Starting an online vape store can be a fun and profitable activity, but it takes some work to make it happen. This article outlines 17 guidelines you need to know to start your own online store selling vapes and related products.
There are several steps to the process, including getting an EIN number, checking states requirements, getting a letter from a lawyer, opening a Shopify account, and so on. If you’re ready, let’s get started!
The vaping industry has a huge amount of traffic, hundreds of thousands of people a month search for vaping products online. It all comes down to product selection, on-site content (like blogs and videos) and technology. You’ll also need to learn what backlinks are as you will probably need some, but we’ll explain that below.
This guide covers briefly the main things that have to be done to start an online vape store. It is a starting point. Prepare to put in some time adding products and writing textual content. Hopefully, you already know some things about vaping. That will help with your articles. If not, start doing some reading and research. If you’ve never vaped before, you might order an inexpensive vape and some inexpensive ejuice so that you can see what vaping is like (if you don’t want to vape nicotine you can purchased zero nicotine juice).
This article tells you the legal, web design, search engine optimization, and content creation that drives a successful online vape store. It’s dense, so feel free to read it more than once and refer back to it if you are serious.
Here’s a menu of the 17 guidelines briefly if you want to jump ahead:
- Costs, Legalities and EIN Number
- Google Guidelines
- Graphics & Appeal
- Budget & Simple Business Model
- Search Term Research
- 10X Content
- Social Media
- Customer Service
- Good Home Page
- Email Marketing & Other Helpful Tech
- Be Patient & Grow
Costs, Legalities, and EIN Number
There are a few things that will cost money when opening your store. First of all, you’ll have to get a lawyer approval letter before a credit card payment system company, called a merchant’s account, will consider you. This involves setting up your store and making it match the vaping age requirements for each State. The lawyer costs $500-$1000 dollars. This is the biggest expense when starting out. Fortunately, you’ll get a chance to earn that back as the vaping industry is absolutely huge and there’s a lot of opportunity.
The legal opinion letter can be obtained from our partners at Keller and Heckman. To prepare for the opinion letter, you need to be in compliance on both state and local levels. Since it’s state AND local, every case is different and we aren’t able to offer any advice other than this: do your own research and be in compliance.
Another thing you’ll need when starting an online vape store is a $29/month subscription to Shopify. Shopify is an online eCommerce cart that has done most of the legwork for you in web designing your site. You’ll have to fill in the details and add products, but Shopify is almost fully functional right off the bat, and they have the ability to take credit cards built into their cart as long as you have done the legal legwork to get the merchant’s account.
You’ll need to use Shopify’s ability to integrate Bluecheck into your checkout. This service cross-checks the customer’s address, name, and credit card number to see if they are legitimate. Bluecheck with the merchant’s account are a monthly fee which depends on how many products you sell. You can contact Bluecheck on their website here >>>.
You’ll need to buy a domain. More will be covered on that later.
You’ll need to purchase a vape if you’ve never vaped just to get to know the product.
You’ll need to purchase a logo. We don’t recommend trying to make it yourself. You can get one on Freelancer for $35 by posting a contest. Or you can use 99 Designs for a better contest-driven logo creation. Hiring a great graphic designer will give you the most customized results at the highest costs.
For unlimited ongoing graphic design for just $4 a day, we recommend RapidBear Designs.
When you are very successful, you will need a customer service representative to answer the phone. You can do your own customer service at first and hire help once the money starts rolling in.
If you have a large budget and backing, you can hire the web design, SEO, graphic design, article writing and social media to be done for you. It is recommended not to take out a large loan for these things, but to do them to match your budget and build as you go. However, if you have a strong backing, you may consider hiring for these things.
If you are on a low budget, don’t worry; you can do 95% of it yourself with research and hard work. It’s fun to run your own online store and be your own boss, and the vape industry is not very competitive since it is considered a high-risk industry (there are more legal hurdles). These legalities don’t prevent you from opening the store, it just requires you to do some legwork and keep on top of things. If you keep on top things and aren’t lazy, it is absolutely possible to make a lot of money in the industry.
