How did you get into the vapor industry?
I define myself as a ‘highly unemployable entrepreneur’ because for most of my career, I have been a very poor employee. I always wanted to sail my own ship, and this industry gave me the chance to do so. I was in the real estate business for decades – until the 2008 recession hit – and that destroyed my 30 year career as well as the careers of many others.
Over the next five years, I was a partner in a company that specialized in business startups, business acceleration, and business workshops. We worked with over 800 different businesses after the recession and helped them to recover from the devastation. In 2013, I started writing for the local newspaper here in Newport Beach, California as well.
One afternoon I walked past a mysterious shop, did a double take and walked in and find out for myself what the hell a vape shop was. I had never heard of vaping and I was not a smoker, but after talking to the owner, I realized the vapor industry was on a very fast growth curve and was mostly run by Millennials. As a Baby Boomer who specializes in mentoring Millennials, I knew I could make a big impact in the industry. I decided to position myself as a speaker at a vapor event that was coming up near me and with that I started my company.
When I started I really didn’t know anything about vaping, but I did understand Business 101 and how to effectively communicate with my clients. Now, five years later, VapeMentors is the largest vape specific consulting company in the world, and I have written for magazines and newspapers, developed online programs, host a radio show, and authored a book.
For me, getting into this industry didn’t happen fast, but it did happen very organically. As the dominos began to fall, I made sure I never missed an opportunity to grow my business.
What services does VapeMentors offer?
VapeMentors started as a one-on-one consulting company, mostly remote, because many of my clients were not in my neighborhood. When I first started, I assumed most of them would be here in Southern California, but it did not work out that way. Thanks to phones and video conferencing, the business was able to grow internationally.
I partnered up with another gentleman, Jesse Plautz, (a Millennial) and we developed an online program called VapeU. It is a six-part program designed to teach our clients how to start and grow a vape business. We developed three additional programs over the next few years. He has been an integral part of VapeMentors and handles the things I am not as good at, like social media and online marketing.
Today, VapeMentors offers online programs and one-on-one consulting. Our proudest course is called Vape Shop Certification. It’s a turn-key employee training program that allows vape shops to train new employees in less than one business day. We have formed great relationships and collaborated with many people over the years. We have positioned ourselves in a way that allows us to form lasting relationship with people and business throughout the industry without taking sides or getting involved in drama. We support the industry and everyone in it that wants to grow and succeed.
What is your favorite part about working in this industry?
I love coaching someone who is willing to listen and learn. Some are easier to work with than others, so when I cross paths with someone who has an open mind and an open heart who is willing to receive guidance, that makes me really happy. I’m a pretty emotional guy, so it gives me a lot of internal satisfaction to know that I am truly helping my clients avoid some of the failures that others, including myself, have made business-wise.
How do you set personal goals for yourself?
I try to keep myself busy. We always joke that I ‘climb down a lot of rabbit holes.’ Sometimes they go nowhere and sometimes they go to amazing places. I’ll see something that interests me and I pursue it. For instance, we just formed a partnership with Intellicheck, which is the pre-eminent age verification company around. We have formed a lot of partnerships with many different kinds of people. When I find those that are liked-minded and are more interested in collaboration than competition, I reach out to them to see how we can work together. My goal is to find companies and people to work with who want to take one and one and make eleven, not two, and become more powerful together.
I love when I encounter someone who is willing to share and receive and become stronger by joining forces.
What do you feel has been the most important factor in the success you’ve found?
Staying away from drama and staying unbiased. Which means that we don’t support any one particular liquid or hardware manufacturer over another. I jokingly say that we play with everyone. We support everyone in the industry and don’t align ourselves with any specific company that we feel could be a distaste to someone else.
Looking forward to the future, what are you most excited about?
This is the most dynamic industry and business I have ever been involved with over the last 40 years. You can never plan too far in advance, so for the last several years I have been a huge advocate of vape shops diversifying into other areas. One of the biggest areas I support is the CBD industry. CBD has been growing for the last few years and I am excited to see it become a bigger part of the industry and my business as well.
I am also in the process of moving overseas to Spain. We are opening an office there to help US companies get a better foothold in Europe and European companies get a better foothold in the United States. I want to be a conduit between the two continents. It’s an exciting step for the business.
Do you have any advice for other businesses in the industry that may be struggling? Go to words of wisdom?
The biggest reason businesses fail is because of ego. Many times they fail because owners don’t acknowledge when things are not working. Just because you have always done something a certain way, does not mean that it is the only way or the best way. My advice is to be willing to accept when things are not working, be willing to look for alternative solutions, be willing to look for outside help, and be open to change even if it is uncomfortable for you. Sometimes we get attached to our own bad ideas just because they are ours, but it is better for the business to look into alternative solutions that maybe you didn’t think of or initially support. VapeMentors has revised directions many times since we started in 2013.
Always monitor the market and your business. Survey your customers and try to find that niche that may be lacking – there is always room for improvement. SVBS