A few months ago we began discussions with the owner of a local chain of gas stations about selling electronic cigarettes in his locations. Luckily we realized that we weren’t prepared to handle the requirements of this endeavor. Since then we have learned a great deal about electronic cigarettes and what it takes to be successful in distributing them offline.
There are many gas stations and retail locations across the U.S. selling electronic cigarettes with varying degrees of success. Most of these locations can be found along the East Coast. However, pockets of retail stores selling electronic cigarettes are popping up in other areas including the Midwest where we are located. Just this evening I walked into a PDQ in Madison WI and found a small display for Fifty-One Electronic Cigarettes.
Fifty-One has recently taken over the kiosks in our two major local malls from Smoking Everywhere. Fifty-One is very similar to Smoking Everywhere except for the fact that they sell disposable e-cigs as well. I asked the cashier at PDQ how the e-cigs were selling and she told me that she had personally sold two kits in the past week and she thought others had been stolen. With the help of companies like Fifty-One, we hope that e-cigs become more popular and wish them the best in the offline arena.
Below are, in our eyes, the keys to succeeding in selling electronic cigarettes in retail:
1) Don’t Sell Disposables – Disposable electronic cigarettes are a great way to try out e-cigs before investing a lot of money. Unfortunately, the costs of disposables do not pay off when compared to how much use you get out of them. Every disposable we have used has equaled out to about a packs-worth of traditional cigarettes, and the cost for disposables is typically $14 or higher. Unless you are living in NYC, that isn’t a very good deal. Besides, it usually takes more than one cartridge of vaping to decide if you really enjoy electronic cigarettes. Stores will be better off selling a small, rechargeable kit with multiple cartridges. We suggest finding a low-priced KR-808 as this two piece model is simple, provides a lot of vapor, looks like a cigarette, and most new vapers fall in love quickly with them.
2) Make it Cheap – Carrying on from the point above, the initial high cost of electronic cigarettes is a huge deterrent for a lot of potential vapers. Most retail locations partner with established electronic cigarette companies because the companies will typically handle the displays and logistics. The downside is they will usually charge more to cover marketing and branding expenses. There are many generic suppliers that can provide very low-priced kits that perform exceedingly well.
3) Provide Learning Materials – Knowledge is king. Through my experience, I’ve come to realize that most people don’t fully understand what electronic cigarettes are, and view them as a gimmick or fad. The best way to combat this is to provide a little reading material. A stack of simple flyers next to the register explaining what electronic cigarettes are, and how they are better than analogs, should do the trick.
4) Lock it Up – The display case pictured above was covered on all sides but the back. It would be very easy to reach around the back and pull the electronic cigarettes and cartridges out. This was confirmed when the cashier told me that she believed more had been stolen than sold. Theft of electronic cigarettes would be unfortunate on multiple levels. It would hurt your revenue from the product, which makes it less likely to keep them in stock. It can also lead to electronic cigarettes falling into the hands of minors. If a parent catches their child with electronic cigarettes and learns that they came from the local gas station, that parent could very easily make a public outcry to not sell electronic cigarettes there.
5) Keep It Simple Stupid – One of the first things I learned while taking classes on marketing was “KISS,” or Keep It Simple Stupid. The truth is, if you bombard the customer with too much variety or information, they will be turned off. Even though there are hundreds of excellent flavors available for electronic cigarettes, we suggest selling only a few. Historically, the strongest sales of e-liquid flavors have been traditional tobacco, menthol, cherry and vanilla. Do your research and find a supplier with a good track record of happy customers.
6) Educate Employees – Every retail employee I’ve spoken to at stores that sell electronic cigarettes doesn’t seem to know very much about the products or the industry. I don’t suggest that they should take classes or become experts. But, they should have good knowledge about how it works, life of cartridges and batteries, and a general knowledge of the why the brand they are selling is better than the competition. Customers need to feel secure that what they are purchasing is useful and high-quality.
7) Don’t Sell to Minors – It may seem like common sense to keep electronic cigarettes out of the hands of minors. Unfortunately, in most states, there aren’t any laws banning sales to minors, and some suppliers have gotten in trouble for not taking this initiative. Electronic cigarettes aren’t any less addictive than traditional cigarettes, and sales of electronic cigarettes should be held to the same standards as traditional cigarettes.
If offline retailers follow the steps above, we truly believe that they will be successful in selling electronic cigarettes. This public exposure will also help broaden the impact of e-cigs and make them more commonplace. If you would like more information on distributing electronic cigarettes in retail stores, please don’t hesitate to contact us.