VCC Tampa 2015 – Final Thoughts and Observations

Tampa Florida held its 2nd VCC event this past weekend. This morning I’m offering up my final thoughts and observations about the show.

Last year the one and only Smokenjoey, and myself, (representing Spinfuel) were at the show sans our own booth. We huddled at the back of the convention floor recording interviews and doing a couple of product reviews. It was, by all standards, a solid show. This year Smokenjoey, Nick Bessette, and myself, had our own booth, which made things much easier.

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We conducted several interviews, some off camera and some on, met many vendors and many advocacy groups and individuals. Joe (Smokenjoey) and I were in constant motion from early Friday morning when we left Port Saint Lucie, and Sunday evening when we returned. (Minutes away from The Walking Dead start time). Tiring, and satisfied that we did the best job with what we had and the obstacles we faced. The event also taught me that what I had suspected for many months was indeed accurate. Things have changed.

Convention Center

Like last year the event was also held at the Tampa Convention Center. Joey and I had rooms at the Embassy Suites, like last year, which is connected to the convention center by a sky bridge (the hotel, not our rooms).

The convention center itself is rather large. Last year nearly 40% of the convention floor was open to a stage area and several large, round tables for visitors to sit, rest, or eat. This year the convention floor had very little space left for a stage or tables, and instead it was full with vendor’s booth from front to back and side to side. Walking the floor last year could be completed in just a few minutes, this year it took more than twice as long to make the walk while empty of visitors, and 6-10 times as long at the peak of the day when the floor was crowded with the public.

The Spinfuel/Smokenjoey booth was #142, near the back where the PA system was as well as the only spot where you could buy something to drink or eat. I never drank as much water in such a short period of time as I did over the weekend.

Unfortunately, and hopefully never again, our booth was located almost directly under the massive HVAC system. When the system was turned on moments before the public was allowed inside the noise level tripled in an instant. Recording interviews and observations was tough enough with the public in record numbers, but with the loud HVAC system above us made ‘clear audio’ impossible.

Vendors

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Many vendors that attended last year did not make a return appearance. I found that somewhat surprising. However, there were many new vendors in attendance that weren’t there last year, and, I suspect, many of them weren’t even in business a year ago. Unexpectedly, to me, the majority of vendors this year were eliquid vendors. Vendors I had never heard of before, but all were nice, friendly, and accommodating.

Perhaps it’s a sign of maturity in the marketplace, or companies with more money to spend, but what was truly evident was  slick marketing of eliquid brands was prevalent everywhere. I don’t remember a single eliquid vendor that reminded me of earlier years of homebrew brands. Instead, all of them featured expensive labels, bottles, and other packaging concepts, as well as marketing materials, brochures, banners, and so on. Products were professionally designed and highly polished. Naturally, it’s the juice inside that’s important, but in order to draw the customer’s attention all the vendors must produce good-looking presentations, and as good as they can afford.

Oral Sex

One vendor in particular drew my attention. The vendor/brand had the booth next to us, offering herbal ejuice under the guise of a sexually charged marketing program. The company, called Oral Pleasures, featured nearly naked gorgeous people in provocative poses (worthy of framing and hanging on this photographer’s wall I might add).

I spent a few minutes talking with the owner of Oral Pleasures and asked what exactly was behind the provocative marketing and either he didn’t hear me (a strong possibility based on the noise volume) or didn’t understand what I was asking. I explained that while the marketing was slick and sexy, what was it that the ejuice was supposed to do that other, less sexually charged ejuice brands didn’t offer. His response was to inform me that their product was natural, herbal based, and therefore healthier. I was given a sample of two of their eliquids, one for men and one for women. That evening in the hotel I tried them both and while they were decent enough herbal eliquids, neither one revitalized my sex drive

Everybody Needs An Angle

Oral Pleasures is not at fault for their marketing techniques. While this company may have chosen sex to sell their juice, other chose skulls and crossbones, the 1960’s generation (Peace Lovers ejuice), and elegant bottles and labels from still others. Some used calligraphy techniques on their labels, or some other way to distinguish their line from others. This is not only good marketing; it is vital to survival in a market of hundreds of small to medium brands, not to mention global brands.

Disappointments (eLiquid Vendors)

Not only was the balance way off this year between eliquid and hardware presence at the convention, there was no real standout when it came to flavor/vapor/innovation over what I already vape. Lots of new packaging but very little in true flavor innovation. Most did offer low-nic high-VG drip juices through.

I have no doubt that several of the newer brands I saw or tasted at the convention will not appear there next year, if there is a 3rd Tampa show. A few people I spoke with in this sector of the vendor community were business-minded, not artists. As a businessman myself I can appreciate the business aspect of these newer vendors/brands, and the large sums of money that are obviously behind some of them. As a vaper however, I’d like to see more artists than I did see.

The NJOY A/C & Good Life Vapor Experience

A very positive experience for me in Tampa was meeting Eric Chesin of NJOY Artist Collection division. Eric understands exactly what’s needed to blend the business of eliquid with the artistry of eliquid.

