Many vapor industry business owners that believe the FDA’s deeming regulations have dramatically impacted or restrained the ability to continue pursuing vape marketing, but that is further from the truth than you think. If you’re currently holding off on vape advertising to “see what will happen” over the coming months or years, you’re setting yourself and your business up for a drawn out demise. It’s important that you know how to promote your vape shop or wholesale business utilizing free vape marketing resources so you may continue to thrive during this very interesting time.
Greg Conley – the American Vaping Association President & longtime vaping advocate, has shared in the past that “there are no advertising restrictions in place, other than modified risk claims.,” meaning that the advertising sector of the vaping industry was left nearly untouched by the Food and Drugs Administrations deeming regulations. In addition, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., and Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., introduced legislation in the House of Representatives on February 16th, 2017 which, if adopted, could prevent the e-cigarette business from collapse. The bipartisan legislation would alter Food and Drug Administration rules requiring products deemed to be tobacco products that came on the market after Feb. 15, 2007, (a predicate date) to undergo a prohibitively expensive and complicated approval process.
For the time being, it’s best to keep moving forward and fight for your vape business and all that is righteous.
This information is intended to provide a comprehensive overview of cost-effective vape marketing strategies you can start using today to drive more traffic to your business and increase sales. Whether you are a vape shop owner, a vapor wholesaler, an eJuice manufacturer, or a hardware manufacturer – there is something here for you. Also, see the 2016 guide to free vape shop marketings resources, which is elaborated upon in greater detail here.
Organic web optimization.
Establish and maximize your web presence to attract local consumers (vapers or vapor retail establishments) looking for your business.
The key to successful vape marketing strategy starts with identifying your target market. If you already have a vapor industry business, you should have a good idea of your general customer demographics. The basic concept of effective vape marketing strategy revolves around the idea of positioning your business in front of vapers (or potential vapers), anywhere and everywhere you might be able to catch their attention.
According to a recent study by Google, 4 in 5 consumers use search engines to find local businesses (see the infographic below, courtesy of Google). Of that group, 88% are using their smartphone and 86% are using a tablet or desktop computer. When conducting searches, these consumers are looking for specific types of information. Google’s study found that 54% are searching for business hours, 53% are looking for directions, and 50% are looking for a local business address. They also found that 18% of the smartphone searches lead to a purchase within 24 hours.
What does this mean for your e-cig marketing strategy (other than the fact that people don’t use telephone books anymore)?
If your business is not appearing in the top 3 local search results, or at least close to it, consistently, then you are losing customers every day to competitors with more visibility. Your customers (or could have been customers) are going elsewhere because the other place was easier to find. It was more convenient.
In the image below, you will see the default local search results which are returned when searching today for ‘enid vape shop’. The top 3 default listings are returned when searching Google for any kind of local businesses. Making consistent efforts to rank your business so that it appears in this location is an essential part of an effective vape marketing strategy, particularly for retail businesses.
Google’s organic search results display directly below the three business listings. You might also notice that Juicy’s Vapor Lounge holds the top position in the local rankings as well as the organic results which are returned for the search ‘enid vape shop’. Although this has taken a considerable amount of effort to achieve, it is possible in some cases.
Keep in mind actual search results may vary from person to person, depending on factors such as location, search history, previously rated businesses, etc…
This free vapor marketing strategy is not only important for retailers looking for end users, but it’s also important for eLiquid manufacturers, vapor wholesalers, hardware manufacturers, eLiquid bottling companies, and every other vapor industry business. Setting up your Google my business listing is an important factor for any vapor industry business, as it adds credibility to your operation. Keep scrolling for more information on how to create an effective Google my business listing for your vape business.
How do I rank my local e-cigarette business in Google’s top three search results?
(Keep in mind, there is a big difference between local SEO and website SEO.)
While there are some best practice approaches, it is important to first understand that there are no any guarantees of ranking positions on Google, period. If somebody tells you otherwise, they are likely scamming you or pitching you some sort of short-term ranking strategy which may eventually get you blacklisted by Google. At the end of the day, search results are custom tailored to provide what Google believes to be best suited for an individual searcher. Their objective is to know what you are looking for before you know you are looking for it.
