Based on the growing popularity of vaping, vape shop owners can count on a steady flow of interest from the community, especially if it’s the only shop in town. But if you start noticing that your clientele is starting to disappear, there’s likely a good reason for it.
Disclaimer: the following is strictly my personal opinion as a consumer, so take from it what you will.
1. Swarming customers
Whether your store is a large multi-location success machine or a reasonably humble local shop, if more than one person working the sales floor, it’s important that a customer only interacts with one associate. There are a few exceptions, including specific employees given cash and sales floor duties, or another employee stepping in if one is unable to answer a customer’s question. But, generally speaking, it’s overwhelming to walk into a vape shop and have to talk to more than one person about the same thing. This can make the customer feel bombarded by what they view as desperate sales pitches. An ideal interaction at any store, vape or not, is one where the customer feels as though they’ve had a satisfying conversation about their questions and concerns, and leaves the store with exactly what they needed.
It’s very different if the customer has an excellent rapport with the store owners and employees, because this enables the store to acquire regulars who come not only for the quality products and service, but also for the sense of community. That being said, new customers (beginners and knowledgeable vapers alike) should be approached respectfully without having to worry about several hovering employees. A beginner may be wary about vaping due to the harsh stigmas associated with the industry, so the store should never seem like an environment that tries to suck you in with multiple people asking if you need help. And a well-versed vaper has no need for a long pitch about why a certain mod is better than another by two or three different people. Speaking succinctly, no type of store anywhere does very well with more than one sales associate talking to an individual customer, as it gives off an overly-aggressive vibe.
2. Poor store layout
One thing that can agitate anyone during their shopping experience is a confusing store layout. This doesn’t exclusively refer to a poor system of product merchandising; even something as simple as where you place your e-juice sample station (if applicable) in comparison to your checkout area can frustrate customers during their visit. I’m not saying this is a deal-breaker for all or even most customers, but it definitely can have a negative impact on the store’s effectiveness overall. Every store layout should guide customers on a well-structured journey.
This journey should begin with your most current beginner setups and/or promotions, followed secondly by a e-juice sampling area. Beyond that, a build-your-own area involving more intricate products such as advanced tanks, rebuildables, VV/WW and mechanical mods. This is one of the more successful store layout models I’ve seen in chains and local long-standing stores.
Here’s my reasoning behind this specific organization: beginners should immediately be presented with what is ideal for them, in some cases even near the window to draw them in. A window display is exactly the type of merchandising that might not only remind potential beginner customers that your products exist, but also assure them that vaping isn’t all about cloud chasing and mods with five different menus.
A juice tasting station is something designed to peak customers’ interest in the world of flavors, and of course, is the second step for beginners setting up after they’ve chosen a device.
Anything that’s not a full starter kit or bundle, especially building supplies, should be something kept further back, as a more advanced customer will be more comfortable in the store and know exactly where to look in most cases.
Obviously, this breakdown is subjective and depends heavily on what type of customers you seek to attract. But the point is that you have to think about what kind of journey you want to take your customers on, and organize your store layout from there.
3. Cluttered e-juice tasting area
Too many times have I walked into a vape shop only to find out their juice selection is a code that needs deciphering. I’ve even seen some store employees struggle to find their own products! That is truly embarrassing. Every good sales associate should know it’s critical to maintain not only a clean sampling station, but also an organized one. Some stores I’ve seen could use a complete makeover in the sampling area, while others would benefit from more regular cleanup of the station. If Tim Hortons can have a new pot of coffee going every five minutes, there’s no excuse for an unwiped counter, or litter finding a permanent resting place once customers leave. I know that it’s frustrating to pick up after inconsiderate shoppers, but that’s how business works.
4. Running a clubhouse instead of an establishment
Ever wonder why some bars are always so empty? Perhaps it’s because of they don’t have anything good on draft. Or maybe it’s because when you walk in everybody stares at you as though you’re intruding. This could just be shyness and an overly cautious tone held by some specific people (totally not me), but a vape store is basically a new bar for beginner vapers… without the booze of course. So if you run a vape shop, there are a few things that’ll tarnish your reputation and result in a star or five getting taken away from your online reviews.
Loud music, video games, or whatever other media might be active in the store is a complete turn off for potential customers. Nothing says “Go away, I don’t like you” like the black metal sensation Gorgoroth, or you and the fellas playing search and destroy on Call of Duty when somebody walks in to buy something.
I understand there is a method to the madness. Some people want to give off an inviting vibe to what they expect their target audience to be. But very few businesses have become popular appealing to an extremely niche audience. Vaping is niche enough to most people. But nothing is more uninviting to new vapers than a strange environment where people feel as if they’ve interrupted you. There is a level of casual atmosphere that should be present in any vape store, but there is no reason for you to blast Lil Pump’s latest single while Mary-Ann asks if you have a starter kit for her sixty-four-year-old husband.
