March 23, 2020
The growth and development vaping category rely to a large extent on the support suppliers are able to provide retailers with – often sending reps to stores to present new products, help merchandising and give training to staff. Thanks to the coronavirus outbreak, all of this looks certain to be impossible for at least three months.
An Imperial spokesperson confirmed to Vape Business that for the time being it store visits would end: “The health and welfare of our employees and business partners is our top priority. We have worked hard to put plans in place to minimise the risks of disruption to our business and the service received by our customers.”
A particular area of focus for Imperial has been the travel undertaken by employees at the company’s distribution centre in Nottingham, but rep visits are also affected.
So, what are major suppliers doing to ensure they are able to step in and help businesses instead? “You will not be surprised to learn that we continue to keep these plans under constant review given the evolving situation. Our sales force continues to maintain close contact with our retailer base through calls to our customers,” Imperial confirmed.
Suppliers are – like many businesses big and small – being led by guidance from the authorities. Ross Hennessy, sales vice president at JTI says: “From the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak, our priority has been the wellbeing of our employees and their families, and we are closely following the World Health Organisation’s strategy of disease containment and continue to take measures across our company to reduce the risk of disease transmission and safeguard the health and safety of our employees.”
From 17 March, the company took the decision to advise all employees to work from home meaning an end to physical store visits from reps until further notice.
Instead, retailers are being pointed towards the online and phone support offered by major suppliers.
Hennessy says: “We are committed to providing support to all retailers via our dedicated salesforce and we would encourage any retailer who requires assistance to either contact their sales representative by phone, visit our trade website JTI Advance or call the Customer Care Line on 0800 163503. Our salesforce will also be ringing all of their customers regularly, to help in any way they can.”
Other support includes PMI’s IQOS-support site menthol-ban.co.uk and Imperial’s Ignite site.
JUUL has indicated it too will be able to support the trade and that supply is secure for the coming months despite challenges caused by coronavirus.
With such a fast-moving situation it is difficult to predict the future but it is clear that there will be support for stores from the big e-cigarette suppliers. With a double-whammy of coronavirus and menthol ban, it’s support stores will be looking for more than ever.