Purchasing products for your vape shops is one of the most critical elements of running a successful business. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most daunting tasks that you will encounter.
When I took on the responsibility of ordering product for our shop 4 years ago, there were very few wholesale companies serving the market. Today, there are hundreds! So how do you figure out who to do business with, and what to avoid?
Should I Order My Vape Products From China? Or From The US?
The first decision that you need to make is whether you’ll be ordering primarily from US based wholesalers, or directly from China. Ordering directly from China may seem attractive at first, but there are drawbacks.
Pros to ordering vape products from China:
- Lower pricing
- First access to new products
- Access to a wider variety of products
- Being able to order the same products indefinitely
- Almost never out of stock
Cons to ordering vape products from China:
- Much longer lead and shipping times
- Time zone difference
- Little to no protection from unscrupulous companies
- MOQ’s or tiered pricing
- Difficult or expensive RMA or warranty work
For the vast majority of shops, ordering directly from China will not make sense. Unless you are ordering in huge quantities, the prices are not much lower than at US based wholesalers. The savings that you may get from ordering direct are usually eaten up by expensive shipping costs. The real benefits don’t start kicking in until you start ordering extremely high amounts. This is how US based wholesalers make their business work. Now let’s take a look at the pros and cons of ordering from US based wholesalers.
Pros to ordering vape product from US distributors:
- Lightning fast shipping
- Great customer service and support
- Regular business hours that will match up to your own
- No MOQ
Cons to ordering vape products from US distributors:
- Limited product selection
- Hot new items go out of stock in minutes
- Products typically only kept in stock 3-4 months before closeout
- Slightly higher pricing
Being able to rely on fast shipping and quick turnaround times will enable you to carry less inventory on hand, which will free up cash to spend in other areas to grow your business. If you have issues with products that you purchased from a US based wholesaler, they will typically allow you to return them for store credit or replacements. This will allow you to sell products with confidence. Your customers will love that, because you can happily replace an item for them or refund their money knowing that your wholesale company will take care of the issue quickly.
The drawbacks of ordering from US based wholesalers can largely be mitigated by shopping around. Unfortunately, the way the market is demanding that they do business causes them to only carry the same device for a few months at a time before it is put on clearance and not sold there any longer.
This is highly frustrating! For example, you have a starter kit that you absolutely love that sells very well at your store. Your customers adore it, they’re giving up cigarettes because of it, then suddenly one day you can’t find it in stock anywhere. This is because version 2.0 has come out, but version 2.0 isn’t as good as the original, and requires a different type of replacement coil. In a situation like this, your only option is to go directly to the manufacturer.
How To Decide Which Wholesale Company Is Right For Your Vape Shop
This is probably the question that I see asked most frequently. There’s not just one company that will be the final answer to all of your ordering challenges, though there are plenty that do a really good job. Here are a few criteria to look for:
Ideally, you want to find at least one wholesale company that is located in the same region as you. The closer, the better. When you run out of a specific product suddenly on a Wednesday, you want to have an option available that can get you more by Friday without having to pay a fortune for overnight shipping.
This is one of the most important things to look for. Unless you want to fill your shop exclusively with SMOK products, you’ll need to shop around. Just like vape shops, wholesale companies have preferences when it comes to which manufacturers they like to do business with. You will want to align yourself with wholesale companies that carry a larger selection from the brands you prefer. You will pay a higher price for the same product at a wholesale business that does not order as much of that product than you would at a company who buys from that manufacturer constantly.
This goes right along with location. Check the company’s shipping policy to find out what their shipping cutoff time is. I have seen cutoff times as late as 7pm, and as early as 11am. Take into account which timezone the company is in. For example, if a company based in California has a cutoff time of noon, and one in New York has a cutoff time at 1pm, it is actually easier to get your products shipped the same day from the California company.
Many US based wholesale companies offer free shipping if your order is over a certain dollar amount. Some may not offer free shipping, but discounted or subsidized rates if you order over a certain dollar amount. Others will charge you actual shipping costs. You must factor in shipping costs when you look at the pricing of their products. A company that offers free two-day shipping will likely have slightly higher prices on at least some items than a company that charges you the full cost of shipping. It can be difficult to figure out which is the better deal at a glance, but I almost always favor cheaper / faster shipping.
Warranty / Return Merchandise Authorization (RMA) Policy:
Warranty and RMA policies are frequently overlooked because many shops will decide where to purchase based on price alone. You may be able to purchase the same product cheaper somewhere else, but you need to make sure that there is a good RMA process in place before you do business with anyone. Some companies will ask you to pay for shipping back to them, some companies have a very short window that items can be returned, and others will flat out refuse almost any return you send them for arbitrary reasons. The few dollars that you could potentially save during the purchase won’t help you if you’re sitting on a pile of defective merchandise that you can’t do anything with.
Should I Buy My E-Liquids From Distribution Companies?
The short answer is no, you should purchase your e-liquid directly from the manufacturer when possible.
The long answer is more complicated. Generally speaking, you will pay more for e-liquid at a distribution company than you will from the manufacturer. However, there are certain circumstances where it can make sense.
When to buy e-liquid from a distribution company:
- You love the product but the service is terrible
- The manufacturer is difficult to contact
- The manufacturer’s shipping time is slow or expensive
- You’re willing to pay a higher price to get everything in one place
- The manufacturer constantly messes up your order
- The ability to buy multiple brands from one place
Why to buy e-liquid directly from the manufacturer:
- Lower, more flexible prices
- Faster access to new products
- Distro might stop carrying their brand
- Extra support in the form of samples, free product/swag, and advertising
As you can see, when you purchase e-liquid from a distribution company, you’re basically paying more for convenience. It makes life a lot easier to be able to pick up multiple brands of e-liquid from the same place that you buy hardware from, but that convenience comes at a cost.
Final Tips & Secrets:
If you’re trying to make every dollar that you spend go as far as possible, the most successful strategy that I have found for purchasing e-liquid and hardware is to purchase e-liquid direct from the manufacturer, and hardware from US based wholesalers.
Align yourself with 3-5 US based hardware wholesalers based on the criteria above, and cross shop each of them every time you order.
It is absolutely imperative that you shop around. I always do all of my ordering on the same day, and have 3 to 5 tabs open on my browser at a time. I search for the same product across at least 3 different wholesale companies to see which has the lowest price, and then add it to my cart on their website before continuing on to the next product I need to purchase.
The final secret that I have to share with you is simple, but essential. Call your wholesale representatives! Many times the simple act of getting somebody on the phone before you purchase can save you even more money. This is doubly important if you’re buying a large number of one type of item, thinking about running a sale, or putting on an event. E-liquid manufacturers love it when you feature just their brand for a sale, and may offer you a one time discount on their products. Wholesale companies will often price match, or give you a better deal for buying in bulk.
Get A List Of Our Recommended Vape Wholesalers:
We asked our community which wholesalers they loved the most. Here’s that list, which is constantly updated with more information.
Author: Jesse Plautz
Jesse is the Digital Marketing Director at VapeMentors and Chief Technology Mentor. He is an ecommerce and internet marketing expert with a background in business and technology.