The year 2020 stands to go down in history as one of the most important years ever for the American vaping industry – and that’s not exactly a good thing. All year, an important regulatory deadline has loomed over the industry. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic put many brick-and-mortar vape shops around the country out of business temporarily – and when those shops returned to operation, many consumers were still minimizing their person-to-person contact as much as possible and were reluctant to go back to physical stores for products that could just as easily be ordered from online vape shops like E-Cigarette Empire.
In addition to the COVID-19 pandemic – which has affected all small businesses – the types of products that vape shops are allowed to sell have changed greatly in 2020. At the beginning of the year, the federal government banned most flavors for pre-filled pod vaping systems like JUUL, leaving only the tobacco and menthol flavors available to buy. Many users of JUUL and similar systems switched to disposable e-cigarettes – which weren’t mentioned in the ban – but in July, the FDA unexpectedly removed many disposable vapes from the market as well.
If you own a vape shop, you hardly know which end is up right now – but this article is going to help you form a game plan for the future. We’re going to help you come up with the answers to these two crucial questions.
- What are you going to do to keep your vape shop viable until people start to get back to their old shopping habits?
- How are you going to prepare your vape shop for the massive regulatory changes set to happen later this year?
Add an Online Sales Component to Your Website
If you’ve been keeping an eye on the news during the COVID-19 pandemic, you’ve undoubtedly seen that, as difficult as these times have been for brick-and-mortar businesses across the world, online sellers like Amazon have reported record earnings. People still need to buy things – it’s just that many of them are trying to do as much of their shopping as possible without leaving the house.
Well, people might be able to buy just about anything on Amazon, but they can’t buy vape gear there – so that leaves an opening for you. The best way for you to serve local customers who are trying to stay home as much as possible is by selling online – and you can drum up some business right away by reaching out to your customer base and letting them know that they can now buy from you and have products shipped to them.
First, though, you’ve got to get your e-commerce site set up.
The two most popular e-commerce solutions for small businesses are Shopify and WooCommerce. WooCommerce is a free plugin for WordPress, with premium support and payment processing both carrying fees. If you already have a WordPress website, WooCommerce is the most logical solution.
If you don’t have a website or are overwhelmed by the prospect of setting WooCommerce up yourself, Shopify costs a bit more, but it’s significantly more user friendly for those who are less comfortable with website administration.
Once your website is ready to accept purchases, you need to get the word out to your local customers. You’ll do that in two ways.
- Contact customers directly using the information in your customer database. If you have a loyalty program, you’re most likely collecting phone numbers and email addresses already. Use that information to reach out to your customers and let them know about your online grand opening.
- Add the name of your city to the meta tags and meta descriptions of your product pages whenever possible to let locals know that they’ll enjoy lightning-fast shipping when they order from you.
Your long-term goal, of course, will be to grow the e-commerce side of your business and expand beyond your local customer base. You should focus on local buyers first, though, to help your website generate revenue as quickly as possible.
So, that’s your short-term solution. Over the long term, you need to figure out what you’re going to do when the regulatory hammer comes down on the vaping industry.
Stop Thinking of Your Vape Shop as Just a Vape Shop
By September of this year, the government has decreed that every manufacturer of vaping products must submit applications for FDA approval to continue selling those products. A Premarket Tobacco Product Application (PMTA) costs well over $100,000 to compile, and it must demonstrate to the FDA that the product in question is beneficial to public health in comparison to traditional tobacco products.
The vaping industry has known for years that the PMTA deadline was a giant brick wall that couldn’t be avoided. Every e-liquid flavor on the market – and every nicotine strength of every flavor – is going to require a PMTA, so the total cost of compiling an application for even a small e-liquid brand can easily exceed a million dollars. Many e-liquid brands, unable to afford that expense, will disappear when the deadline arrives in September.
The good news, however, is that the PMTA deadline won’t kill the vaping industry. E-liquid makers have had more than four years to prepare for the deadline, and the ones that want to stay in business after 2020 have been saving their earnings and getting their applications ready. A surprising number of vape juice companies have claimed that they are ready for the deadline and will submit their applications on time.
FDA regulation will change the vaping industry in one important way. Today, there are many dozens of e-liquid brands in the United States, and every vape shop has a slightly different selection. After the PMTA deadline, dramatically fewer brands will remain, and it’s likely that most vape shops will have more or less the same selections of e-liquid.
With that in mind, you need to start thinking now about what you’re going to do to differentiate your vape shop from the competition – and the best way to do that is by thinking of your business as something more than just a vape shop. From CBD products to dry herb vaping gear, there are many products that you can add to your store to start providing additional revenue streams. It’s time to identify the additional revenue streams that will work for your situation – now – so you can gain a foothold in those markets before your competitors do.