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Vaping Makes its Last Gasp at ASD Market Week While Drones Take Off

A bold push by the e-cigarette sector may fall foul of looming US legislation, according to exhibitors at ASD Market Week in Las Vegas, though drones, China-style teddy presentation bouquets and booze-concealing flasks may well fare better.

Photo: Customisable vaping equipment: On its last gasp?
Customisable vaping equipment: On its last gasp?
Photo: Customisable vaping equipment: On its last gasp?
Customisable vaping equipment: On its last gasp?

From drones to vaping juice, novelty items spanned just about every category of lifestyle accessories and general merchandise at this year's ASD Market Week, an event known for its low price points and wide selection. While the business of supplying products for impulse buys and gifts is seemingly alive and well, the distribution channels are clearly shifting. Anyone with internet access can now open an online store and bill themselves as a retailer. With Amazon offering fulfilment services, small online retailers are free to focus on finding unique products and building healthy margins, with many of them choosing ASD as their hunting ground.

It was a role the show was only too happy to fulfil. In line with the needs of this new generation of online entrepreneurs, the event offered an increased number of e-commerce strategy sessions, all specifically targetting first-time attendees. The move paid off with the show enjoying a 14% jump in buyer attendance and a 23% surge in VIP attendance. The fact that the show runs concurrently with Las Vegas Market Week – an event that hosts its own gift and novelty sections, but generally with a focus on higher price points – seemed to prove little of a distraction.

David Marks, a veteran exhibitor and the Founder and President of Illinois-based DM Merchandising, was just one of many adjusting to these new realities. He said: "The show has changed. There are a lot more international attendees and a lot more internet-based businesses. The emerging markets are starting to play a greater role and Latin America has become very important." When asked as to whether the Las Vegas Market event had had any negative effect on the buyer flow, he acknowledged that, while it's clearly becoming a competitor, "the real deals are here".

For many attendees, though, it wasn't just about price. Among the many bargains to be had, it was possible to uncover true gems – such as the Sippin' Scarf and Hair Spray Flask, invaluable accessories for when it comes to smuggling alcohol into sports and concert venues. This modern-day bootlegger's dream came courtesy of Gail Benson, Co-founder of California-based You Can Hide It.

Tiring of having to buy watered-down drinks at exorbitant prices, she and her sister, April, developed a line of beverage flasks made to look like everyday objects, including icepacks and bug sprays. Their new product launched at the show was a candy box flask, which – while looking like a cinema candy box – conceals five mini-flasks. Explaining its USP, Benson said: "It sounds like candy. It looks like candy. But it comes with a mini-funnel."

The Sippin' Scarf – an everyday scarf, except for the concealed pockets holding tiny flasks – has long been a favourite with both women and men. Explaining its appeal, Benson said: "At the entrances to events, most people don't get patted down their front. We offer different colours, so sports fans can mix and match for team spirit."

Over in the toysection, giant plush toys and costumes went largely ignored in favour of the new kid in town – the drone. According to Andy Chao, the Founder of Texas-based Cool City Trading, its top-selling item is now a toy quadrocopter – a miniature helicopter propelled by four rotors. He said: "It comes with a camera and Wi-Fi function so you can record video or even stream live. It represents 80% of our sales right now."

While a number of states have recently passed laws aimed at reining in the use of any unmanned aircraft likely to "invade privacy" – such as those taking photos or capturing video while flying over private property – the market seems unabashed. Indeed interest in using drones for personal entertainment – notably recording 'crazy' bike stunts – continues to grow.

Photo: Concealed candy from Squire Boone Village.
Concealed candy from Squire Boone Village.
Photo: Concealed candy from Squire Boone Village.
Concealed candy from Squire Boone Village.
Photo: A bouquet of teddies, China-style.
A bouquet of teddies, China-style.
Photo: A bouquet of teddies, China-style.
A bouquet of teddies, China-style.

Another controversial industry, seen as equally promising just a few years ago, secured a lot of floorspace at the event and even hosted its own awards. The Smoke + Vape section was lined with an array of colourful bottles of liquid nicotine and lighters with provocative designs. This saw attendees happily puff out clouds of water vapor as they sampled the latest flavours on offer – Strawberry Banana, Blue Pomegranate and something called Tiger's Blood.

Of late, vaping (inhaling vapor produced by electronic cigarettes or similar devices) has been billed as a healthier alternative to smoking in that it doesn't involve the production of any actual smoke. Its uptake has faltered somewhat more recently, however, with the US Food and Drug Administration expected to announce a ruling that would equate e-cigarettes with traditional cigarettes.

Whether it's on account of the upcoming legislation or the fact that vaping never really connected with the mainstream consumer, it seems as though the likelihood of any kind of boom may now be well and truly over. Commenting on the state of the sector, Blake Weller, Proprietor of Utah-based Vapor Blends, said: "Traffic is notably down in the vapor area. Vaping doesn't sell itself anymore. Now it's all about marketing as opposed to creating better products."

The only segment in this category that seems to have maintained momentum is that relating to modular units ("mod") and liquid nicotine ("juice"). These, however, are hardly cheap alternatives for the party-going crowd. The current price tag on a custom unit is around the US$200-300 mark.

Championing this particular sector, though, Weller said: "It's infinitely customisable for those people who like to refine the equipment and vape in their own way. Mod juice fits right in with that trend. It's thicker and produces lots of smoke and flavour. People buy it not just for its smoke content, but because it tastes really good."

Back in the non-smoking, more traditional part of the show, the most customary gift items – such as scarves and purses – continued to command the usual attention. One perennial favourite of many gift stores – colourful candy – wasn't going unnoticed either.

On the stand of Indiana-based Squire Boone Village, its line of sugary confections found an unlikely companion in fossilised cystoid geodes. At first glance, it was hard to imagine that these rough-looking, round-shaped rocks were actually concealing a hollow centre with a beautiful quartz deposit. The only way to find out for sure was to crack them open.

Explaining the appeal of the Earth Science Exploration product, Karen Dutton, the company's National Sales Manager, said: "It offers great interaction with kids at the store or at home. Our products sell very well in souvenir stores." Though planning for gift business during Christmas, the company was still accepting orders for immediate delivery before the end of the summer season, with Dutton saying: "This has been a very good year for us."

Across the aisle from the souvenirs, packaging supplies were also getting a fair degree of attention. Surrounded by ribbons and twines, Martha Estrada, the Sales Director of California-based Creative Ideas, said this year's trend had been for "natural looking style", with the material of choice being burlap. She said that while some buyers had selected it for its natural roughness and tannish colour, others sought out the best of both worlds with products that combined burlap with a number of embellishments, notably glitter and velvet designs.

If you were looking for the perfect bouquet to wrap with a burlap ribbon, it's hard to imagine a more romantic choice than a bunch of teddy bears. A concept that has been popular in Asia for some time, it is one that has finally made it to the US, hopefully soon taking root at neighbourhood florists and online flower deliveries. One particular advocate was Jenny Chan, the Owner of California-based UFindings, who maintained that many of the wholesalers at the show were clearly intrigued with the idea. She said: "It has been super popular in China and it's just starting here."

Photo: Colourful candy: A hardy perennial of US gift stores.
Colourful candy: A hardy perennial of US gift stores.
Photo: Colourful candy: A hardy perennial of US gift stores.
Colourful candy: A hardy perennial of US gift stores.

ASD Market Week took place from 2-5 August at the Las Vegas Convention Centre and featured more than 2,500 exhibitors.

Anna Huddleston, Special Correspondent, Las Vegas

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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