In order to start a valid US business, you’ll need an EIN number and you’ll also need to look up your state requirements. Go to www.irs.gov and your state government websites or do a couple of Google searches like “get an EIN number” and “state requirements for starting a business” + “Your State”.
Here is a list of a few basic legalities in the vape industry eCommerce business:
- Popup on your site’s home page asking for age verification, that works for every state. Shopify has plugins that allow you to do this.
- Lawyer approval letter that your site is set up in a valid way for every State that you serve. These cost $500-$1000.
- Limit your site to only showing up in the United States or areas where your site is legally allowed.
- Get a high-risk merchants account through Bluecheck (link) once you have your lawyer approval letter. This merchant’s account has legal age verification checks.
If you get a letter showing a minor has bought from you, write back right away and give your proof from your merchant’s account. Quickly write back and apologize and give the steps that you took to make sure minors were not allowed on your site. There’s no way to stop the letters from happening, you just have to cover all the legal basis so that the accusations will always be dropped. All big online vape shops have to deal with this. Don’t take a lot of time to write back, it’s time sensitive usually!
Google Webmaster Guidelines
The Google Webmaster Guidelines are very specific things you need to follow when opening an online store. Google is the main search engine, and it’s important not to step on their toes. Most of it is common sense, but it’s important to read them. Go here and read the Google Guidelines. It’s important that you understand what is not OK to do and what is OK to do as far as web design and search engine optimization for your site. Basically, Google wants you to make sites for users and not just for search engines, and they don’t want you to trick them in any way or try to deceive them in the search results. It’s important to be familiar with the guidelines to be safe and not lose your rankings some day.
Examples of things that are not allowed are:
- Stuffing your website full of search engine keywords
- Paying for links to your site for search engine purposes
- Popping up multiple sites in the same niche (although if they are different parts of the same niche then that’s OK)
- Copying content from other sites (called duplicate content)
… And much more. Get familiar with what Google wants, it will be your friend.
Buy a domain
If this all sounds good and you are still excited, it’s time to buy a domain. There are really three ways to buy a domain:
If your budget is low, we recommend #1 or #2, and we don’t recommend spending more than $300 on your initial domain. If you are creative, you can often even find something that is not taken for the simple $15 from someone like Godaddy
Good, effective domains are almost always:
- Short (less than 15 characters)
- Easy to remember
- Easy to spell
- Think: Can a 4th grader spell it? Avoid “ei” words or complicated spellings.
- Not taken by a similar business.
- Google your domain first to see if there’s any domains similar that already exists.
- Within your budget
Shopify is an awesome all-in-one solution for selling online. It has awesome customer service and is easy to use. It will be your friend. It allows you to drag and drop elements to add products, add a logo, add categories, add articles, etc. It has apps that can do the age popups for you, and it can run your age check software from Bluecheck when you are all setup.
It cost $29/month for the first level, which has plenty of room to get started. If you don’t want a lot of customization, you might not even have to write any code! It is recommended to eventually be able to do a few things by coding but to start with you don’t have to. It gives you time to learn some basic coding tags if you want to make things more colorful.
Most of all, you’ll find awesome support from the Shopify community. Just go to Facebook and search for “Shopify’ and you’ll find dozens of groups dedicated to just helping others with Shopify stores.
VapeMentors has their own group called “Vapify”. You can join it here!
Graphics & Appeal
Many times the difference between spot #5 and spot #1 is graphical appeal. This means having a good logo, having really catchy and interesting photos and illustrations, having good product images, having good buttons, beautifying everything that you see when you pull up your site. Try to make it absolutely fantastic. You can do a lot without any coding on Shopify. Make graphical appeal a top priority.
eCommerce sites need a lot of graphics. You’ll need help creating banners and graphics for your shop (don’t try to do it yourself, even if you are a good designer). We recommend RapidBear Design for an easy and affordable solution to constant graphic production. They charge a flat monthly fee for unlimited graphic design. It’s the best option for a growing shop.
You’ll also want good product photography. Sometimes the photography from your drop shippers is sufficient, but other times you’ll need to create your own.
