Vaping conventions are a curious mixed bag of cats. On one side they represent a chance to get up close and personal with all of your favourite vaping brands. They can offer variety and a chance to find your new favourite flavour / mod and on the other hand they can represent everything that is wrong with the vaping industry today. It is clear that wherever you are in the world, the conventions are treated different with here in the UK, we tend to oversell the scene rather than embrace it. It is because of this reason we find the convention such a polarising experience, some choosing to jump head first and others staying away.
But what exactly is a vaping convention, should we care about them? Let’s take a look at the Vaping convention today and delve deeper into the perineal show of shows for the vaping enthusiasts.
Vaping Convention Origins
Here in the UK, the very first vape convention that was ran was Vape Jam which takes place in London, starting way back in 2014. Vape Jam was designed for a chance for companies to show off their talent to the wider vaping community and give smaller brands a chance to reach out to new customers like never before. Back in 2014, there was no TPD to worry about, companies had free reign when it came to making E Liquid and technology/ demand within the hardware market was at its lowest due to the differing strategies of the companies themselves. So back at the beginning the Convention was smaller, more intimate affairs with less attendees and greater chance to meet the people behind the brands. The conventions were as you would expect, with the more eccentric and stereotypical hipster vapers all sharing their same hobby with each other. There were plenty of beards and moustaches, hybrid vaping devices and plenty of models, fantastic at a time where vaping was still finding its feet within the world. Some of the leading brands in E Liquid at the time would be there showcasing their stock giving vapers the chance to experience what they were otherwise wary of.
In 2015 we saw the first Vape Expo take place in Birmingham and from this point on, we started to see the landscape for UK conventions change, from less focus on the community and more on the business side of things. We are getting ahead of ourselves so lets take a look at Vape Expo 2015.
Start of the professional conventions
So in 2015 we saw the birth of the Vape Expo shows, which brought in the shift between community and business when it came to these sorts of show. The Expo looked to go from the work that Vape Jam had begun and start to introduce vapers to the hardware side of things, welcoming businesses a chance to showcase their new techs, products and giving vapers a hands on that they otherwise wouldn’t have. Vape Expo gave companies a chance to advertise themselves, no longer just about the juice, even the online stores had a chance to get their name out there in an ever growing and competitive market. Vape Expo 2015 was still a small affair, looking to bring vaping to the customers rather than have them go to the businesses. What you started to see by 2015 was the movement away from the fanatical vapers and more into the stereotype as we would assume today, the vapers who saw vaping as a lifestyle by this point.
At the end of 2015 we had two major vaping conventions, with Jam focused on Juice and Expo catered towards hardware / business, which gave vapers the chance to experience both sides of the industry that had otherwise remained an internet only landscape, but in 2016, this was all to change, and the landscape was soon to shift with the introduction of the Hall of Vape.
Pushing the limits of Conventions
2016 saw the birth of the Hall of Vape, the premier vaping expo in Germany which looked to take the success seen elsewhere and turn it up to 10. Bigger venue than before, more businesses and a very specific focus on highlighting business far more than the UK had ever decided to do until this point. Replacing the DJ on stage you got talks with industry experts, instead of a overly enthusiastic crowd you got the community experience to meet people first hand and vapers loved this. Admittedly back then it was focused around the German community but the Hall of vape proved to be a big hit on the convention scene. Germany had set their stall out to be a hub of worldwide business in the vaping industry and other countries started to follow suit. The vape expo started hosting shows in other cities across Europe in the years following and the marker for a top convention started to grow , leaving the UK still on their heels when it came to the potential of what a convention could be. The Hall of Vape proved to be a huge success over in Germany and its quality has allowed it to grow each year, almost surpassing every other vaping convention in Europe.
UK convention retaliation
Since the vaping conventions grew and grew across the world in the years that followed, the UK had a decision on how to react to this. You could have your panels and chilled out atmosphere over in Europe or you could have your loud and frantic experience found previously in the UK. The bar setter for the convention scene found themselves playing catch up and as each show grew, with 2 shows a year from Expo and Jam, more and more names were invited to be a part of it. Bigger venue, more guests and the start of the internet ‘celebrities’ appearing in each convention began to happen. It was all promising except that the UK chose to look at vaping conventions as a chance to just be bigger and bigger without really looking at the community it was catering for. So instead of matching the likes of HOV for the content being delivered, vape conventions decided to pack the venues instead, turn the volume up and try and deliver an overhyped event instead. The conventions went from allowing vapers a chance to get to know the industry and instead play on the stereotypes that people associated with vaping. The bigger it grew, the more exclusive the events became, with a sudden shift from fanatical to the hipster community. The music got louder, the events got more energetic and it shifted the tone of vaping from a hobby into a lifestyle of sorts.
