With over 4 years of experience in the vape industry I have seen it all; from back-room bathtub e-liquid filling in vape shops, to mega warehouses and pharmaceutical grade manufacturing equipment; I have seen thousands of smoke shops and spoken to thousands of owners, but what I witnessed on my most recent sales trip Southern California blew me away.

The short story; while on a 15 day sales trip to the Sunshine State I was able to visit just under 150 smoke and vape shops. For every successful, well maintained, clean smoke shop or vape only store, there were two more that had no clue what the market was doing around them. For some, the boom of vaporizers, e-liquids, and dab related products was just the opportunity they were longing to take advantage of. Yet for others, these emerging markets seemed so foreign and new that they decided to not participate—at all—hoping instead that that their dwindling customer base would somehow magically return to buy the old and outdated products that remained on their shelves.

The dramatic differences between these two types of owners got me thinking a lot about what it takes to stay ahead of the ever changing counter culture marketplace, and the adaptation required to understand customer purchasing habits. It is not enough to simply offer one option any more. With the proliferation of competition emerging in the counter culture one needs to keep up to date on customer trends as well as have a wary eye for what I lovingly call “bulls*** product category placeholders.” In countless smoke shops I’ve seen this “BS” from products like vapes to e-liquids, to glass and dab set ups. Let me explain what I mean here, a “BS” product category place holder is any product that fills a certain category in your smoke shop, that doesn’t really do what you think its doing. A good analogy is to think of it in terms of the product category of cigarettes. For example, you are only offering Marlboro Reds as the only cigarettes you have to sell to your customers, are you really offering what your customers want? You have cigarettes, right? Or are you merely offering your customers a “BS” product placeholder. An illusion built into the mind, where you are convinced that you are offering what you think your customers want, but in reality you’ve missed the market entirely. If you only offer Marlboro Reds, where are all your menthol customers going? What about your Camel customers?

Let’s examine the most common formation of the problem facing these struggling shops in just one product category, e-liquid. If you find yourself struggling in e-liquid sales and cannot seem to pinpoint why your competitors are still driving traffic to their shops, simply take a look at your e-liquid selection and presentation. Take a long, hard look. Do you only offer two or three poorly labeled inexpensive brands in a couple of nicotine strengths? Are they all priced to move, yet somehow tend to be fixed to the shelf? Is the display cases presenting your e-liquid selection hard to access, in the sun, or tucked into the darkest corner of your shop next to the rest of the items that you almost want to pay customers to walk away with. From the beginning have you set up your e-liquids to fail?

If you happen to find yourself in this position, remember, it’s not too late to make a change. First things first, take some time to figure out what is happening in the market. This means getting online and seeing what actual customers are saying about the brands they like. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit, and Instagram are excellent sources for discovering what is trending for a variety of products offered in the counter culture. Search the hashtags and take notes as to what pops up most frequently. Next, reexamine the presentation of the products in your shop. Ask yourself, “If I was a shopper would I want to shop here.” Be honest with yourself; if the answer is anything other than yes, then you have some work to do. Present your product as best you can and allow your customers to see them the way they were meant to be seen. If your product variation is terrible, then it’s time to make some purchases. Phase out the outdated and step into the current marketplace.

Remember, because of social media, your customers are able to stay up to date with what products they want like never before. They are checking Facebook, following their favorite brands, talking to their friends and tweeting about what they are interested in. As the owner or manager of a smoke shop or vape store, it is your responsibility to provide what your customers want. The hard, yet simple truth of the matter is that if you are not providing and presenting to your customers the products they want, then they will go elsewhere to find them. As with the example of e-Liquids above, it simply isn’t enough to offer one or two poorly labeled, inexpensive brands that are tucked into the darkest recess of the shop and hope they sell. Customers don’t want that “BS” and you don’t want to lose your customers. So follow what they follow, and offer what they want to buy.

So here is some final advice. Get online, create some social media accounts and Get out of the 80’s and step into 2015 and the business of tomorrow. SSA

James Deighan Headshot PhotoAbout the Author:
James Deighan is Director of Marketing with JJuice LLC. Mr. Deighan has over 4 years of experience directly involved in the vape industry and 2 years as acting director of marketing for JJuice LLC. Prior that that, he had 4 years of business experience in Sales, Marketing, and Strategy at Qivana LLC.  He can be reached at 801-331-8919, or by email at [email protected] or visit his website at www.vapejjuice.com.