Words and photos by Alyssa Stahr
As I flew into Irving, Texas, for the American Vapor Convention, I had no idea that Hurricane Patricia would be the biggest on record. The storm that hit Mexico was felt at the Irving Convention Center on Friday, complete with a flash flood warning, a business to business session hampered by flight delays and an editor returning to my hotel room to find a lizard seeking shelter in my bathroom.
Gabriel Benson, co-founder of the convention, said that someone told him that there hadn’t been any substantial rainfall in the Dallas area in 49 days.
“We certainly made up for it over the weekend, Friday especially. We had flooding issues all weekend, and one of the exits off the highway to the convention center was closed for the whole weekend. Several of our vendors were delayed in arriving, and unfortunately one of our vendors from California was unable to come at all due to travel delays,” he said. “While Friday was unfortunately a very slow start to what became an amazing weekend, our vendors really came together and absolutely knocked it out of the park on Saturday when the crowds started coming in.”
Saturday’s business to consumer session definitely picked up both in attendance and in spirits. Sponsored by Villain Vapors and Artisan Vapor Company and hosted by Austin “The Face of Vape” Hopper, Saturday’s portion of the show brought in names like Schell Hammel, Gregory Conley and Dimitris Agrafiotis to talk to the crowd about advocacy.
When Benson first talked to Hopper about being the emcee of the show, it was really important to him that advocacy be the centerpiece of the show.
“So, with that in mind, Austin reached out to Dimitris Agrafiotis and once those two got involved, they weren’t going to stop until we were able to make a meaningful donation to advocacy. Again, I can’t thank our vendors enough for supporting the cause,” Benson said.
Hammel took the stage and said: “We’ve been fighting really hard, guys. I want to thank every vendor who is here. I’m from Lubbock, Texas, and we were raised to work hard, and that’s what we’re going to do. Fight hard.”
Benson said that without a doubt, the highlight of the show came Saturday afternoon when so many of vendors came together to donate more than $40,000 for Texas SFATA.
“It was important to me that the funds raised at the American Vapor Convention stayed in state, and Schell Hammel and Texas SFATA have absolutely done an amazing job in Texas to fight for vaper’s rights. I am so proud of all our vendors for their support,” Benson said.
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Additionally, Benson noted that he was thrilled to have Texas SFATA, The Vaping Militia and Greg Conley of the American Vaping Association at the convention.
“Each group really brings a special point of view to the advocacy fight, and hopefully next show we can increase our roster of advocates,” he said.
A mechanical bull proved to be an excellent selling point, as Hopper told vendors that if a certain point of money was reached, several big names like Schell Hammell, Gregory Conley and himself would ride the bull.
“I am willing to ride the bull as long as we’re raising money for the lobbyists in Texas,” Hopper said.
His plea for donations was followed by Pip “the Bunny,” founder of Suicide Bunny, encouraging everyone to educate themselves and fight for their right to vape, along with Agrafiotis’ urge to get consumers to register to vote.
The AVC ended up with 86 vendors and a completely sold out floor. More than 2,100 visitors walked through the convention center doors over the weekend. Vendors like Captain Obvious were very happy with the two consumer days the show provided. Randy Burch from Captain Obvious said what drew the company to the American Vapor Convention was all the vaping stores in the industry in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
“It’s huge. All the vendors that had signed up for this show are quality people,” he said.
Mandy Garcia from California-based OnPoint Liquids, said that the show was great.
“We’re from California, and I’ve been in the business for three years. I’m trying to get business from other states,” Garcia said.
Quinn Ferderber from Vapor Bank, said that while there were a lot of problems on day one due to flight delays, the company was at the show to “try to make ourselves big.”
“We launched about a year and a half ago in 2013; we heard it [the convention] was going to be awesome. Consumer days have been great,” he said.
Benson said that for the next show, there aren’t necessarily things that he wants to change, but rather wants to keep innovating. He and his team want to focus on different ways to network for the vendors and also find new ways to incorporate advocacy and education into the show’s programming.
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“We made a conscious effort to not do ‘cloud’ or ‘trick’ comps at our event—and while I believe there is a place for those events—we wanted to have a show that did more than just celebrate big clouds,” he said. “Artisan Vapor Company and The Vapor Bar both did major giveaways to new vapers, and for me it is very important that our event tries to remember that converting smokers to vaping is why we are all doing this.”
Benson said that while there were “plenty of unexpected things that happened,” he can’t say enough about the vendors, event staff and his partners in this venture, Sally Louise Crystal and “The Face Of Vape” himself Austin Hopper.
“Maybe it was just because it was a show that I was more involved with than usual, but I really felt there was a great camaraderie between everyone there to make it a great weekend,” he said.
For more information, visit http://www.americanvaporconvention.com/.