It was through here that other European conventions started to break away, with the Hall of Vape most notably surpassing the UK by most accounts. There was a better showcase of products, more chance to get to know the industry and bigger and better than its inception only a few years prior. The UK still provided this to some extent but certainly designed in such a way to separate by day the lifestyle vs hobbyist vapers. Running conventions over weekends, there was a definite shift in culture change on each day with the Saturday reserved for the big loud experience compared to a Sunday where you could meet the minds behind the brands. It was separating the two and focusing on the former that conventions in the UK started to lose touch with your average vapers. Less casual people wanted to go to the shows and the business emphasis that take place within the shows themselves almost remove the soul of what the conventions began life as. Just as much chance to find a new flavour of E-Liquid compared to networking yourself, it showed that instead of being a showcase, it became corporate under the covers, with many looking to make connections rather than to embrace the shows themselves. Press passes became a thing, so it gave people a sense of importance, companies stopped showcasing coming soon technologies and chose to simply push existing product instead in an ever saturating market.
Then you have the free giveaways each show. What started as a bonus has become an expectancy for many vapers. Free samples, T Shirts, giveaways, competitions etc, all designed to promote yet it became the reason to go for many vapers. Vapers didn’t care about the companies, they cared about the free loot they could compile over their visit. If anyone ever experienced a T Shirt giveaway at the stage in the past couple of years, you will understand what I mean. As much as companies and manufacturers could reach out to vapers, the vapers wanted something in return. It created a toxic environment for many as they lost the community aspect, what made the shows so special to begin with.
How to save the Convention
Given current circumstances, Expo and Jam in this country have a chance to take stock and return one day with the show of shows, to put the UK convention scene back on the map. How to fix the issue it has created is a whole other story however so these are my thoughts on what could turn Expo for example into the must visit event of the year for the vaping community.
First of all embrace rather than separate different cultures of vaping to offer a show that no-one else can offer. For many people, the likes of Mike Vapes or the Vaping Bogan represent a minor celebrity through their work on YouTube. 6 figure subscriber counts, you can by all means go and watch their Vlogs visiting the shows. So why not take inspiration from other types of conventions and give vapers the chance to talk to them, to get to know them a little more. Running Q+A sessions much like a comic book convention would give people a chance to ask them anything they wanted, especially as they move more into manufacturing products. It doesn’t have to stop there neither, what about heads of top manufacturers such as Smok , Voopoo or Aspire? Much the same way you can meet your favourite actor, have a chance to listen to the brains behind the industry in a way you have never done before. Instead of booking your ticket for your free T Shirt or E-liquid, book to meet Jai Haze or even TVP, it creates celebrities within the community and offers a much better experience for your casual vaper who may love to meet them.
The next way to save UK conventions in my opinion is to remove the giveaway emphasis from companies. Go back to the times where showcases at these shows were about the future rather than the present. Have Juice companies displaying a new range not released yet, to get real public feedback ahead of release. Have manufacturers showcasing the future of vaping tanks / mods and putting them in the hands of vapers rather than simply pushing the existing range. In such a saturated market for reviews of products well ahead of release, what better way to build excitement than to give people a reason to be excited. Imagine being able to listen to a top mind from SMOK before visiting their stand and see what products they have in the pipeline? Much the same way as E3 works for the video game industry, focus on the future and make the convention about what the industry has to offer, not what it already does. The difference in perspective can make a huge difference, rather than a free bottle of Liquid, a discount code for the next purchase for companies, to prove how good of a service they offer.
If the conventions want to keep some sort of the current spirit alive that the UK convention scene has then why not reach out of the vaping world and start to look at big names elsewhere? It is widely reported that many celebrities vape, why not invite them along? Give vapers a chance to meet them in a completely different environment? Instead of a loud DJ set, you could have Professor Greene performing, answering questions and raising the profile of the show itself. It would allow vaping to push through the glass ceiling it currently has and instead grow on a whole new platform, creating business opportunities for others. Make the convention a place to be rather than a place for free, wouldn’t it make that bi yearly show feel a little bit more special?
What are your thoughts? Let us know if you think the UK convention scene is still alive and well or whether it is a shadow of its former self.