Since the ranking algorithms Google uses are proprietary, there is not a ‘one size fits all’ kind of way to go about this. Every market is different and the location of the searcher, previous searches the searcher has conducted, and the exact search term being used may all potentially affect the results which are returned to Google searchers.
That being said, there are some general best practice strategies which should be followed if you are going to have a shot at optimizing your business’ online visibility. If you can do these things better than your competitors, you have a better shot at becoming more visible and ranking higher than they do, which will, in turn, drive more traffic to your vape business.
- Design a clean, informative website for your business, being sure to implement a thorough on-page and off page local SEO strategy.
There are businesses (rare exceptions) that manage to rank well in Google local search results without a website, however, in my experience, having a well-designed website for your vapor business increases your odds substantially.
You want a central hub for all of your citation listings and social media pages to link back to and in my opinion, a website is much more professional than trying to get away with using a Facebook page, for instance (although its a good idea to have one of these as well).
In addition, at some point you may want to sell products online. A website will be necessary if you decide to take this approach, and the shop can always be added later. Also see, should my business have an online store? Retailers and service providers or keep reading. I will discuss this shortly.
- Implement Schema.org data markup on your website.
This ensures that search engines are interpreting your data in a meaningful, indexable format. You can easily check if your website currently implements Schema.org data markup and other types of structured data using Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool.
The Schema.org markup for your address and phone number is below. Change the text in bold to your own details and you are good to go.
<div itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/LocalBusiness"> <p itemprop="name">COMPANY NAME</p> <p itemprop="address" itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/PostalAddress"> <p itemprop="streetAddress">ADDRESS LINE 1</p> <p itemprop="addressLocality">CITY</p>, <p itemprop="addressRegion">REGION</p> <p itemprop="postalCode">POSTCODE/ZIP</p. <p itemprop="telephone">PHONE NUMBER</p> <meta itemprop="latitude" content="LATITUDE" /> <meta itemprop="longitude" content="LONGITUDE" /> </div>
- Create a Google My Business account.
Be sure to correctly categorize your business (vaporizer store, if you have a retail shop), create a detailed description including links and all relevant information, your business address, phone number, etc… Be sure you remember the exact syntax you list your address and phone number here, as you will need to use this later to create your citations.
Google will mail you a postcard with a PIN number for verification. Once you receive the postcard, verify your business by visiting the link on the postcard and using the PIN number to verify your legitimacy.
Once your business is verified…
- Encourage (real) customers to review your Google listing.
Reviews are definitely taken into consideration in the local ranking system. By having more (real) reviews and a higher average rating than your competitors, you have a much greater chance at ranking your vape business higher on the local search results. Don’t try to cheat the system and submit fake reviews. Google uses algorithms to determine the validity of reviews and getting caught submitting fake reviews is likely not a good thing in terms of your business ranking.
Google local business reviews can be a little tricky to submit if your customers have never given Google reviews in the past. In order to find the place to submit a review, first, they must search google for the name of your business.
If using a desktop computer or laptop, the process is pretty straight forward. Your local business listing should appear off to the right side and look similar to the image below. Your reviewer will want to click ‘write a review’ to submit a review about your business. (They will need to be logged into their Google/Gmail account to submit a review.)
On a mobile device, the process isn’t quite as intuitive.
Once you search for the business, you will receive a similar-looking local business listing, but there is not a button to write a review.
In order to submit a review using a mobile device, first, the reviewer must either touch the star rating region or the ‘more about’ regions, highlighted in the images below.
Once the reviewer has selected one of these areas, a new version of the listing will appear.
Scroll down towards the bottom and underneath the other reviews, there will be an area to submit a new review, similar to the image below.
- Create and maintain applicable social media accounts & pages.
Even if you don’t use all of them, I suggest creating as many profiles and pages as possible, just for the sake of being able to reach people who use each of the different social platforms.
When it comes to social media, I suggest picking 2-3 platforms and creating consistent content for those and forget about the rest of them.
Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Linkedin, Foursquare, Instagram, Alignable, and Snapchat are all examples of possible social media platforms to market your vape business. If you are looking to expand your social media horizon, check out this list of 91 social networks.
- Identify the most important online business directories and create listings (citations) on them, using consistency with your name, address, and phone number (NAP).
