After finding himself wildly dissapointed upon a visiting a competitors store, Troy LeBlanc set out on a mission to take vapor shops to the next level. Along the way, he started his own juice company which eventually evolved into OPMH Distribution. His involvement in the industry doesn’t stop there, Troy also founded the Louisville Vape Society and Kentucky Smoke Free Association.
How did you get into the smoke industry?
I went into a competitors store one day, and they exhibited extremely poor customer service. I was already a little agitated that day – which didn’t help, but after having a subpar experience in the store I walked out knowing I could do it better. I knew how I was treated in the store that day was wrong and I knew if I got into this industry I could do it ten times better than my competition.
A big part of this industry is customer service and your success is directly related to how you treat people. So I went home and started doing research to find out what else I could do to further my success in this industry. In my research, I found that there were in fact profits to be made and I began ordering products. I eventually evolved all of this into Derb E-Cigs.
What makes Derb E-Cigs stand out from competitors?
In addition to our customer service, Derb E-Cigs has an unbeatable selection. We have a very dynamic offering of products and we use our customers to determine what we carry. We really pay attention to our customers, listen to the market, and stay ahead of trends. Our customers are a huge asset when it comes to deciding what to carry.
After Derb E-Cigs was established, you also started your own distribution company. What drove you to expand your business?
When I got into this industry, I quickly realized just how much money we were spending with our wholesalers and I began looking for ways to potentially offset some of those costs by buying from ourselves. We then began to research what it was that people were looking for when it came to flavors and what exactly they needed. What we found is that we knew we could come out with great flavors that people really enjoyed and that’s when we started OPMH Distribution – which was just a juice company. That company spiral pretty quickly into something much bigger and became a full distribution company.
As a co-founder of the Kentucky Smoke Free Association, what drove you to start this organization?
With all the new legislation coming into the market, we felt that instead of having all the shops work against each other, that we should come together and pool our resources. Out of this idea of getting everyone to work together, we formed the Kentucky Smoke Free Association.
The KSFA is consumer advocacy group and trade organization with a focus on Tobacco Harm Reduction (THR) through the use of personal vaporizers (electronic cigarettes) and other smokeless tobacco products shown to reduce the morbidity and mortality associated with smoking.
We focus on the prevention of tobacco harm and seek to cooperate with the Kentucky Health Agencies to function for the greater health of the Kentucky public as well as monitoring the legislation for or against our movement of tobacco harm reduction. The KSFA was formed in 2015 to provide support and education regarding alternative methods of THR after seeing many years of failed attempts by our public health agencies to reduce smoking rates in the region.
Each of us smoked for many years but failed at quitting through countless attempts following our doctors’ advice at using NRT (Nicotine Replacement Therapy), cold-turkey, hypnosis, and many other alternative methods. None of us expected personal vaporizers (electronic cigarettes) to work but for each of us, it did with incredible results.
The Kentucky Smoke Free Association is a not for profit corporation comprised of consumers, retail vendors, manufacturers and supporters.
Why did you decide to start the Louisville Vape Society on Facebook and why it is important to you?
Social media is huge aspect of our world and this market as well. People are always on social media apps and sites and constantly checking their accounts, so we felt like tapping into that platform was a good idea for us and that’s how the Louisville Vape Society got its start.
LVS is a Facebook group dedicated to the Louisville, Kentucky area’s surrounding shops and Vapor enthusiast community. It’s a group by vapers, for vapers and allows members to discuss industry specific topics and share information.
What is your favorite thing about what you do?
To be honest, part of it is that I enjoy working for myself and being my own boss. When I first opened my stores, it was just about the money and that was my primary focus. But I quickly realized that is no way to approach business. As time went on, and I helped more and customers, I found out that there is a lot more to this industry than money. This is such a dynamic market and I’m really proud to be a part of it.
What is the most challenging aspect of your career?
The most challenging aspect of what I do is juggling everything and the stress that comes along with that. I am not just responsible for my own livelihood, but as we grow as a company I am directly responsible for all of my team members’ livelihood as well. The stress that puts on me is not something that is ever going to just disappear, but it drives me to be better and to make my business stronger every day.
How do you set personal goals for yourself? What is the process like?
My process for setting goals has really evolved as the company has grown. I used to set very specific yearly goals for where I wanted us to be, but since we have been growing so rapidly, we just don’t know what to expect. Right now we just strive to grow and improve the business in any way we can.
This industry has changed dramatically in the past few years. How has that affected Derb E-Cigs and distribution?
We have always been a strong supporter of lab based e-liquid. We have always worked with certified ISO labs so as regulations roll out, that aspect of our business has not changed. But as shifts in the market happen, we are quick to adapt. Sometimes that requires more marketing and additional offerings or revising the offerings for our end user. This business evolves more and more every day and we have learned not to resist these changes, but to instead adapt and grow with the industry.
What do you feel has been the most important factor in your success?
The people I surround myself with. Our team members have been handpicked and they truly care about our brand. On top of that, our customers and our wholesale clients truly believe in us. Our support systems and partners have been pivotal in getting us to where we are today. If you don’t have good people behind you, you don’t have anything.
Looking forward to the future, what are you most excited about? What are you most concerned about?
I think everyone is a little bit concerned about the FDA at this point. However, I am excited about the prospect of new countries. We currently do business in over 40 countries and we are really working on ramping that up with full distribution and manufacturing in Europe.
Do you have any advice for other business owners in this industry that might be struggling?
Listen to the market. You really have to have a full, well-rounded understanding of the market and your customers to grow. If you don’t understand what they want, you will not be successful. My advice is to become more active in some of the social platforms, ask your customers questions, and to get involved with the advocacy programs to help insure a long lasting industry. SVBS