The Reinvention of Smoke Shops

You probably know what a “Smoke Shop” is, but just in case, here’s a brief definition: it’s “a store selling tobacco products and smoking equipment.” Glad we cleared that up, sorry if it was overly complex.

They have been around for decades and have specialized in specific and obvious markets. In many states cigarettes were harder to purchase than in others and smoke shops became as much a social setting as a business establishment. They have become havens for cigar smokers and in many cases they have morphed into “head shops” where marijuana is sold. We’ll not spend much time there since that’s another special report, but instead focus on the world of smoke shops today. Did you know that Wikipedia has a reference for “head’ shop, but not for smoke shops.

These two stores are some times commingled and that can make statistics harder to obtain. If we want to know how many smoke shops are not Head shops, it gets a bit muddy. Per industry magazine publisher Ted Hoyt, with SmokeShop magazine, the numbers say there are about 2500-3000 smoke shops nationwide, surely down from years past. That obviously does not include cigarette and cigar retailers.

You may have some knowledge of Vaping and e-cigs and possibly smoke shops as well. “Old Timers” probably recall that many stores had “cigar store” (American) Indian statues in front and this was a man’s den, a place they could smoke and have a drink without women.

Today, as vaping has become a juggernaut industry and exploding at a pace we have not seen in many other product lines, many smoke shops are “transitioning” into offering Vape products in addition. Some are going so far as to abandon tobacco products almost completely and stick with what the market wants more of.

I spoke with Liz DePietro, a smoke shop owner that attended the Vapetoberfest workshop where I spoke in Long Beach, CA. Liz owns three smoke shops in the Atlanta area after buying her first in 2010. She ventured into a hookah lounge and that one became so successful she grew outside Atlanta proper and until about a year ago all was well, which is when she starting researching the “vape space.”

“I went to a conference and was blown away at the energy and the variety of products available. I thought it would be smart to get ahead of the curve and start integrating non-tobacco with my regular line. The vape products easily surpassed my tobacco sales and now I’m transitioning all stores in the same way.”

When people came in and asked “Do you have e-liquids?” she knew she was leaving money in the table. Liz shared that her vaping sales area takes up about 50% of her floor space, yet generates more revenue per foot. When asked how much her income may increase, she guesstimated that it would grow higher. A consummate entrepreneur, she also has an on-line store (www.VapeSpot.com) which carries exclusive vape products and for her tobacco sales are now a cushion as they do  not hold strong margins, which was another incentive to look elsewhere and expand.

So the question on the table is:

Should you transition to vaping products as well?

We have interviewed and worked with many smoke shops since starting VapeMentors in 2013, and have seen many businesses that refuse to change and adapt. They usually close. So we say yes to expansion and here’s why:

  • It’s profitable.
  • Vaping is not going away. It is controversial, contentious and generates a lot of publicity and public outcry as well as support.
  • The sales of tobacco will continue to decline and the prices will continue to increase. The number of smokers will also decline as those that have smoked for decades die off in higher numbers. Whether they pass from smoking related causes is immaterial.
  • They make a lot of money.
  • Be cognizant of the “perception” of consumers to smoke shops. As much as you (may) love the industry, in many states smoking and smokers are looked down upon and vaping is “cool.” Which side of that equation would you rather be on?
  • Can you say “Reinvention?” How many businesses since 2008 have had to do that else they would die? More than I can count. IMHO I think the Smoke Shop is due a face-life, a do-over and come out with a new image and coat of paint.
  • Young people, and I’ll use those under 40, are more likely to vape than smoke.
  • And finally, the main reason: they make money. Yes, I know I repeated that one but I wanted to be clear you knew.

We get reports and I talk to people everywhere abut vaping. They can be as young as 18 (the legal age) and I recently met a woman recently that was 76 who smoked for fifty years. That’s five decades and she candidly admitted she did not actively try to quit smoking until after her husband passed. She tried conventional methods, the patch and the gum, but neither stuck, but when I spoke with her and her daughter (in a vape store) she said that even after just a few weeks she decreased her smoking by 75% and was on the way to complete withdrawal. That is your demographics, folks.

Do you agree? Disagree? Have a conflicting point of few? Love to hear back, send me a note to [email protected]

Author: Norm Bour

Norm Bour is the founder of VapeMentors and the host of the award-winning podcast Vape Radio. He’s a vape industry coach, speaker, author and can be seen rubbing shoulders with the top influencers in the vape industry.