First, list your website in all of the free vape shop directories you can find, as well as YP.com, Yelp.com, Bing Places for Business,
After that, identify which directories should be prioritized and are most relevant to your specific area by conducting a Google search for ‘find a vape shop (your city)’ and identifying the directory listings which appear on the first couple pages of the search. Make a list of the directory sites. For example, if you live in Oklahoma City you might search for finding a vape shop Oklahoma City (shown below), and your results would look something similar to the images below.
Notice some of the listings will be for actual vape shops which have ranked well or that you have recently visited online and others will be actual directories. First, you will likely see the local search results.
Next, you will see the organic search results. I have highlighted the directories and the actual shops to better explain how to go about identifying which are directories and which are local businesses which have just ranked well for the search terms you used. If you are in doubt about which, just visit the sites and see what they are about.
You should do this for each keyword you want to rank for, scanning and noting the first 2-3 pages of the search results. These are the most relevant for your particular area.
After you do this you might try the same with ‘vapor store (your city)’, ‘pigs (your city)’, etc…. You want to make sure all of your bases are covered in terms of potential search terms used to locate your shop.
Prioritize customer retention and upselling.
Identify and take advantage of free methods if increasing sales to your existing customer base.
Consumers have more options at their fingertips today than they have ever had in recorded history. If your business has not implemented some form of a newsletter or opt-in vape marketing strategy, you are losing customers to other businesses who do have customer retention strategies in place.
Your existing customer base is the best resource you have for generating more revenue for your business, but if you are not giving your customers the opportunity to opt-in to an occasional text message or email, you have a much greater chance of never seeing them again.
How do I start a customer opt-in list?
There are several ways to go about collecting newsletter/marketing opt-ins from your customers, the easiest of which would be your point of sale system’s software, which can make the opt-in process easy on you and your customers.
Point of Sale Systems
POS systems such as ShopKeep enable you to provide your customers with the option to opt in to receive further promotional communication from you. Some also provide an email or text outreach system for you to send your customer’s promo emails from time to time, using the same system.
Email Marketing Platforms
Don’t have a modern point of sale system that enables you to collect opt-ins? Email marketing services such as MailChimp or Constant Contact have opt-in pages which can be left open on a tablet in the area of your business where your customers check out. I am personally a Constant Contact partner, so if you are in need of email marketing assistance, feel free to get in touch with me.
SMS / Text Messaging
If you don’t have an extra tablet laying around or would simply prefer the text message approach, setting up an SMS opt-in system may be the way to go. Check out these 13 SMS text messaging services which serve the same purpose.
With text message marketing, however, you must be extremely clear with your customers that they are opting in to receive text messages and that they can opt out very easily. Failure to communicate this clearly could lead somebody to get the impression you are sending them unsolicited spam text messages, which could put you in violation of FCC regulations and at risk for very hefty fines.
It would be wise to view/download the full details on the recently expanded FCC phone call and text messaging regulations before pursuing a text message marketing strategy.
How do I get customers to subscribe or opt-in to my vapor marketing or promotional messages?
When building an opt-in list, customers are not likely going to want to mindlessly sign up for anything. You must incentivize them to do so, giving them a reason to read your texts or emails and ultimately return to your business. Some ideas to obtain opt-ins include:
- Hosting a regular puzzle, contest, or game. Give discounts or prizes to customers who win or even participate. Make it fun. Give incentives to participate.
- Members-only discounts or promotions which are only shared with people who opt-in.
- Random giveaways. There is likely not a better way to retain a customer and gain their friends and family as customers than giving away unexpected prizes.
- Get creative. If you can’t think of a good way to encourage people to hear from you again then you might be in the wrong business.
What are some good examples of non-invasive or annoying emails or text messages to send my customers?
If you are looking for outside assistance in creating content for your text or email marketing outreach, give me a shout.
How can I achieve more sales to my existing customer base?
- Identify products or services the customer could buy but doesn’t. If you are in the vapor wholesale business, for instance, maybe you primarily sell eLiquid. But in evaluating where your customers are spending money elsewhere, you find that offering certain vaping devices might be a smart decision in order to keep them from having to go elsewhere. Communicate with your customers as frequently as possible, especially when you are face to face. If you can make their life easier and/or save them money, you may be able to obtain more of their business.
