Owning a UK Vape Shop: The Risks and Challenges
If you’re an entrepreneur in the UK who wants to start a vape shop, you’re going to benefit from a logical and permissive regulatory environment. Although the UK vaping industry has been around for more than a decade now, it’s continuing to grow rapidly – so there’s still plenty of room to get in and establish yourself if you’re ambitious and willing to work hard. One of the challenges of owning a UK vape shop, though, is that you’ll have no shortage of competition. Getting to the top isn’t going to be easy – and that’s just one of the challenges you’ll face.
So, what are the things you need to know about starting a vape shop in the UK? Here are the biggest risks and challenges of owning a UK vape shop.
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Compliance with the TPD Is Your Responsibility
As you’re likely aware, the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) is the set of regulations adopted in Europe – and observed in the UK – that sets certain limitations on the types of products vape shops can sell. Here are the big ones:
- No e-liquid can have a nicotine strength higher than 20 mg/ml.
- No bottle of e-liquid with nicotine can have more than 10 ml of vape juice.
- No tank, pod or pre-filled vaping device can have an e-liquid capacity greater than 2 ml.
As a vape shop owner, it’s your responsibility to ensure that your products comply with the TPD. If you buy your products from distributors in the UK, you won’t have to worry too much about that because your distributors are obviously only going to have TPD-compliant products available.
One of the first things that you’re going to learn as a vape shop owner, though, is that the competition is intense. The same permissive regulatory environment that’s made you think about opening a vape shop has enabled thousands of other entrepreneurs throughout the UK to do exactly the same thing. One of the best ways to compete is by lowering your prices, and you can do that without reducing your margins if you can decrease your purchasing costs.
When vape shop owners want to lower the wholesale prices that they pay for vape gear, they inevitably look to China because virtually all of the world’s vaping hardware is made there. The Chinese manufacturers are happy to ship their products to vape shop owners anywhere, and by buying your products from them, you can cut out the middleman and dramatically reduce your costs.
The downside of buying your products directly from the manufacturers, though, is that whether the products are TPD compliant or not is of no concern to them. They’ll happily ship whatever products you want to buy; it’s your responsibility to ensure that those products are actually legal to sell.
The willingness of the manufacturers to ship non-compliant vape gear to TPD regions is most evident when you look at the market for disposable vapes in the UK. With just a little searching, it’s easy to find disposable vapes that clearly contain more than 2 ml of e-liquid and have nicotine strengths higher than 20 mg/ml.
There’s going to be a crackdown on those non-compliant products before long, and you don’t want to be one of the vape shop owners who gets in trouble when that happens. It’s your responsibility to ensure that the products you carry are compliant with the TPD.
Making Your Products Easy to Browse Is a Major Headache
If you’re going to start a vape shop in the UK, you’ll almost definitely want your website to have an e-commerce component because selling products online opens up a much larger potential customer base. Before you get started, though, you should prepare yourself for the fact that product organization is a major challenge for UK vape shops.
Because of the limitations imposed by the TPD, the variety of e-liquid products available in the UK is truly enormous. At minimum, a large vape shop will have 10 ml freebase nicotine e-liquids, 10 ml nicotine salt e-liquids, nicotine-free shortfill e-liquids and nicotine shots. To make things even more challenging, it’s common to find the same e-liquid available in both 10 ml bottles and shortfill bottles.
In short, you can’t just throw all of your e-liquids into a single “E-Liquid” category and expect your customers to find the products they want for themselves. If products aren’t easy to find, your customers will go elsewhere.
To get a better idea of what we’re talking about, take a look at some of your competitors’ websites. You’ll probably find that the navigational structures of some of those sites make very little sense. You don’t want your website to look like that. Any issue that adds friction to the buying experience drives potential customers away.
Some of Your Customers will Need Help Understanding Shortfill E-Liquid
Shortfill e-liquid is a great thing for the UK vaping community because it allows people to buy their e-liquid in large bottles rather than going through one tiny bottle after another – sometimes multiple bottles in a single day. The drawback of shortfill e-liquid, though, is that some of the people who are new to vaping may not have a complete understanding of what shortfill bottles are and how to use them. If you want to sell shortfill vape juice to people who may not be expert-level vapers, you’ll need to make it very easy for customers to understand the products. Otherwise, you’re going to deal with missed sales, unhappy customers and possibly even product returns.
Here are some tips that can help you lessen the friction for customers who want to buy shortfill e-liquid.
- The product pages for shortfill e-liquid should clearly state that the bottle is partially empty and contains no nicotine.
- The product pages should state the number and strength of nicotine shots that buyers will need to add in order to achieve a final nicotine strength of 3 mg/ml.
- The product pages should make buying nicotine shots as easy as possible. For that, you have three options. The simplest option is to bundle the correct number of nicotine shots with each shortfill e-liquid for free. You can also give customers the option of adding the nicotine shots themselves by checking a box. The final option is to ensure that each shortfill e-liquid product page links to your category page for nicotine shots.
Responsible Marketing Is More Crucial Than Ever
If you’re thinking about starting a vape shop in the UK and are new to the vaping industry, we strongly recommend spending some time reading about the history and evolution of the vaping industry in the United States before you begin. As we mentioned at the top of this article, the US federal government is slowly removing virtually all flavored e-liquids from the market out of fear that flavors appeal to teens and will lead to underage vaping.
The de facto flavor ban will decimate the American vaping industry. It will cause millions of vapers to return to smoking, and it’ll cause millions of smokers to not quit at all. Although the position of the US vaping industry is that the government is responding to the issue in the wrong way, the fact is that teen vaping is a serious problem, and you can trace the problem back to a few companies who engaged in irresponsible marketing by trying to turn their products into lifestyle products.
Don’t delude yourself into thinking that the UK vaping industry is safe forever or that teen vaping can never become an issue there like it is in the US. By the time anyone realized that teen vaping in the US was a real problem, it was too late to fix it without heavy-handed government intervention. As a member of the UK vaping industry, it’s up to you to market your products responsibly and avoid carrying products that cross the line and could potentially appeal to underage users.
As a UK vape shop owner, you should never forget that your core missions are to serve the vaping community and to contribute to public health by encouraging as many smokers as possible to switch to vaping and reduce their risk. Every time you feel the temptation to drum up some extra attention by engaging in “lifestyle” marketing or carrying products that mimic the flavors and labels of popular candy and cereal brands, you need to resist that temptation and return to your core missions. If you see a brand or vape shop that isn’t doing things in the right way, call it out. It’s the only way to ensure the long-term health of the UK vaping industry.