“The vaping industry is not for wimps,” says Norm Bour in an article that appeared in Vape News.
Retailers might have been able to succeed without a solid business plan a few years ago, but that’s not the case today. As Norm points out, shops are closing and lots of excuses are flying around, but it’s important to address the real reasons for their demise.
According to Jim Root, president of The Vapor Association, “Stores are closing, not due to saturation, but because of bad business practices.” Root discovered this truth after visiting vape shops across the country to gain valuable information, as well as a deeper understanding of retailers and the issues facing brick and mortar shops.
“It’s easy to blame competition,” Root said, “But we don’t hear Pepsi complaining about competition from Coke, do we?”
Here’s What Successful Vape Shops Are Doing
Noteworthy shops across the country are doing well in the competitive vape space because they’ve managed to discover and capitalize on a unique niche.
For example, Smoke Alternative in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is a shop just for beginners. Instead of mods and high-end devices, they focus on starter kits and e-liquids—loads of them! Their primary goal is to help cigarette smokers make the switch to vape, and they’re absolutely crushing it.
The Art of Vape, on the other hand, provides Charlotte, North Carolina, with only high-end mods and high-quality e-liquids. There are no starter kits and no beginners. This is a place for vape aficionados only. The 2000 square-foot shop also converts to a lounge on weekends.
Near Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., RU Vaping is a great example of customer service enhanced by technology. Using an ultrasound machine, they clean every mod and RDA they service. Additionally, they offer same day delivery and curbside pickup. Clearly, this shop’s focus is to go well beyond normal customer service.
Instead of going too broad with their store’s products and trying to be the best at everything, these shops are succeeding by specializing in a particular aspect of the vape industry. This, in turn, helps them stand out against the competition and attract shoppers who are ready to buy.
3 Key Things Vape Shops Should Focus On
In addition to choosing a niche, Norm Bour mentions three things that vape shops must get right in order to succeed:
1. Customer Service
“Customer acquisition, service and retention are paramount in the vaping industry, since we’re helping people switch from an insidious habit and teaching them how to use these new devices,” says Bour.
In a VapeMentor’s article, Bour stated, “I find that customer service is lacking in many shops.” He attributed this lack of service to three key things:
- Lack of training
- Hiring the wrong people
- Not understanding customer needs
He goes on to say that anyone who works in a vape shop must be trained on how to greet customers and build relationships with new customers. This includes speaking at the level of the customer and not cramming loads of knowledge down their throats.
Additionally, vape shop owners should keep in mind that customer service starts the minute the shopper enters the store and continues throughout the sales process. Furthermore, follow-up after the purchase should be the first step in their customer retention strategy.
2. Sufficient Inventory
Many vape shops close due to lack of inventory or imprudent product selection. Potential shop owners should do their research, attend trade shows and ask industry experts about the best places to acquire inventory, and the best products to carry. Shop owners currently struggling can get help from companies like VapeMentors that coach store owners and make recommendations on distributors to work with.
Vaping Daily suggests purchasing inventory from verified wholesale distributors such as Direct Vapor, where they carry an extensive selection of hardware and vape juice lines.
Another good idea is for shop owners to invest in a Cloud-based POS & E-commerce system. Why? Not only does it aid in the easy management of inventory, vendors, and purchase orders, but it will also notify shop owners when their vape products are low. Additionally, when customers search Google to see which vape stores have an instrument or vape juice they want to buy, they can see where it’s in stock in real time, because inventory is always up to date in-store and online.
3. Appropriate Branding & Positioning
“In the eyes of the public, every vape shop is the same,” says Norm Bour. That’s why it’s so important for vape companies to not only have a unique niche but to make sure they convey that specialty to their audience. As Ad Age points out, brands run into trouble when they fail to communicate a distinctive point of difference.
While branding is the process of building a brand, positioning involves putting that brand in the mind. There can be no branding without positioning.
For vape shops, differentiating their company in the mind of their prospects is what will help them attract more customers—and not just more customers, but the right customers!
Despite the escalated growth of vape stores (from about 1000- 2000 in 2013 to over 6000—possibly 8000—in the years since), this growth is slowing down, suggests Norm Bour.
Not unlike other brick and mortar stores that have experienced a drop over the past few years, vape stores will not be immune to the challenges of staying relevant in the midst of a competitive market.
But as Jim Root pointed out earlier, the cause of collapse can’t be blamed on competition. Bad business practices are plaguing the vape industry and for those store owners willing to listen and learn, a sustainable and profitable business will be the reward.
Why Does The Vapor Gypsy Use Rain?
“We use Rain Retail because it brings our POS, our Marketing, and our Website all into one central place.” ~Leslie Dean, Owner, The Vapor Gypsy
Also published on Medium.