How did you become involved in the vapor industry?
My brother Tod sent me an electronic cigar as a birthday gift and I was blown away by the technology. My curiosity led me to invent my own proprietary product. We spent the next six months developing the world’s first two-sided electronic cigarette, known as the Switchback. The device allowed users to interchangeably vape two flavors. In early 2012, I launched VaporBeast with one single SKU.
How did VaporBeast evolve from a single SKU to what it is today?
There are many factors that have contributed to our success, but it comes down to providing industry-leading service and value to our clients. For example, the first generation Switchback had some quality control challenges but it was important that we do the right thing for our customers. Whether that meant replacing the product or offering a refund, we made sure our customers were 100 percent satisfied. My wife Susan, son Ryan and I wrote a handwritten thank you note to each and every one of our customers. Our attention to the overall customer experience made a tremendous impact on our business. Vaping is a large community. Everyone talks and shares their experiences … especially online. Word gets out –both positive and negative– and fortunately in our case, it benefited us greatly.
Over the past six years, the business has grown tremendously. VaporBeast has shifted its focus from online retail to wholesale distribution. We have invested in infrastructure, logistics, technology, CRM, and training. We have also made a commitment to hiring quality people who have a passion for the industry. Furthermore, we offer our vape shop customers an enormous product selection with more than 4,000 SKUs from the most trusted and respected brands. That’s complimented by our two-day shipping offer to vape and smoke shop clients anywhere in the continental United States; our customers want their orders quickly. We oblige by offering market-leading ship times and early access to new products. It’s all about helping our customers grow their businesses. We have a team of 20-plus dedicated consultants who take the time to guide our clients through the purchasing process. For example, we can instantly let them know what’s new and what’s trending in their specific market area.
Our company culture and amazing team have contributed the most to our growth. We have taken great care identifying individuals who align with our corporate philosophy of providing an excellent customer experience. VaporBeast is made up of professionals who are knowledgeable, caring, empathetic, fun, and ultimately a resource for our customers to help them grow their businesses. If our customers win, we win. It’s as simple as that.
What is your favorite part about working in this industry?
The people. From the savvy, smart and dedicated retail business owners to our supplier partners…I have had the privilege of working side-by-side with amazing individuals along my journey. I’ve also enjoyed watching VaporBeast team members grow personally and professionally.
What was one of the biggest challenges you have faced thus far?
One of the biggest challenges in our infancy was managing growth. We were experiencing hyper growth year after year and even though that was a good thing, problems invariably snow ball if not managed. However, the biggest turning point came when I partnered with my childhood best friend, Mark Howard and his business partner Tim Cady who owned several successful medical supply businesses. They in turn offered an ownership stake to two of their valued employees, Tom Metzler and Sheilla Andrin. This allowed us to round out our management expertise in key areas such as finance, strategy, operations, and technology. There’s no doubt we were able to scale the company faster. It also afforded us access to additional capital, which is vitally important in wholesale distribution so we could provide a constant supply of and depth of inventory.
How do you set personal goals for yourself?
Nothing happens unless you make it happen. I set small, bite-sized goals that help me reach bigger goals. Simple things like executing on marketing concepts, establishing our social foundation, implementing a quality CRM solution, setting up processes, building our technology platform and even having a system in place for how you answer the phone and more! All these types of things cumulatively add up to make something amazing.
Looking forward to the future, what are you most excited about?
In November of last year we were acquired by Turning Point Brands, which is a publicly traded NYSE company (symbol: TPB). They are best known for their iconic brands Zig-Zag, Beech-Nut and Stoker’s. I am excited because we now have the capital and resources to continue to grow the business. In doing so, we can better help our customers achieve their goals.
The TPB acquisition has worked out wonderfully. Wholesale distribution is a capital intensive business and we now have access to more resources than before. Additionally, they are 100 percent committed to the industry. VaporBeast now has in-house legal counsel and other means to help us manage our compliance issues at all levels. TPB is committed to open systems and the industry at large. Hope and belief in the future of “vape” gets me most excited!
Do you have any advice you would share with other business owners in the industry?
If you find yourself struggling, first ask yourself if you have a passion for what you are doing. Without passion, success will be more difficult to achieve. Also know that nothing comes easy. Entrepreneurship requires more than just an idea; you must be committed. The first two years, my wife, son and I worked our tails off. Collectively we worked crazy long hours for two straight years. Nothing replaces the concept of good old fashioned hard work. On a positive note, it doesn’t feel like work when you are growing something that you are passionate about.
Lastly, it’s critical that you build a diverse, committed and authentic team with complementary skill sets. While market timing has undoubtedly contributed to our success, we would not be the leader in our space if it were not for our incredible team and awesome clients. SVBS