Vape Radio 50: Absentee Vape Shop Owner Crushes His Competition

By March 20, 2015Podcasts

Links We Discuss:

Speakeasy Vaporium

Norm Bour:

Welcome to Vape Radio, your source for everything you wanted to know about the business of vaping, whether you’re brick and mortar location, developer of e-liquids, online market, or anything else in the vape space, learn from the first and largest educational providers in the country. I’m your host and founder of Vape Mentors, Norm Bour, and if you’d like to know more about what we do or to catch up on our archive of #50, the show you’re about to hear right now, this is show #50, so son of a gun.

Paul:  

This is #50, right now? Oh my god. We made it.

Norm Bour:

We did, man. We did, and we’re crushing at about 60 thousand downloads a month. There you go, and the crowd goes wild one more time. Anyway, visit VapeMentors.com and this is our website and again, this is show #50, I’m just beyond ecstatic.

Norm Bour:

Today we’re unavailing a brand new program, it’s called Vape Shop of the Month, and for those of you who have been listening to the show for a while or have been following Vape Mentors, we’ve put together an online program called Vape U, and we created what we call The Six Pillars of Vape Based Success. It’s a step by step process of developing a business, developing your competitive positioning, figuring out what products to sell and what not to sell and dealing with the law which primarily includes your local city and sometimes includes your state and certainly the FDA knocking at the door. It also covers social media and customer service.

We’re going to start profiling vape shops of the month. In segment #47, I asked, “Are you a vape shop of the month?” So you’re going to hear an interview with a gentleman I know personally; his name is Jason Hambrecht. He’s down in Amelia Island, Florida, which is just north of Jacksonville, and if you heard me talk in Section #1 today I spent about a week in Florida and traveled up and down the coast and I went to see his shop which opened back in August.

He’s got a really awesome location and amazing inventory and a wonderful, wonderful feel. They actually had a big event which he’ll tell you about in just a moment. I’m going to introduce you to Jason Hambrecht with Speakeasy Vaporium, and if you want more information you can go to SpeakeasyVaporium.com.

Also, you can find them on Facebook, they’ve got a lot of pictures posted, so Jason, welcome to Vape Radio.

Jason Hambrecht:Thanks for having me, Norm!

Norm Bour:

It’s kind of cool because out of all the many, many customers and clients we’ve worked with over the last year and a half, there’s only been a handful that I’ve met in person, but I was very fortunate that I met Jason when I was down in Florida and got to see his shop and we had a meal together. Jason, why don’t you share just a little bit about your background? You’re not like most vape shop owners in the fact that– Well, I’m not going to tell them why, you’re going to tell them why, why you’re not like most vape shop owners.

Jason Hambrecht:

I guess the big reason would be that I’ve got another company that I run so this is sort of the side project. I wanted to do something different. My wife, Jenny, and I wanted to open another company and we wanted to find something fun, complete opposite end of the spectrum to what my other company is which is onstruction engineering to the world of vaping which is a life of its own.

Norm Bour:

He’s probably too modest to say but his shop was one of the very, very best, top rated growing construction companies in northern Florida, so good for you on that. Now he has successful business #2. Let’s talk about how you came to the idea. You already mentioned what your motivation was: you wanted something different that maybe you could be more engaged with, yet you are not an active participant in your vape shop are you?

Jason Hambrecht:

No. Luckily I stop in a few times a week, mostly on the weekends, and really it’s just to hang out with the guys. I’ve got two guys in the store, Sean and Bo that run it; Sean’s the manager and they’re both great. They’re very passionate about it and I’m fortunate enough to be able to step back.

Norm Bour:

One of the processes that Jason and I went through at the very beginning was coming up with a competitive position because that’s really a key to success in most businesses and certainly in this one. If you remember, Jason, we went through a lot of different conversations about what to name it. Share a little bit about where the name ‘speak easy’ comes from because we talked about creating something around pirates and something around other things so maybe share a little bit about the history of Amelia Island and how the whole speak easy concept came about and why it came about.

Jason Hambrecht:

Really, I have to give you credit for this one, Norm, because when we were thinking about the store we had all kinds of ideas but that’s where you really helped me in the beginning; you dug out: okay, this is Amelia Island, tell me about the island, tell me about the culture, and you’re absolutely right. We created a space that actually has the brick on the walls and our store is from a school that was torn down. The wood is from an old barn roof. The island itself here has a lot of historic value to it so we kind of tried to treat it that way. For two reasons: one it’s really cool, and two, the residents here, they feel a bond to it when they walk into the store. It’s not like walking in an Apple store, you can go in so many different directions, so we created kind of a really unique space for the island.

