How did eCig Distributors get started?
It all started in 2012, at a small vape shop in Orange County, California. My partner, Paul Davey, had just opened The Vapor Loft. At the time, it was the third vape shop in all of Southern California.
Prior to opening his shop, Paul had been a pack a day smoker for more than 20 years. That all changed after he was introduced to electronic cigarettes. In a short amount of time, using nothing more than his e-cigarette device, Paul was able to quit smoking cold turkey. At the time he quit smoking, he was managing a large facility for a pharmaceutical manufacturer. Paul’s co-workers saw that he successfully quit smoking cigarettes by switching to vaping. They were desperate to get their hands on these devices as well. Then, about a year after switching to vaping and encouraging a handful of others to make the switch, Paul thought it would be a good idea to open a vape shop – and he was right.
The store was an immediate success. Shortly after opening his doors, he was able to quit his day job to focus 100% of his efforts on his shop. The business continued to grow and additional locations were opened, he quickly realized there was a need for a strong domestic supply chain for these products. Paul and I had been friends for a while and he knew I had an extensive background in entrepreneurship. He reached out to me to help him solve some of the growing pains he was experiencing and to get the store running as efficiently as possible.
By the end of 2012, we both realized the disruptive effect vaping was having on the analog cigarette model. We decided to put together a really simple website to determine just how big the demand was for these products. Back then, there were very few vape shops and the industry was relatively new.
In 2013, the business started to see really significant growth. Originally, we were operating primarily as a traditional brick-and-mortar shop for local, end-consumers, that was secondarily engaged in distribution to other shops near and far. We were able to purchase hardware and E-liquid products and turn them around quickly. It didn’t take long for it to become abundantly clear that once people were educated on how to vape properly, the business could shift to an e-commerce model rather easily.
We purchased a few domains in an effort to build a, non-branded, little amazon-esque website for E-liquid. Our “little” website grew rapidly to offer over 100 brands. That’s when we began getting phone calls from all over the world. We quickly became known for having one of the largest selections of E-liquid anywhere. These callers wanted to buy everything we had at wholesale rates, but at the time we were buying everything at wholesale rates and selling it at retail. We were, and still are, self-funded and have never had any investors, so when Paul and I realized just how expensive this endeavor was going to be we thought it would be best to find an efficient way to connect brands to wholesale buyers. We ultimately came up with ejuices.co. From these origins, ejuices.co now takes everything that we sell on our retail websites, and make those same products available for wholesale purchase. Today, this amounts to over 2,200 E-liquid brands and more than 100 hardware brands which are currently being shipped to customers worldwide.
What makes eCig Distributors stand out in such a competitive industry?
Hands down, our data. Our collective data is really unique because we have been selling B2B and B2C since 2013. A big part of our value proposition, because we digitized very early on, is that we have consumer and wholesale behavior data since we began. Today, with our data warehouse, we can plug in a zip code and tell you what the bestselling products are in that area. From a shop’s perspective, this is extremely valuable in that we are a totally unbiased, third-party data source. Since we don’t sell our own brands, we are able to treat all brands equally. Also, because we have so many brands listed on our websites, we are able to aggregate that data and provide some unbeatable data metrics.
Above and beyond that, there are many different problems that our industry is currently facing. Our mantra is to help solve these problems through the use of our technology, our data, and our people. One common problem is how much product a shop can physically stock. A typical shop may be limited to stocking only 40 or 50 brands due to capital restraints or space limitations. For this reason, we created poweredbyejuices.com which allows store owners to use any web enabled device to take an in-store order from a customer for products they don’t physically stock. This product will then ship from our warehouse, white labeled with their vape shop branding. Each sale earns the shop a commission and they retain a satisfied customer. It’s a great way for stores to earn incremental revenue from sales they would have lost without any inventory risk.
What is your favorite thing about working in this industry?
My favorite part about working in this industry is that we get to solve a lot of very big problems. Not just from a technology perspective, but additionally because we are at a unique place in history where we are seeing a 100+ year old industry, in terms of nicotine consumption, get completely disrupted. I love being a part of this change and it’s motivating to hear from our retail customers online as well as our wholesalers about the physical, financial, and emotional impacts of this new industry.
Considering that we have been operating in the industry since the beginning, it has been really cool to see everything change and continue to improve. We have the mantra here that people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. For us, the “Why we do it” is an easy answer. Paul literally changed his life by switching from cigarettes to vaping. I too used to be a heavy social smoker and was able to quit with vaping. We are both driven by a passion to help others do the same.
Seeing all the positive impacts vaping has had on so many people over the years we have been in this business is what constantly motivates us to put in crazy hours to make the industry better every chance we get.
What do you feel has been the most important factor in your success?
Customer service has to be the priority. I like to say … my employees don’t work for me, they work for our customers. We always knew that if we developed a loyal customer base, success would follow. In fact, we created a dedicated customer service team before we even had an in-house sales team. That illustrates just how important customer service is in this industry.
While the industry has changed over the last few years, and sometimes overnight, we have had the ability to stay nimble and adapt to the changing marketplace. This type of flexibility has allowed us to continue to offer our customers an excellent purchasing experience backed up with top-notch customer service.
Looking forward to the future, what are you most excited about moving forward?
Now that there are some truly mass-market products out there – by mass-market, I mean something that grandma can put in her purse and be comfortable with – I’m looking forward to what’s next. When things like that happen, the stigma around vaping starts to wane and people start to fully recognize, regardless of what is being said in the media, that this really is a great harm reduction product with the potential to change the future of nicotine delivery.
To further that, a lot of the real information that is coming out in terms of the use of vaping devices to quit smoking is getting more prevalent. We are starting to see real evidence and real studies that have several years of data and are empirical – I find that very exciting.
Do you have any advice for other business owners in this industry that might be struggling?
We have a saying here, “you don’t run out of resources, you just run out of resourcefulness.” For us it has always been about creating tools to help other stakeholders solve problems. Whether it’s our PoweredBy setup or using our data to make more intelligent purchasing decisions at the wholesale level, there are a lot of resources out there if you know where to go and how to find them. So, as a business owner, you need to make sure you are staying up to date on what tools are out there and make use of the resources available to make your business the best it can be. Each day is an opportunity for improvement.
Additionally, vape shops shouldn’t just stock the items you like. People used to come into our shop and ask what my favorite flavor was and then make a purchase based on my personal preferences. I would always tell them, “I don’t like Diet Coke but I wish I owned it.” Use real market data to drive your business and make more intelligent purchasing decisions, Try to forget your personal preferences. SVBS