- Develop a plan for encouraging your customers to refer their friends and family. Referral business is one of the easiest kinds of business to obtain but you have to ask for it. Even if you have a wholesale business, shop owners generally associate with other shop owners and are likely to chat about these things when they get together.
- Maximize value in all of your customer contacts. The most important contribution you can give to existing customers is your knowledge and expertise. What information do you possess that can be of benefit to customers? Define value in terms of what your customers are seeking. The possibilities of creating value are limitless: faster service, better products, wider selection, faster/better delivery, easier ordering processes, etc. Go out of your way to help your customers and they will become loyal to your business. It likely doesn’t hurt in terms of karma, either.
- Make customers feel they have a special relationship with you. If they want to chat, take the time to chat with them with a smile on your face. Being short with a customer is one of the easiest ways to lose them, or even worse, spread their experience all over the internet. I believe the saying is: One bad apple spoils the whole bunch. And it definitely applies here. Upsetting the wrong customer who enjoys telling the world about their bad experiences will offset literally hundreds of happy customers.
Make your products or services easy to access. Create an enjoyable buying experience.
On the other hand, if your customers have an enjoyable experience or the process is particularly easy, they will tell others. Word of mouth is one of the most effective methods of vape marketing but it can also work against you if there are problems.
Optimize & organize your inventory arrangement. Hire appropriate staff to minimize customer wait times.
You hopefully have certain times of the day in which foot traffic picks up and customers are having to wait in line to buy products. This is a great problem to have but it’s important to make sure your shop is organized in a manner which minimizes the time it takes to fulfill an order, allowing customers who are in a rush to get in and out. If somebody comes by during their lunch break and has to wait 30 minutes to make a purchase, they will definitely think twice before coming in next time.
In terms of your staff, it is important to make sure you have sufficient help on-hand in order to accommodate customer flow. If you manage the shop by yourself, you should consider hiring at least one other person, at least part time, to work during the busiest times of the day. This will allow one of you to take the customers who are new to vaping or just need their hand held, while the other person manages the fast-track line.
Allow customers who want to get in and out quickly to do so, but plan to have staff on hand to ensure that newbies get equal consideration. Not everybody is a pro when it comes to vaping and you should be happy to have newbie vapers coming in to your shop. Take care of these people and they are very likely to keep coming back.
If you have your own eLiquid brand or product line, set up a website that allows your customers to order online. If you don’t have your own juice brand or product line, do not set up the online store.
Today’s consumers are driven by convenience and price. If you are a shop owner and have your own line of eLiquid or even hardware devices, you are likely selling yourself short if you are not offering your vape products online. Not only does this allow you to reach a much broader customer base, but it enables you to fulfill orders without having to spend time with customers. It also makes life easier on your customers because they don’t have to take the time to visit your shop.
On the other hand, if you do not have your own line of products, I do not recommend reselling eLiquids and hardware on your website (unless you own a wholesale business, in which case it probably makes sense). In fact, I would avoid discussing pricing on your website altogether. Instead, create a professional, comfortable web presence that encourages customers to visit your shop for an enjoyable experience. The reality is that there is so much competition online, there is no way for you to compete selling brand name products unless possibly you are buying in wholesale quantities. Discussing pricing will just turn people into price shoppers, and possibly turn them to shop on the internet. In my experience, it’s best to avoid taking this route unless you have your own brand of products to offer.
If you employ a shop manager, hire a secret shopper to evaluate customer interactions when you are not around. Advise your secret shopper to be somewhat of a difficult customer and to ask very basic questions.
In working with hundreds of vape shop owners across the country, I’ve discovered a peculiar sort of ‘disease’ that haunts retail store owners from coast to coast. This vape shop disease is called Asshole Manager-itis. If you have owned a vape shop for any length of time and have ever tried to hire a manager, you likely know exactly what I am talking about.
It’s a nasty disease and nobody is certain of the reasoning behind it, but when you put a “Manager” title on a human, that also happens to be an experienced vaper, this disease has the potential to have wide-ranging disastrous effects on your business.
The symptoms of Asshole Manager-itis include but are not limited to: customers running for the hills, negative reviews on your social media and local business pages, unexplained drops in sales, and in the worst cases, disappearing Houdini-like inventory.
