Alex Boyd is a successful vape shop owner who has “millennial secrets” of the digital marketing age. As a featured guest at our “Vape Shop Master Summit” from June of 2016, he offered tips of the trade for almost every aspect of marketing a successful vape shop.
A Little About Alex
Before Alex got into the vape industry, he worked for Proctor and Gamble as a marketer. When he decided to start his own vape business, he started with just $500 in hand. Now, with 20 employees, he’s worked his way to $1.5 million annually.
Alex’s First Vape Shop
Financing for a vape shop is risky for conventional banks, but there are plenty of opportunities for consolidation or acquisition. Alex found an opportunity in a struggling vape shop. The previous owner was pulling in $2,000 a day but made some questionable financial decisions. Buying cars and motorcycles with company money, mishandling finances and allowing employee theft ultimately led to the decision to sell when he could no longer make a profit.
Alex bought it for $10,000 cash. He kept the name but brought in new employees, rebranded and cleaned the place up. He removed a lot of the counterculture environment, ditched the sticker-bombed atmosphere and created a customer-friendly look that brought in more customers.
Tips for Keeping Your Store Inviting
- Use professional signage; don’t sticker-bomb everything.
- Keep bar stools to a minimum; this prevents people who are just there to get ideas and then buy online from “hanging out” and discouraging real customers.
- Get rid of the cloud — the vape one, that is. Customers should be able to see in front of themselves and across the room without a cloud impeding their vision.
Catering To Every Demographic
There are definitely generational differences in clients. The four groups vaping clientele fall into are:
- Baby Boomers, who want ease and simplicity in their vaping experience but will be loyal over the long term.
- Gen Xers and Millennials, who want to engage socially but also enjoy the counterculture side of vaping.
- Gen Zs, who are much more likely to want mods and design their own vaping experience.
Recognizing the older demographic that frequented the store, Alex picked up some brands that were more visually friendly — no skulls or tattoos. He still carried some hobbyist items but balanced the demand with that of the office professionals who prefer a more user-friendly design.
Tips for Engaging With the Older Crowd
- Stay professional; have employees ask, “How can I help you today?” rather than “Hey bro, what’s up?”
- Stay neutral; brand your own juice and keep the counterculture to a minimum.
- Try old-style punch cards; they make great marketing tools and cost next to nothing. They can also be used for friend referrals.
“Steal Ideas, Don’t Copy”
Steve Jobs said, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” Alex Boyd takes it one step further and says, “Steal ideas, don’t copy,” when it comes to marketing a vape business. For example, for the “Nancy Market,” 40+ females who want to vape, a huge mod isn’t cool or practical. They want something they can stash in their purses, something that’s sleek and simple to use but also something they can show to their friends if they want to. “Build your company for what the market wants, not what you want” is his key for ensuring a successful vape business.
Tips for Making a Mark
- Target the same things other successful brands do for the same demographic.
- Mimic the high-end brands, even for lower-price juices.
- Watch out for trademark infringement; the relationship that comes from the idea is what’s important, not copying exactly what other brands do.
Working Around the “Tobacco” Labeling Regulations Online
One of Alex’s most prominent marketing tips is taking advantage of how customers can do the marketing for a vape business. In his store, a poster behind the counter states that customers will receive a 10 percent discount if they leave an online review and a 5 percent discount for checking in. His employees are instructed to ask at the point of sale if the customer wants an immediate 5 percent discount. They then encourage the customer to “check in” right then on their phone. Because regulations are so strict for online advertising, this type of online marketing is the most effective and productive.
Tips for Engaging Online Marketing
- Encourage “hand checks,” which means taking a picture with a product in hand and posting it to social media.
- Let customers tag, remembering that 2-3 times a week is optimal.
- When wholesaling to stores, let the stores push the marketing. Offer free bottles and marketing materials to stores, allowing the stores to promote the brand.
How to Handle Branding
When Alex was developing branding ideas for his Occultus juice, he wanted it to be mysterious. He designed an idea with a tall character in a cape who didn’t speak a word. At a 10×10 convention booth, he enlisted a 6’ 7” man draped in a cape to stand quietly in front of the booth. When passersby asked about the juice, he said nothing and handed them a card while pointing to the bottles on the table. This tactic created a secret society story consistent with the brand that closed deals with 80 stores before the convention was over.
Tips for Effective Branding
- Find your demographic.
- Create a story.
- Create hype behind the brand.
- Keep everything consistent.
Alex makes it sound easy — and it can be, with a little help. For more great tips on starting, running and marketing a vape shop, check out the Vape Shop Master Summit and all the resources at VapeMentors.
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.