SEO is a big topic… too big for this blog post. We recommend you read The Beginner’s Guide to SEO by Moz, and look up a few things online. These include
- SEO friendly title tags
- The Meta Description tag
- SEO friendly URLs
- Duplicate Content
- SEO backlinks
These can seem daunting at first, but you’ll want to have a good understanding of them in order to properly run your site. Do some research. These things make you rank higher in the search engines when used right.
We’ll talk more about backlinks later.
Budget & Simple Business Model
It’s really good to not go deeply into debt to start an online vape shop and it’s great to write a simple business model out to begin.
Many people spend too much money buying website design, graphic design, SEO help, social media help and so on. If you have deep pockets, this is probably not a bad idea. But if you are starting out on a limited budget then stay within your means and grow as you go. You can start out with your lawyer’s approval letter, your EIN #, your domain purchase, your Shopify account, and your logo. The lawyer approval letter is the only big expense to begin with.
As sales begin to come in, you can then make decisions to expand and grow your business. This is doing it the smart way, and will many times put you ahead in the long run because you won’t be making expensive loan payments. Most people overestimate their profits for the first year, so don’t get stuck with huge bills. However, you can turn a good profit even in six months to a year with some effort.
Although it seems prudent to start your business by writing a business plan, we actually recommend business models in place of business plans.
Business plans tend to hold people up because they are complex and often include information that is not necessary for a small business owner.
Business models on the other hand are much easier to create, simple to understand and effective to implement. Check out Strategyzer and download their free business model guide. You don’t need a business degree to write a business model!
You’ll need dropshippers. Dropshippers are a little secret among online marketers, companies that will keep inventory for you and ship out that inventory to customers with your name on it. You get an order, and you place it with the dropshipper. The customer receives the package and thinks it came from you. It makes starting small possible. If you had to hold all the inventory in a warehouse, you would have a really tough time turning a profit for the first few years.
Read this article on how to pick a wholesaler >>>
Search Term Research
You’ll want to know the main search terms in the vaping industry. Adwords Keyword Planner is great for this. Make an account here, go to the tool, and type in “vape” or “vaping” to see what terms are hot. You’ll see the big and small terms that you’ll want to focus on and shoot for with your store. If you have $100/month and can afford Moz.com, try Moz’s keyword explorer. It’s absolutely fantastic.
You’ll need good-looking, comprehensive product descriptions with the products for your store. You’ll want to rewrite what comes from the dropshipper except for the lists of features. This is because Google doesn’t like duplication on the Internet. The issue is called “duplicate content”. Try to use original text you write except for lists. Also, try to make your product descriptions 10X better than your competition and you will go a long way – this means more comprehensive, more beautiful, more helpful, and be sure to include all the accessories they will need for each product as options to buy with the product.
It’s important to note that Google only gives you one topic area per site (unless you’re as powerful as Amazon) so plan on only putting vapes and vape-related products on the site, not totally unrelated items (i.e. don’t put anything like furniture, clothing, or computer equipment on there unless they are related to vaping) Ask yourself, is this closely related to vaping? What Google will do if you spread yourself thin is only put your vaping related products high in the search engines and leave everything non-related pretty much non-existent in the search results so they won’t get any traffic.
You’ll need categories for your products, like
- Starter Kits
- Advanced Vaping
These categories are called “collections” in Shopify. Read about them here Your categories should include a detailed description of the category, buttons for the categories, images to make the category look pretty, and anything you can do to make your categories look 10X better than the competition. The 10X rule is a rule of thumb in online marketing. I’ll discuss this more next.
You’ll need some articles, a blog, guides, or other content on your site to earn the site strength to rank well. Do your keyword research with Adwords Keyword Planner or Moz’s Keyword Explorer and write some articles on keywords (Google search terms) you think you can dominate. Note each page has its own unique search terms. A page on your blog might target “Best ejuice vapes” while a category page might target the Google search term “vape mods”.