In many cases, the cause of the illness seems to be isolated to the manager in question acting as if they have become King of the vapor castle once you call them a manager. In many cases, they will speak very condescendingly to customers, making them feel like idiots when they have simple questions. They might forget that they are an employee (or even human) and suddenly decide that they are too good to assist in basic shop upkeep such as cleaning and organizing the shop. You might even discover that they are delegating everything and don’t have much actual activity they can account for, except for possibly hooking their friends up with free product.
If you have found a manager who doesn’t infect your business with the itis, consider yourself very lucky. Finding good employees who have knowledge about vaping seems to be one of the most challenging aspects of establishing a successful retail vapor business.
Wholesaler & Manufacturer Strategies
In 2013 I took on a position with a startup vapor hardware wholesaler as the business development manager/sales manager. In this position, I lead the company from having literally zero sales to achieving $250k – $400k sales/month within about 16 months.
When I started, there was literally a warehouse full of vapor hardware, eLiquid, and accessories, but there had not been any sales processed. The plan was to take orders on order forms that had to be filled out each time an order was placed. I knew that wasn’t going to work if we were going to be successful and my top priority immediately became streamlining the ordering process, which made life easier for me, my sales staff, our warehouse staff, and most importantly, our (soon to be) customers.
I designed a wholesale eCommerce vape website which required account verification for shop owners looking to purchase products and created a spreadsheet-based wholesale order form for customers to fill out when placing their orders. The order form contained all of the items we had in stock along with pricing. Shortly thereafter, inventory management became an issue as we were taking orders online and through our offline order form, so we moved everything to online orders only. This made a world of a difference.
As a vapor wholesale business, simplifying your ordering process is a crucial aspect of creating a successful operation. The idea is to make life as easy as possible for your customers and keep an inventory of the products they need. If you can do that, offer competitive pricing, hire competent account managers, and be consistent, then you can succeed in the business.
Most Effective Wholesale Cold Calling Script – Use to Obtain New Customers
I found the most effective strategy for obtaining new wholesale/manufacturing customers was to place a very simple cold call that went something like this:
‘Hi, this is ________ from Vapor Products, Inc., how’s it going?”
‘Great, I’m not going to take much of your time. We’re a statewide wholesaler – we carry name brand products such as Smoktek, Innokin, and Kangertek. Our prices are very competitive. I am just calling you because I am about to send over some of our pricing information for you to check out. Where should I send it?’
(Response) (get email address and send)
Managing Wholesale Customer Communication, Productivity, and Inventory
It is crucial to have a customer relationship management (CRM) system in place to keep track of what your sales people are doing, which customers belong to who, sales follow-ups, etc… is very important. Not only does it establish accountability for your sales staff/account management staff’s productivity and keep track of customer follow-ups, but it keeps the sales staff from stepping on each other’s toes – which is important if you intend to retain employees.
When I was at the vapor wholesale business, we used a web-based CRM system called Insightly, which did its job and was fairly priced. The downside to Insightly was that it was not capable of inventory or order management integration, so it was an entirely different system than the one we used to manage inventory. Our website was also an entirely different system, detached from the inventory or the CRM system.
There are much more comprehensive systems on the market which integrate the CRM with your inventory management system, website, and order management & fulfillment. Systems such as Salesforce or Fishbowl have the capability to integrate everything. The downside to these, however, is that the upfront cost can range anywhere from $15,000 to $50,000, with additional annual fees for updates and training.
Keep an eye on the competition.
This one is pretty straight forward but when it comes to checking on the online strategies being utilized by your competitors, it can get a bit more involved. If you are going to run a vapor business successfully, you need to have an idea of what competitors in your marketplace are offering, and what they are doing online that you might not be – especially if their business has more visibility or is ranking higher in search results than yours might be.
Retail Competitor Evaluation Strategy
First, identify the shops which make sense to pay attention to. These will be the shops that rank higher than your shop on Google local listings. You want to check with your mobile device and with a tablet, PC, or laptop as the results may be different, depending on where you are located at the time of the search and other misc. factors.
- Open your preferred internet browser on your phone. Visit Google.com and make sure you are logged out of your Gmail/Google account if you have one.
- Conduct Google searches for the following terms: vape shop, vape shop near me, vapor store, vaporizer store, closest vape shop, vape shop [enter your city], [enter your city] vape shop, etc…. You should receive the top 3 local listings before the organic search results, as discussed previously. Take a glance at the organic results on the first couple pages to see what kinds of sites are ranking for your searches.