Jeremy Dollar, owner and head flavorist, is the artist behind Good Life Vapor. (disclosure: Good Life Vapor is an advertiser with Spinfuel) Jeremy drips of passion for eliquid. I met Jeremy through Eric and the three of us talked for a bit and I could sense the passion in every word he spoke. Here is someone that understands the need for quality ejuice and quality flavor/vapor, and his association with NJOY’s Artist Collection was serendipity in the extreme.

It’s my opinion that partnerships and associations like NJOY and Good Life is something we need to see more of, not less. Eric did a fantastic job picking the right artist for each eliquid in the collection, and I would love to see more collections in the not-so-distant future.

Lastly, with respect to the eLiquid brands/vendors at the show, while the number of ejuice vendors was much larger than expected, it was fun to explore all the choices and soak in experience. I sincerely wish them all good fortune, but something tells me they are going to need it.

Hardware

Hardware vendors were scant, and they were all located at the other end of the convention floor. Innokin had a large booth there, as did many one-stop vendors. Sadly, Joyetech wasn’t there. I would have loved to have met with some Joyetech executives, but with so many events in this country alone it is impossible to have a presence at all of them. One large manufacturer was there, or at least the USA counterpart of the company…AspireUSA.

AspireUSA had more square feet on the convention floor then Innokin, but not as much product. Perhaps that didn’t matter because Aspire had a product to show off that will no doubt be met with rabid fans of box mods. The upcoming box mod from Aspire, the ESP 30, is going to give a lot of manufactures sleepless nights by the end of the month. For me, it was the main attraction of the show.

Joey and I first met the three people from AspireUSA at breakfast on the morning of the official Day One of the show (Saturday). They were staying at the Embassy Suites as well, and all three were wearing the new ESP box mod around their necks. I could not help myself when I laid eyes on them, and Roy, their all-around spokesman, not only let us handle the box mod, he told us about it. Now, because Aspire has not yet ramped up production on the final product, there could be some changes to the electronics but the features, variable wattage, an easy to reach dial sitting atop the device for changing power settings, and the carbon fiber exterior are set in stone.

Light as a feather, sleek, and able to fire down to 0.3ohms, the ESP should have been named the winner of new products introduced at this event.

VaporShark

There is a bit of a backstory with VaporShark that I’d like to share with you before I talk about my “representative piece” of the event. (At each show I pick up a piece of hardware to review, and as a memento of the show itself.)

Julia had contacted VaporShark on a couple of occasions over the past couple of years and, sadly, never received any kind of response, positive or negative. Plainly put, my personal feelings about their hand’s off approach toward Spinfuel was, and remains, one of Spinfuel representing the majority of vapers, what I call us Mainstreamers, and VaporShark’s position in the community as a brand for advanced vapers. Why allow your product to be reviewed by a mainstream publication when there is little chance of moving any pieces from such a review? Are they right? I certainly don’t think so, and they never did say that anyway, but their silence tells me that the standoffishness is for the reason I stated.

In any case, I knew all about the rDNA 40 long before this event, though I had not seen one in person. While walking around the event I wandered by their large booth and gazed upon several DNA’s and rDNA’s along the table. I watched a couple of sales pitches, as well as several devices being sold during the brief time I was watching. So I decided to go in and ask a few questions.

The person I spoke to was friendly, and he recognized Spinfuel on my shirt, and acknowledged it with a nod of the head. He spent zero time trying to sell me on the device, and instead just answered the questions I had. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed two things I did not know about their box mod, the small round inductive charging plate, and the new larger, crystal clear display in their box mods.

It took less than 10 minutes for me to decide that the rDNA was going to be my hardware choice to represent the event, so I purchased one, along with a black skin and inductive charging plate. Total cost? $215. A bargain as far as I’m concerned.

I will review the rDNA in a Cold Open video and a written review late this week. If the performance I am experiencing now continues it will be a very positive review. Yes, the eLeaf iStick 50 may be $50, but other than both devices being a box mod the two are very different devices…. But you don’t have to be an advanced vaper to enjoy the rDNA.

Clearly advanced vapers will utilize the features of the rDNA much more thoroughly than mainstream vapers, but ‘our kind’ will certainly admire the device, and with maybe half a day of trial and error learn how to use or gauge each advanced feature. If you use an iStick now and you like it there’s no reason to spring $200+ for an rDNA, but if you have a mind for owning the highest end box mod, this is it.

Final Thoughts

So, was the expense of attending the show worth it? For Nick Bessette, our host of Spinfuel’s Daily Vape TV and an instructor at this and future shows for the VCC it was very much worth it. For myself? Not so much.

I had a good time while I was there but was glad to be home, and you can be certain that 99.99% of the public that came to the show had a real blast. These events are great ways to engage the public, make friends and share your passion for vaping, so I highly encourage all of you to attend these events whenever you can. Even the most advanced vaper can learn a lot by attending such events.

The next VCC event will be in Pittsburgh PA some time in June. Joe, Nick, and myself will be there. Only this time we simply have to be placed as far away from the HVAC system as possible. Joe and I will publish more videos from this event in the coming days, but because of audio issues and some advanced filtering that must be done, we cannot upload them now. Below is a short video I made of the crowd in front of our booth. As you’ll see, these events are very popular wherever they happen to be… as they should.

John Manzione

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