This week we’ve been analyzing the differences between smoke shops and vape shops. Both have different approaches to the industry, and vape shops are struggling to keep up with smoke shops in terms of revenue and customer acquisition.
In the final installment of this conversation, I wanted to offer more advice to my fellow vape shops. I want to make it known that I want the vape shops to win so read up and don’t get lazy. Here are my suggestions.
1) Fine-tune your product mix
Keep to the formula mix: 60% e-juice, 30% hardware, 10% accessories.
Nothing new here. There was a shift around 2015 where limited edition mods slowly phased out for starter kits and mid-grade mods. The enthusiast market slowed down as stores figured out that they were not making as much on $200+ mods to make room for new vapers looking for $50 starter kits to help kick the habit. A wide range of price options (with a particular focus on lower-priced models) is the key to successfully stocking vape hardware.
Repeat business is key. In fact repeat customers come from 80% of your total revenue. Shops increased their juice line-ups from 15 brands to carrying close to 50-80 brands with over 150+ flavors. Once they figured out what worked, owners carried the best sellers of each brand and dropped what wasn’t. Back in the day, we used to encourage shops to pick up all 8 of our flavors. It sounds crazy nowadays but we were concerned with proper brand reputation. After a while, it was all about having that one hit flavor and just going all in on it. Figure out which juices your customers like, and get them those flavors.
This percentage might be even lower now but vape cases, apparel and vinyl wraps can be like candy at the checkout. But they’re only lucrative if the wholesale pricing is right. Vape shops can be trendsetters and introduce customers to new products, and this is the place to do it. Up-sells are an important part of any business. Just like Best Buy will try selling you an extended warranty and cables to go with your new TV, vape shops need to crack the code of up-selling to customers coming in for single purchases.
2) Stay on trend but support those who are in it for the long run
Figure out the companies who are doing their due diligence and providing safer products and weed out the hype brands who are in it for that quick buck. Remember the dotcom bubble of 2001? People lost their shirts supporting companies like Pets.com and Excite that went belly up. Just because an industry is popular doesn’t necessarily mean every company is adding value. Do your research and learn to distinguish the Googles and Amazons from the Geocities and Broadcast.coms.
3) Increase your checkout upsells
Don’t just focus on accessories - think convenience store items such as sodas, candy, chips and other snacks. If you are one of those shops that have customers hanging out all day, you might as well sell them something for them to snack on. Sell them something to read. Sell them an extended store warranty to fix their mod if it fails. Basically, follow the smoke shop model without the cigs.
4) Maximize your square footage
I’ve visited numerous stores all over the country and have seen poor use of space. I’ve never been a fan of opening space up for cloud comps but rather creating a flow of traffic with glass cases, juice bars and hardware displays. More product selection while keeping an open lane of traffic for ‘quick pickup’ customers and those ‘window shoppers’ who need special attention (to convert into buyers). Again, walk into a smoke shop and pay careful attention to how every square inch of floor and wall space is filled with sellable product.
5) Lower your expenses
This is an extension of #4 but it may be time to negotiate a lower rent with your landlord. You already proved to them that a vape boutique is not a fad, so show them you want to stay for a while with a discounted long-term extension. It doesn’t hurt to ask. Even a $100 reduction with a 2-year extension can result in a roomier budget for inventory. Every penny counts. If the landlord is not willing to negotiate, shop around for a cheaper place down the street. Maybe you only need 500 sq. ft. instead of 2000sq ft. A small express shop can yield higher margins than an oversized boutique. By now you are a vape shop expert so run your business more efficiently.
In the end, I believe Smoke Shops have the advantage here but let’s not count out the vape shops. You represent a majority of our business so Vape Chemist is here to support you, but please keep in mind that Big tobacco is making their move right now. They are buying up vape retail chains, and ecig companies like Blu are investing millions of dollars in inventory and marketing. Let’s see who is left standing in the next 4 years once the FDA regulations start rolling out.
Conrad Alberto is the owner and founder of Vape Chemist.
Additional content by Brian Penny.
Read Part 1 of The Battle between Smoke Shops vs. Vape Shops
Read Part 2 of The Battle between Smoke Shops vs. Vape Shops