Norm Bour:

Excellent. If you had to come up with a demographic of who your target audience is or who they might look like, give us an idea, Jason, of your typical vaping customer.

Jason Hambrecht:

A lot of people ask that in every industry, and as long as they’re over 18, that’s one of our customers. We get everything from a 19 year old to– we had a guy come in the store the other day, I think he was 85. We design the store so everybody would feel comfortable in it. It’s got a little hip value to it but you walk in and it’s not like walking in to some sketchy, head shop looking environment. It’s very toned down but it’s edgy as well, so we try to get as many age groups as possible.

Norm Bour:

So one of the things that I want you to make sure you understand: branding is more than a logo, it’s more than a name, branding is a feel. When I went into his vape shop, the guy didn’t know who I was but he welcomed me right away. He said, “Welcome to Speak Easy. Have a look around.” Be very comfortable and very at ease, but one of the things you need to think about is what does your store represent when someone walks in? If you have a store that’s full of – again, no reflection, no disrespect on young kids with tats and earrings and everything – but that can be off-putting to certain demographic audiences where what is really especially notable about the speak easy is that – Jason, correct me if I’m wrong – I think a 27 year old coming in with tattoos and earrings and a baseball cap worn backwards is probably just as comfortable walking into your place as the 85 year old guy who’s been smoking the last 70 years.

Jason Hambrecht:

Sure, they mingle together. It’s a fun environment. People help each other in the store. We really have awesome customers; I don’t know if it’s just our area but we very rarely have anybody who’s upset in our store or anything, it’s just a fun environment. We’ll have a 60 year old guy and a 19 year old guy in the store helping each other figure something out if we’re busy, so it’s kind of cool.

Norm Bour:

Nice. Tell everyone about how big your place is as far as square footage which you’re not using all of it, you’ve got plenty of room for growth.

Jason Hambrecht:

Right, we’ve got 1,500 square feet. We’re probably only using about maybe half of it which is good and bad. We don’t want to waste that space back there but as things grow, we’ve got the potential to add what we want.

Norm Bour:

Make a note out there guys: if you’re looking to start an industry, you don’t need 2,000 square feet or anything close to that. Optimum range somewhere between 800 and 1,200 square feet, that’s where you want to grow. Let’s go into one of the pillars we call product selection: how did you decide what to carry and what do you carry that really sells well both in the e-liquid market and in the hardware line?

Jason Hambrecht:

Well, this for me has been a giant learning experience. The week we opened the score, the stuff I got, I didn’t even know what half of it was. I was a complete novice. I didn’t even know what a vape shop was a year ago. I think it was February of last year when I even knew what vaping was, so I kind of jumped into it quickly, researched as much as possible, placed orders with vendors based on their recommendations. The first shipment came to my house and Sean and I and my wife we opened up all these boxes and we were trying to figure out what all this stuff was.

That’s the baby steps; now we’re to the point where we’re on the cutting edge of everything new coming out. I don’t want to get locked into a certain brand, I like having new stuff all the time in store.

Norm Bour:

What are your top selling E-liquids?

Jason Hambrecht:

Right now Space Jam’s a big one, and Suicide Bunny. There’s a local company out of Northeast Florida called Fusion, they make awesome juice, they’re very active in the community. They do a lot of donations to foundations. We’re picking up this Savage juice out of Minnesota we should be getting next week. The Savage guys came to our store a couple weeks ago and that’s an ultra-premium line packed very nicely, we’re excited about that. We try to get new juices in all the time, almost every week. We filter out ones that aren’t selling. We won’t buy all of a line, we’ll try to narrow down– you pick a brand and you try to find maybe the two or three flavors that are really hot and that’s what we’ve been carrying.

Norm Bour:

Excellent point. How many different brands would you say that you carry right now?

Jason Hambrecht:

We probably have about a dozen brands, maybe even more than that. We’ve got about 90 or so flavors total.

Norm Bour:

Excellent. Another takeaway I want you guys to get out of this is that you don’t need to carry hundreds of brands and if you develop your own line of liquids you don’t need to develop hundreds of flavors. Generally speaking, I advise– most shops have somewhere between 10, maybe as much as 20 different brands. I think somewhere around a dozen or 15 is optimum. Jason brings up a really good point: you don’t need to carry every single one of their products. Just find the ones that sell, find the nic levels that sell. I always tell the customers and audience, “Don’t sell what you have, sell what people want.” The market will tell you what it wants.

Customer service, customer retention, customer acquisition. What is your process of how you trained people and found the right people? Because that is really paramount in this industry because you can’t just do it all, you can’t always be there and in your case, you aren’t.

