The Top 7 Questions to Ask Before Opening a Vape Shop (Abridged)

Since starting VapeMentors in July 2013 these seven questions have not changed that much. Many of these questions motivated us to create the Vape U programs, which now cover brick and mortar shops as well as e-liquid companies.

Many aspiring vape shop owners want to open a store based on excitement and a desire to “change the world,” and have good intentions. In most cases they lack  any type of business plan or model, have no idea where to start and may have unreal expectations.

They think “if I build it they will come.”

That’s just a movie cliché and couldn’t be further from the truth.

Most businesses fail not because of a lack of demand or too much competition, (or because they “didn’t build it”), but because they haven’t taken the time to understand themselves,  their market or their own business.

  • Know thyself
  • Understand what you want to accomplish
  • Execute and deliver

Becoming a Vapreneur and running a successful store is simple, but it is not easy. The following guide will help start you off right.

1: Why Open a Vape Shop?

Do you know what you’re getting in to? Do you fully understand what you are up against? Do you have all the tools and resources you need?

Going into business for the wrong reasons is one of the worst things you can do as an entrepreneur.

Take this seriously and really think about it. Why do you want to open a vape store?

  • Because you love vaping?
  • Because you just want to start a business?
  • Because you want to help people stop smoking cigarettes and “change the world”?
  • Because you want people to enjoy themselves?
  • Because you can’t get a job?

2: What Are Your S.W.O.T.S. (‘s)

“Most businesses are about 80% the same” is what I was taught by my mentor and have shared with many.

Every one wants more revenue, more net income, less expenses, better employees, etc… A tire store has the same goals as a florist shop, a restaurant… or a vape shop.

That last 20% is all that separates one from the other. It’s the reason there are hundreds of McDonalds Restaurants that all have a identical menus but don’t necessarily deliver the same experience.

The same is true for vape shops.

This 20% is also the foundation where you begin to differentiate yourself from others and is known as your “Competitive Position.” In my world there is no competition, though there are competitors . I suggest you adopt that perspective.

It’s what makes you, you, and your shop like no other. The personal touch and connection that reflects you, your city and the area and customers you serve. And it’s the reason your customers will choose you over your competition.

How do develop a stand-out strategy? You begin with a SWOT analysis.

SWOT stands for:

  • Strengths
  • Weaknesses
  • Opportunities
  • Threats

Being able to address these 4 ideas will start you on the right path and help you develop your competitive position

Own that 20%; Make it yours

It’s the only way to truly know thyself.

3: What is Your Startup Budget?

Do I have enough money to find a location and pay the rent, get the necessary permits and licenses required at the local, city, county, state and federal level? What about inventory, signage, marketing material?

In a recent interview Mark Cuban (from Shark Tank) stated “If you are starting a business and take out a loan, you’re a moron”.

He went on to say that 99% of small businesses can be started with little or no money. Probably. Maybe…

Based on feedback and reports from hundreds of shops nationwide we have good insight on how much to spend on what and what you can bypass at the beginning. Do not trust your gut, but compile solid data and metrics based on proven techniques.

4: Where Do You Get Help?

When I was young(er) our generations’ goal was to be a “success” before you reached age 30. At the time it seemed a long, long way off.

In my twenties I knew everything! I had all the answers. Or not.

In my thirties I started getting a bit smarter and learned from some of MY mistakes as well as the mistakes of others. I had energy! I had
Optimism! I had a Positive Attitude!

But what I lacked was guidance…

I had more ideas, some of them good, most of them bad, that cost me more time, money, relationships than I care to admit. But I also had time. Time to try. Time to fail. When you are young you think you have lots of time…until you don’t.

It took me almost five decades to recognize that I needed a mentor, and finally found one. Actually I found several.

A mentor is someone that tells you your ideas suck. Or that you are wasting time or not focused. A mentor helped me recognize my own weaknesses, worked on ways to fix them, and his ass-kicking made me better, smarter. It’s a shame it took me too many years to learn. If I had guidance and focus when I had energy and excitement I would have succeeded sooner and to a greater extent.

“You can fail by yourself, but you cannot succeed alone,” is one of my mantras. You need people around you; like-minded people. You don’t need an MBA or conventional academic knowledge. Many entrepreneurs never went to college.

5: Do I really understand this industry?

Every day some media report smears the vaping community about kids ingesting a vial of e-Juice or speculates and questions about “what’s in it?”. Other reports incite controversy over FDA and state or local politics.

Some of it is true and warranted. Most of it is self-generated media controversy since, like the Don Henley song asks, “who doesn’t like ‘Dirty Laundry?’”

Regardless it’s a huge distraction for any Vapreneur.

Government agencies from the FDA to your governor’s office to your local city hall have made future planning for vape stores highly unpredictable.

I have personally worked with several cities and local governments on these issues. In one instance a vape shop owner was granted all the necessary permits and licenses from his city to open a vape shop and even committed to a lease with a local property owner.

Weeks later the city council rescinded his business license and stopped his shop from opening. Even with advocates from the community showing their support the city put him out of business before he began. And cost him almost $50,000.

He was still liable for his rental agreement and was stuck renting space for a business he could not legally open. He is not the first to be victimized here and will not be the last. Do your hmework! Before you venture too far, let us help you clear the tracks.

We have structured letters to landlords and to zoning and permit departments, attended several local hearings, city council meetings and met with many Mayors and city councilmembers over these issues.

Where are you getting education about the industry? From the media and from following very bad examples of cities that preceded them.

6 + 7: What If…

What if “stuff happens” that is unforeseen? Do you have money in reserve? Are you spending all your life savings? Have you borrowed from friends, family or partners? What if you lose it all? These are questions not designed to scare you but to help make a logical, rational, and conscious decision. Hope for the best, but plan for the worst…

What if…You Succeed?

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.