Opening the first shop one has an idea that in this particular place, at this particular time, there is an unmet need in the community. It is a good notion to have because from that starting point almost anything is possible. The products you put upon the shelves, the atmosphere you create through the presentation of those products, the dressing on the walls, the type of flooring and the lighting are all facets of an experience, for good or for ill, your customers have walking into your establishment. First impressions, as they say, count for a lot, but for most people it is the lasting impression – the one formed by the entirety of the experience – that matters most.

Whether any given proprietor fashions his store as a smoke shop, head shop, tobacco outlet, vape company or any other derivation thereof, the one constant he can be sure of is change. Maybe in times past it was not so much this way. A shop could be just what it was, selling the same items, the same sort of items, day in and out, year after year. I have never known such times but marvel in the simplicity of it and sometimes indulge in the fascination of living my grandfather’s life. Everything looks sweeter through the long lens. But this is not the world in which we live. We find ourselves barraged by the new and improved at every turn, and the things we recently took for granted prove time and again to be as fragile as whim and as vivacious as the mayfly.

But what does this have to do with vapor, sir?

It reminds me of the young boy wondering how on earth he could ever find a way to make a living to call his own. Perhaps he never really thought it completely possible. Though neither did the thought of the impossible particularly discourage the young boy. Which brings us to germane piece of this essay: namely, that success and mediocrity are each likely candidates in their own rights. The future belongs not to the spent; so, if one wants to enjoy a splendid garden in the future, and not just in the moment, as it were, he should employ the assistance of those younger to cultivate the going today.

It is not enough to simply offer vapor products.

One may say: Vapor products are hot right now, I had better get some in my store. And one will sell some vapor products. Selling some vapor products in an expanding market is not so difficult. How about selling a lot of them? Herein lies the interesting bits. Five years ago the vape market was a pretty easy place to get around in. There were customers looking for an alternative to tobacco and there were a limited number of items to sell them. The tobacco shop owners, and perhaps to a somewhat larger degree the head shop owners of the time, those who were forward-thinking, began to accommodate this burgeoning market. It was easy enough, a little extra revenue and some new customers. Happy day. Over the past five years the pace of acceleration has increased, rather geometrically. A few years ago in the United States young turks began making mods in their garages and selling them through online forums. After a little more time shops started springing up that sold no tobacco, no pipes, no hookah, no glass of any sort. They called themselves Vape Shops. All they wanted to do was sell vape: devices, tanks, accessories and liquids (usually containing nicotine) to this burgeoning market of vape geeks. And then the geeks began to take over, and they now easily represent half the growth of the market. They don’t so much want to get away from tobacco, they want to blow clouds, man!

It took many of us by surprise. You see we had become accustomed to thinking that vape is a great way to get away from cigarettes – and far more profitable than selling those! From where we were standing, having been mavericks in our own rights, entering a new market and convinced we knew what was happening, it looked as though a bunch of nutters, no doubt in California, were commandeering the vape train and pointing it down a whole new line of track. What the hell?

They started crafting RDAs – rebuildable dripping atomizers – and building their own coils made of Kanthal on them. The clouds were huge and the buzz deafening. China started cloning their RDAs and mods almost as soon as they could release them to the public themselves. Insanity. Many of us just hoped they would go away. That was a mistake. They began selling juice in glass bottles because plastic bottles were too… er, pedestrian. And customers shelled out a spiffy premium for these “craft” liquids. The ejuice market was changing. It was changing in a significant way.

And that is the point to be made. If you are not listening to the twenty-three year olds, you are letting the boat sail right by you. If you want to make a lasting impression, you had better be offering premium hardware and liquids. There are a lot of talented vendors out there. You should be doing your purchasing from several. Maybe your business is in an area where folks are of modest means, they don’t want to drop a bunch of money on stuff. But guess what, if you are showing them the starter kits and some mid-range items, and then you show them some of the best stuff, some of them are going to want the best stuff. Because it’s the best. It’s not the cheapest, it is the best stuff being made today by entrepreneurs in the U.S., Germany, Greece, the Philippines and other places across the globe that might not be called China. And by the way, the Chinese are stepping up their game too. I mean, who does not want to tell their friends they just got this awesome, hard-to-find piece of kit from ______________. SSA

Tim Roche Headshot PhotoTim Roche founded HotVapes in January of 2010 to serve tobacco and head shops, and later vape shops, across the U.S.  HotVapes has two retail locations and remains committed to helping its wholesale and distribution customers stay on top of market trends. He can be reached at 775.468.8273, or [email protected], or visit their website at www.hotvapes.com.