Jason Hambrecht:

Well, I wrote it all down. I used work for the Ritz Carlton years ago and they’re pretty up there with customer service, so I actually dug some of that old stuff out and basically kind of rode out the philosophy of the store; how you treat customers, what do you do if somebody comes into the store with an issue? Sean and my wife and I sat down and looked at that, read through it, and that’s kind of our culture. We created our culture. It has a lot to do with luck; Sean and Bo in the store are just awesome, awesome guys. They love what they do.

You roll the dice and you see what they get, but these guys, really, they’re passionate and customer service is the number one important thing as far as I’m concerned.

Norm Bour:

Absolutely true, and here’s another takeaway that I want you to get out of this guys, is that you can teach technical skills, you can teach some of the mechanics of the industry, but you can’t teach personality, you can’t teach attitude, you can’t teach the things that people are born with they’re learning how to be especially awesome at. You don’t necessarily look for someone who’s already an existing vapor because for the most part if they’re interested in the industry they will learn it. You want to find people who are generally, cordially nice and want to help other people. Let’s talk about the law; did you have any challenges with either your local city or with anything in the state of Florida that’s going down that people should recognize?

Jason Hambrecht:

Not us locally. In fact, we didn’t even need a permit.

Norm Bour:

Woah!

Jason Hambrecht:

In the area that I’m in. In certain areas you do need a permit, but where we’re located we’re considered to be in our county so that was easy. The community’s accepted us pretty well. From the very beginning, I went down to the chamber of commerce and said, “This is what we’re doing, this is who we are.” We actually had a chamber of commerce meeting at our store last night. Probably about 200 people showed up. Just kind of get active with those people so you’re in their face before– don’t let them find out later on. “Hey, what is that place?” Go introduce yourself to them so they put a face to the store, they’re too concerned.

Norm Bour:

Absolutely true. One of the things that we talked about before you opened up the shop is how you go about marketing, because the 30 days prior to opening is probably one of the most critical. What are you doing in the social media world and the PR world as far as how you’re getting the word out? How are you relating to other businesses or in the social media environment?

Jason Hambrecht:

Social media is huge now. We’ve got a website– we don’t even need the website. Facebook and Instagram – we just started getting more active on Instagram, but Facebook is huge. We got almost 800 followers now. We’ll probably hit a thousand in the next few months. We put stuff on there and people share our photos so that’s really the main marketing we’ve been doing. We put a magazine out, I don’t know how we did, but word of mouth, good customer service, and people telling other people about your stores is what we’ve been doing.

Norm Bour:

Here’s why I picked you as vape shop of the month: one is because I knew you personally and I wanted to make sure that you got the props that you deserved because again, I have an amazing amount of respect for people who do this right, which is not that common, and here you have a gentleman who came into the industry relatively fresh and talked to me maybe three months after he’d been exposed to the vaping space and again, he’s an absentee owner which is a little bit hard to do. Again, what we want to do on vape radio is we want to find people like you and share them with the world. Give everyone your website address and how to get ahold of you and how to find you on Facebook and Instagram and anything else you want to– this is your 30 seconds of pitchout, man.

Jason Hambrecht:

Www.SpeakEasyVaporium.com. If you go to Facebook, just type in Speak Easy Vaporium, we’ll pop up. Instagram is SpeakEasy Vaporium, and we also have an online store, SpeakEasySupply.com. It’s starting to grow a little bit; we keep adding more and more to it which is exciting.

Norm Bour:

That’s excellent. On behalf of Vape Radio and VapeMentors and certainly myself, congratulations, keep up the great work and congratulations on being the first vape shop of the month. There’s one number one and you are it right now so other people are going to follow your paths. For those of you out there who believe they can share a story like this of wonderful success, we want to hear the challenges you faced as well. Believe me, Jason faced his own challenges we didn’t really get into today because nothing happens easy, nothing happens by itself, you have to be proactive. Jason, you have yourself a good day.

Jason Hambrecht:

You too, thanks a lot, Norm. I appreciate everything you’ve done.

Norm Bour:

Ladies and gentlemen, that’s wrapping it up for the day. You’re listening to Vape Radio, the number one worldwide source for updated information streamed straight to your phones and tablets. Be part of our growing community of vape masters and head on over to VapeMentors.Com to learn more. Catch up on our past shows which this was show #50.

Paul:  

50!

Norm Bour:

Make a note; we’ve crossed over that 50 threshold. Thank you so much for being part of our day and part of our industry and part of our lives and we are so glad to be part of yours as well.

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.