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Special report: will vape shops be needed in the ‘new normal’?

June 15, 2020

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From today, convenience retailers will need to get used to the operating with vape shops on their doorsteps once more. Yet, while absence can make the heart grow fonder, it is worth noting that until now vape shops have had a chequered reputation on the high street.

In fact, a poll by Nationwide earlier this year showed that almost a third of us would like to see fewer vape shops on the high street.

What’s gone wrong and the how does the industry turn it around?

“The presentation in many vape shops can be poor to average,” says Mark O’Dolan who mentors businesses through his firm High Street Mentor. “Today’s consumers expect high standards and exceptional service and it’s not good enough to offer something that may well be in demand in a shabby retail concept,” he adds.

Some of the missteps made by vape shops will be recognisable to convenience store owners with less up-to-date competitors close by. “Handwritten signs in a grubby, boring shop simply says, ‘We have no idea and don’t trust us; we are here making a quick buck,’” O’Dolan says.

The vape industry isn’t blind to the work some business need to do to raise standards but John Dunne, director of the trade body the UKVIA, says vape shops have had a positive effect on local economies:

“Vape stores are one of the things that are regenerating the high street. What I would say is that we have seen a change in what the shops look like with more of the chains becoming more upmarket, with clean Apple-type looks which are more inviting.”

Doug Mutter runs one of the UK’s biggest vape store chains, VPZ, and recognises that the industry has been on a journey.

“It is a very young industry so, when it was in its infancy, I think a lot of businesses thought they just had to open a shop and people would come flooding in. Those tend to be the businesses which are no longer around,” he says.

Mark O’Dolan says the internet makes vape shops particularly vulnerable if they offer sub-standard service: “Why bother when you can sit back at home or in your favourite coffee shop and order it online?”

Vape Business spoke to Mark O’Dolan prior to the lockdown which saw vape shop mandated to close their doors but his warning to the sector now sounds prescient.

Indeed, with vape shops returning to a retail landscape that has given convenience stores months to up their game, when it comes to vape category management the challenge for specialist stores might well have got much, much harder.