- As you do this, pay attention to where your shop is ranked on the list (if it is). Also, pay attention to the shops that are consistently ranking towards the top of the list. Write these down, along with the website that their Google My Business Page links to if they have a website listed.
- Follow the exact same steps above, this time using a non-mobile device (computer), noting any differences in your findings.
Evaluate the Competition
- There are a wide range of factors which can contribute to local search rankings including quantity and quality of citation listings, number of customer reviews, quality of the reviews, Google Plus page setup, social media factors, and more.
- If you are looking to figure out how to optimize your vape shop marketing and increase your visibility on Google, contact me and I will evaluate your local competitors and create a customized game plan specifically for your shop.
Visit several local shops around your area. Buy something from each. Take in as much detail and overall vibe of the place when you go in. Pay attention to things such as:
- How the staff greets and interacts with you
- How many employees they have on the clock
- Any interesting product displays or decorations, televisions, couches, etc… Take note of the overall layout.
- Product/brand selection – Do they have their own lines of eLiquid? If so, do they mix it in-house?
- Any types of flyers, handouts, promotions, punch cards, etc… that they might be handing out
- Product pricing
- Product availability – Do you have to go to the store to purchase? Do they have an app, online shop, etc…?
- How their products are showcased
- Marketing opt-in lists. Do they give you the option to subscribe or opt into any kind of ongoing marketing when you are checking out?
Wholesale / Manufacturer Evaluation Strategy
- First, follow the same steps as above to see how your business is currently displayed in local search results. Even though your business may not target a local audience, it does give off a more professional appearance when your potential customers look for your business and find a complete listing for your business. It also helps to have good reviews, of course.
- Ask yourself a question. How is a potential customer most likely to go about looking for your business? What answers does your business offer to the questions that potential customers are likely to be asking? For instance, let’s say you have a vapor wholesale business and offer competitive prices and free shipping. That would answer a question for a vape shop owner is looking for a new wholesaler asking themselves, ‘Where can I find a cost-competitive vapor hardware wholesaler that offers free shipping?’. Their search might look something like ‘vapor wholesaler US prices free shipping.’
- The key to receiving qualified organic traffic, is to first identify the specific advantages your company has to offer and create original, meaningful content which answers the question that your ideal customer is looking to have answered. In this particular instance, the search results are shown below. Notice that the first result is the only one on the page that guarantees the lowest prices and offers free shipping.
Take advantage of local traffic and take advantage of opportunities to increase street visibility.
Depending on the city and type of area your vapor business is located in, there are likely anywhere from 1,000 to 100,000 cars driving down a street somewhere with a couple miles of your location. The question is, how do you capture their attention and divert some of that traffic to your shop with little to zero expense? Because you definitely should.
Considerations for maximizing street visibility and re-routing drive-by traffic might include:
- Keeping your storefront clean and tidy. The front of your business should be cleared of any trash and swept on a daily basis. If you have windows in the front of your business, wash them. Make the place look nice.
- Identify streets that are most heavily traveled near your shop. Buy or create signs, similar to the open house signs you might see directing drive-by traffic to homes for sale in your area. Post your signs on the busiest intersections, with arrows leading the way to your shop. Don’t buy anything too expensive, however, as your signage is likely to be taken down by the city. In fact, depending on where you live, it’s probably safe to assume they will be removed from time to time.
- Make a flyer and distribute it to nearby restaurants, bars, etc… Ask them to make your flyers or advertising pieces available to their patrons in exchange for displaying their literature or advertising pieces in your shop.
- Create a guerilla marketing idea and go for it. Do something crazy/legal and get yourself some news coverage.
There are many things you can do today to start bringing more traffic to your vapor industry business. The misconceptions involved around non-existent bans on ecig advertising are simply not true. The regulations are primarily geared towards the required warning labels on the bottles, eJuice sales tactics, checking ID’s, giving out free samples, etc… For full details on new regulations, check out the FDA’s New Regulations for E-Cigarettes, Cigars, and All Other Tobacco Products.
If you need any assistance with any of the concepts discussed here, please contact me. I have helped hundreds of vapor businesses increase their market share and would love the opportunity to do the same for you.