone.” With so many market segments in attendance it becomes difficult to offer education that will appeal to the masses. He did say that they are looking to offer a more organized layout next year and possibly group like industries together in pavilions.
O’Connor shared that the 2017 show will be held on January 25-26 in Las Vegas, which is back on schedule as being one of the first of the year. But before then TMG will be hosting Vapor Expo International in Chicago on June 15-16. That event has positioned itself as the top B2B vape expo in the industry.
Norm Bour is the founder of VapeMentors, which offers online educational programs, 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 1.2 M downloads. Norm interviews the masters of vape and thought leaders in the vape space. Contact him at norm@VapeMentors.com.