5. Poor choice of location
This one comes down to simple economics and consumer habits. Unless you’re a well-known establishment, choosing a location that has poor visibility or is seemingly in the middle of nowhere can really affect the traffic to your store. Locating your store in a stripmall without decent signage or moving to a cheaper location that’s down a side street and out of sight from high-traffic areas are perfect examples of what not to do. Any smart business considers how much work needs to be done to achieve a steady flow of traffic. However, it’s equally important to remember that foot traffic is paramount to success. Window displays can lead to curious customers and free advertising via word-of-mouth.
6. Price gouging
I was actually reading a Reddit thread recently, discussing what angered people most about local vape stores. The first few comments complained about stores in more remote areas jacking up the price of juices. From house blends to name brands, small stores have gotten a bad rap for bad prices. And this problem extends far beyond e-juice. Some stores have been reported to inflate prices on hardware by 40-50%! Yes, it’s true that business can be tough at times, but why take the risk of ruining your reputation? The same figures can be achieved by selling more at a lower price, assuming you have decent customer traffic.
House brand juices shouldn’t typically go beyond $15 for a 30 milliliter bottle. And that’s being generous.. If you’re having trouble getting a product to sell, it may be due to your prices being a bit steep for your average consumer. Price comparisons with competitors are important, no doubt, but consider the value beyond monetary attributes. In other words, should a tank with less than a 5 milliliter capacity, a low-wattage coil, and a less-than-admirable reputation be priced over $50? For that matter, consider if the product in question should even be sold at your location. If you’re more of an advanced vaper/hobbyist shop, can you truly benefit from creation a promotion for starter kits while raising the price of some of your more popular juices? These are all variable situations and it’s best to take a look at your store and truly figure out whether it’s worth it to raise prices.
7. Insufficient hours of operation
I’ve walked into a vape store at 11pm quite a few times, just to get my late night fix for a couple of coils and a new juice. If traffic is slow, you may want to take a step back and figure out whether or not it’s truly worth it to close at 5pm on a Sunday. For that matter if your hours of operation are minimal and typically ceasing around 6pm every day, imagine what sales you could achieve if you stay open until 9pm! Yes, it does seem a bit niche and unlikely that staying open past 9pm is worth the costs spent on extra hours for employees, but take a step back and consider your competition.
Online stores never close. But online stores are no good when your customers need something right now. Most brick-and-mortar stores close before the nightlife even starts to trickle through the streets. Yes, it may seem like the only customers you’ll get are the less-than-ideal kind, but the reality is quite different. You’ll find folks coming in for a quick bottle of juice before a night out or an emergency pack of coils for the weekend. It’s unlikely people will be making major purchases at these hours, but if you’re one of the few stores open in the area past 8 or 9pm, those small independant purchases will start to build up—and so will your reputation.
9. Staff with a rude ’tude
There are things that both owners and employees can do to make customer interactions go more smoothly in the increasingly competitive world of sales. With little to no skills in personal interaction, a vape store’s reputation can go down the toilet almost instantly. Maybe you know how to pitch every single item, tailored to every type of person would show interest in it. But if you’re short with customers or not fully attentive to their questions and concerns, they’ll take their business elsewhere without hesitation. Worse yet, they’ll let the rest of the community know about the kind of service they received.
Beyond the level of kindness you exude at your establishment, it’s increasingly important to focus on the level of sincerity you apply in your work. Your work is sales and marketing, sure. But above all, it’s about the people. People are the foundation of your business. It’s key to formulate relationships with every customer that walks in. Compliment them on their device, if suitable. Discuss mutual interests if time permits it. Of course, you’ll always have customers looking to buy and run, and that’s okay too. The more you can engage your customers and help them with your needs, the more your business will thrive.
9. Not keeping tabs on the competition
No matter how good the store looks, or how nice you are to everybody that walks through the door, you still have to stay on top of the competition. Some shops will even analyze their competitors’ websites and adjust their own prices accordingly on a regular basis. This religious approach to market analysis is what has caused some of the vape store giants to rise to, and stay, on top. Everything from price comparisons, point programs, deals, time-sensitive sales, embracing holidays, and even in-person promo codes are the key tactics to staying above the rest.
I put excessive emphasis on treating the customers with respect and forming relationships, but never forget to remain competitive. The ideal scenario to blend both customer care and competitive prices into one can be done with adequate customer service. Make sacrifices and allow reasonable discounts, or better yet, something for free once in a while! You can also benefit from adding extra loyalty points to their account. It’s the personal touch of empathy and compromise that screams that you care about your customers.