You’ve finally done it. You’ve built up the capital, you have investors lined up, you have made connections in the industry after attending conventions, you have suppliers – all the standard aspects of a business model you need are in place. Years of reading Business For Dummies, mind-numbingly dull college courses and endless re-watchings of the Alec Baldwin monologue from Glengarry Glen Ross are about to pay off. Maybe you took out a second mortgage on your house, maybe a first. Maybe you fancy yourself the entreprenuer and are looking to expand into a newo market.
But it’s time to hit while the fire is hot, and vaping, both in technology and popularity, is a niche that hasn’t been bled dry. As long as there’ll be smokers, there’ll be a need for a vape shop. But you want yours to be dynamic; a cool, lounge-y feel, like a coffee house for Seattle hipsters in the early 90s. The question is just how successful you can be. Fortunately, you aren’t the first vape shop around. That question has been largely answered by both success and failure stories of others in the industry. Through trial and error, people learned the hard way and as Jeff Goldblum says in Jurassic Park, “you’re [standing] on the shoulders of geniuses and you-you took the next step.” But be wary, because you and your business partners were so caught up in whether or not they could that they never stopped to think if they should. You – you want a patent it and slap it on a plastic lunch box and now (*slams fist on table*) you’re selling it, you want to sell it.
Too many businesses – and their owners – have fallen victim to chaos theory.
Learn from them, don’t become them. Here are some surefire ways to successfully open your own vape shop.
How to finance 101
As vaping is still a relatively new market, typical bank loans tend to put you in the high-risk category and charge exorbitant interest rates. It’s better the connect with like-minded venture capitalists. This is where your abilities as a salesman come in handy. Present yourself as a pioneer, on the cutting edge of the industry. Know what you’re selling, speak enthusiastically but also practically. You don’t want to sound like a wild-eyed idealist, but an educated, well-informed industry insider. VC’s love nothing more than believing they’ve come across the Next Big Thing.
Location is everything
Vape shops don’t really require a great deal of square footage and virtually no furniture – just a well-stocked series of shelves from which customers can sample and/or smell a flavour before making their purchase. Ideally, 500 to 1500 square feet is pretty much all you need. A small shop is going to run around £25,000, a large will be double that. Adjust accordingly.The space doesn’t need to be large, but it does require a certain amout of visibility. You’re always going to have customers who seek you out, but there’s value and revenue in even the most modest amount of foot traffic.
Know your enemy
When searching for a location, be sure and know the area and your chief competition. There’s a toon Macy’s outlasted Gimbel’s. Research what they offer and ask what you have that they don’t. There’s only one company that gets away with opening near competitors and even itself. It’s a little known place called Starbucks, and you aren’t in the coffee business.
Make it pretty
Remember, the cheaper the better, as you’re going to want to invest most of your capital in product. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make it look charming. Most vape shops this writer has been to consist of a counter, a register and the aforementioned shelves. This is where decor can play a major role. With such an open space, you can treat it much like an art exhibit. Select the wall art carefully. Hemp shops are often designed like their customers: overstuffed, cluttered and full of Bob Marely posters. Vapers don’t have a Bob Marley, but a nice, understated centrepiece can do wonders. Hemp shop is like a beer store. Vape shops can aspire to be more like a winery – tasteful, with a hint of culture – without alienation.
Finding suppliers is a fairly simple concept, but it’s crucial. Any competend business lives of dies with it’s product, and suppliers like Vapelux only sell the best material on the market. But how do you find them? There are convention means, but trade shows and conventions are ideal. Every vape festival has a few days blocked off specifically for buyers and suppliers to make connections. Keep your options open, but also be wary. The vape industry is still a bit like the wild west, and there are plenty of snake oil salesman cutting costs by selling fake e-cigs or inferior product. Avoid no-name overseas manufacturing companies, as you’re likely dealing in counterfeit. If you want to take the risk on a product that’s “just like the real thing”, that’s up to you.
Accidents are bound to happen when electronics are involved. Ideally, you want to only stock your inventory with top of the line technology, but there are always going to be aspects beyond your control. Think of insurance in the market like housing insurance for those who live in Florida – you’re bound to get hit by a hurricane. How fast and easily you can recoup your losses will depend on just how well-insured you are. Another way to insure your business is to keep a read on medical and consumer reports. Scientists have said they’re decades away from having concrete data on the long term health risks of vaping, but a breakthrough could happen at any time. As science goes, so too will the market.
Hiring the right employees can make of break a business. If you walked into a cigar shop, you want the retailer to have knowledge of cigars. In a wine store, a sommolier should be on hand to guide you to a desired brand or country and speak intelligently on the matter. Vape shop employees should display the same amount of knowledge. When hiring, make sure they aren’t just another body behind the cash machine. Job interviews can actually be fun when both parties like what they do. Make it casual, convesational. Ask them what their favourite brands and flavours are and why. If you like their attitude and appreciate input, the employee/employer relationship will go much more smoothly.
Since vaping is appealing to younger generations, this should be a no-brainer. Any good business knows how important social media is to promote your brand and product. The question is what kind of voice you want your brand to have. Maybe you want to go after cloud chasers aggresively. At the bare minimum, have a facebook page. It’s the new, digital business card.
Some of these may seem like Mad Magazine’s Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions, but you’d be surprised how easily business owners lose track of what made others in the industry successful. The best advice: let your mind guide you financially and your heart guide you commercially.