Ernie McIlquham is the President of Worlds Finest Vapors. He is responsible for overseeing all business, operations, strategy development and revenue growth across all divisions of the company. While at DENSO (Global Automotive Components Manufacturer) he developed an unparalleled understanding of global scale manufacturing which he brings to all facets of a standardized world class vapor liquids company. Contact him at 310.212.3111, [email protected], or visit www.worldsfinestvapors.com.
Can you start out by giving me the history of how Worlds Finest Vapors® got started?
In 2009, we saw an opportunity to help people quit smoking cigarettes. Something myself, friends, family and others close to me had battled with for a long time. We saw the advent of a revolution that would finally address one of the largest issues (smoking) that affects so many people worldwide. Cigarette smoking kills the smoker silently. It starts with serious illnesses and is slowly followed by death. An experience I am personally familiar with given that my wife’s father passed from lung cancer.
To be part of a solution, an alternative, an answer – to this thing that is so much bigger than all of us, I thought what an opportunity! An opportunity to reduce harm and help people get off of this path that leads to destruction.
We originally worked with China to develop one of the first cartridge box units that featured an intuitive charging mechanism and microchip controls. It had 5 cartridges and was the size of a cigarette pack. However, the vapor liquid flavors and nicotine options were severely not up to our standards, nor was there any real quality control. Even though there was no “vapor industry” standard for quality at that time, I knew (from my professional experience) that everything could be done so much better. In addition, this process exposed us to the really scary side of the Chinese manufacturing process to include their very serious air pollution issues. You can actually smell the pollution. Your eyes itch, you cough. This was in 2009; I can’t imagine what it’s like over there today.
We OEM’d this product for a few brands, but honestly, we were not passionate about it. It bothered us more and more everyday how we were underserving our customers with inferior products.
It became very clear that if our goal was harm reduction and helping people, we had to remove the overseas element completely. As a Veteran, it was important to be 100% USA made. Due to the lack of hardware manufacturing availability/costs to build hardware in the USA, we quickly shifted focus to vapor liquids research and development. We figured out how we can do this with integrity, pride and above all with the highest of quality and standards. We decided to forego the incredible margins in exchange for the ability to focus on doing the right thing for our customers; we shut down the overseas operation and have not looked back.
When you are a 100% USA made company it’s not the cheapest way to do business, but in our opinion, it’s the only way to do business. We’ve eliminated potential safety issues and we are supporting our USA economy exclusively. Add to this that our customers and vendors alike love our all natural flavors, consistency, and product quality. It becomes easy to see where the passion and satisfaction that we all experience on a daily basis comes from. We know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are absolutely doing things right and at a great value to our customers.
The original goal of actually helping people is accomplished every day.
How did you personally become to get involved in this industry?
To answer this it may be best to shed light on the relative professional experience parts of my story.
I served our Country in the United States Marine Corps from 1991 to 1998. I travelled the globe and was responsible for many people (civilian and military) as well as very expensive and powerful technology. Being responsible for my actions and the actions of others can change you forever.
Upon completion of Military service I was an Associate Engineer for a global automotive components manufacturer with focus on wireless systems (RF) research & development. I got to be part of giant scale manufacturing first hand. The type of manufacturing where products required FCC approvals. Where multiple 100000+ square foot facilities, white gloves/hats, lab coats, clean rooms and a bunch of really smart people were required. In addition, if a mistake was made, a $20M fine could be imposed and very expensive product recalls could be ordered. I worked on a lot of really cool things and products that most people are familiar with. I enjoyed every single minute of it.
My current role is an accumulation of all of my experiences as a whole.
What is your favorite thing about what you do?
Being part of this solution, alternative, answer to quitting smoking is really one of the most fulfilling things I have done with my life and that sentiment is shared by every single person on our team. To be able to help people while maintaining integrity, honor, courage and commitment is really just contagious and very exciting.
What is the most challenging aspect of your career?
Understanding all sides of this industry and knowing exactly what takes place behind the scenes makes it hard to watch what a lot of other companies are doing. My integrity wouldn’t let me sleep at night back in 2009; I can’t imagine how I would feel if we kept going in that old direction simply focused on margins. This whole industry has the ability to change lives forever and unfortunately, not everyone sees it that way. Blazing a trail that doesn’t exist has been a lot more challenging than simply following the many paths of least resistance.
How do you set personal goals for yourself? What is the process like?
I end every day with a list of things to start the next day with. This helps keep things mostly organized. As an entrepreneur, there are constant thoughts and ideas. I’m fortunate enough to have a select few people that I trust to bounce things off of. If something makes it past the initial presentation phase, then I know it’s worth looking more into. However, there is always the issue of time or the lack thereof to execute on some of these great ideas. We’ve got a few things simmering right now that we are pretty excited about. As far as myself personally, I’m just like everyone else; stuck in the office, work too much, not enough exercise and haven’t had a vacation in many years.
Why have you stayed in this industry for so many years?
As a leading company in this business, that comes with a level of responsibility. We often think to ourselves, given the lack of quality options available what would our customers do if we were not here? What would we have done as former smokers (and consumers of our own products) without our level of purity and quality? If you really study the science of our products you would understand that there are truly only a handful of companies that share the same vision. Simply put, we stay because we have built a great company and our customers need us.
What do you feel has been the most important factor in your success?
We literally have something for everybody. Every single item is premium class and 100% USA made. We have customers that have been with us for many years and new customers that plan to stay with us for just as long. When you consider that we have a solution for every stage of the cycle a former cigarette smoker needs to successfully never smoke a cigarette again, there is no reason for someone to leave us. Vapers that have never smoked cigarettes feel the same.
Worlds Finest Vapors ® is our core line with over 70 flavors in 7 nicotine levels. Our Master Chef Collection is our max VG line with luxurious 5 star restaurant flavor profiles inspired by World Class Master Chefs. Finally, VaporCeuticals ® are vapor juice supplements developed smarter and in response to popular demand for vapor liquid supplements done properly.
What are you most proud of so far in your career?
In terms of the vapor liquids industry, we have helped a lot of people, and nobody has been hurt along the way. The customer stories that we hear via email and phone are really very touching. Even on the busiest of days, a customer review/success story can put everything right back into perspective! One story that I will never forget is “With your products I was successful in quitting smoking. Not only have you saved my life, but I was able to save enough money to give my little daughter a long overdue and the best birthday party she has ever had”. See what I mean? This whole thing is really bigger than just cutting corners, increasing margins and simply making the most money possible.
Looking forward to the future, what are you most excited about? What are you most concerned about?
I am most concerned with the current FDA predicate date and big tobacco’s abilities/influence. I strongly agree that things absolutely need to be cleaned up as a whole, but if small business is not allowed to compete then a basis of consumer protection is removed. In addition, removing competition also takes away the incentive for progress within the industry.
Do you have any advice for other business owners in this industry that might be struggling?
I’ve operated on one simple motto; nobody has to lose for me to win.