Take a look at the top three spots for a search term. A search term simply means typing something like “Best ejuice vapes” into Google. Look at the top 3 spots (search results) for a search term you are going after. Write articles that are 10X better than the top three or top ten websites in:
- Graphical appeal
- Use of data
- Use of visuals
- Expertise and research use
- and Quality of writing
The rule of thumb is that if you write something 10X better than the number one spot then you have a good chance of dominating that spot. Note that the difference in traffic between #1 and #2 is a whopping 40%!
Moz put out two technical Whiteboard Fridays on the topic, and here they are, they are more technical but you can still learn a lot:
Instagram is the most important. Facebook groups are better than facebook pages, either having your own group or being in groups related to vaping – the community.
Giveaways are an extremely important campaign to run on Social media. Gleam is by far the most amazing tool for running giveaways in the vape industry.
Social media is huge with vaping, so get ready to dive in! Note that you can’t use Facebook ads in the vaping industry, they don’t allow it, so this limits what can be done in that area, though this also levels the playing field. Posting helpful videos off YouTube can take you a ways, as can promoting your own content once in a while, giveaways, contests, and other viral advertising.
The great Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to Social Media should help give you skills and concepts.
You may be doing customer service yourself at first. This may mean starting with email support or it may mean having a separate 1-800 number, which you can purchase online. Be prepared if you are going to answer the phone. This involves getting to know the vaping terms, products, and resources. When people call, you can usually refer them to YouTube videos since they usually do a much better job than you manually telling someone how to screw on the head of their vape, for instance. Don’t mention any videos specifically, just refer them to Youtube and typing in the name of their vape or product. If you are going to answer the phone, you’ll need to be very knowledgeable and ready. Advanced vapers will call you.
You can also get step-by-step guides and scripts to follow on the phone. You might choose to start with only email support for convenience, but eventually if you want to be really successful you’ll have to take calls. Whatever you do, when the money starts rolling in, hire someone for customer service hours.
We recommend installing a free chat widget like Olark that will allow you to chat live with your customers. It’s better than a “Contact Us” form because you can help someone immediately if they are in checkout rather than catching them later after they have already left.
For a more robust customer service solution, you want something like Zendesk that assigns support tickets and can integrate with your other online tools.
Good Home Page
You’ll need a well-designed, great home page to be successful. Three out of four customers that you get will probably start out on your home page. Make it count with great graphics, helpful text, and a correct SEO title tag, images that talk about the features of your site, and eventually testimonials when you get them.
You’ll need to learn what backlinks are. Here’s an article describing them. They are links from other sites to yours. If you want to be strong, you eventually need to manually acquire some, but the best way to get backlinks is to have a big, great site with lots of good content. Here’s a more technical Whiteboard Friday on how to get your first 50 backlinks.
Email Marketing And Other Helpful Tech
Without a doubt, you’ll need an email marketing platform. Many people choose Mailchimp because it’s cheap. Don’t do this! Mailchimp does not have the proper automation, tagging and user analytics necessary to run a successful ecommerce site.
We recommend these ultra-modern email marketing platforms for eCommerce:
- Metrilo – built specifically for ecommerce and integrates with Shopify in a snap
- Active Campaign – very advanced but also very powerful. Integrates with Shopify
- Drip – Just as powerful as Active Campaign, some think it’s easier to use
Other must-have tools:
- Zipify Apps – Create customized landing pages for Shopify (the ONLY tool that does this!)
- Gleam – Run viral contests. Has a Shopify plugin
- Beeketing – Convert browsers into buyers with urgency and scarcity
- Shipping Easy – Track packages with your dropshippers
Be Patient & Grow
Patience, patience, patience is key to online marketing. Some people are successful in six months with some hard work, but for others it takes longer. Don’t take out huge loans and dig a hole. Start slow, steady and strong like the turtle over the hare. Reach out and be active in the vaping community on social media. Add lots and lots of good products. Also, have good customer service, write excellent articles, and you will be well on your way to growing into a blooming online store.
Author: Bob Weikel
Bob is an SEO and eCommerce expert that is currently managing a vape eCommerce site. He contributes to VapeMentors on subjects such as content marketing, eCommerce strategy, SEO and google rankings.