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Bay Bashir: My plan for a vape-focused 2021

January 15, 2021

Middlesbrough retailer Bay Bashir

For Middlesbrough convenience store owner Bay Bashir, the past year hasn’t allowed much time for perfecting his category management. He’s explains why a focus on new vape products and a full range review are on his 2021 to-do list

I’m looking forward to getting focused on the future of our store during 2021. For nearly a year, I have been focused on making our business COVID-19 secure, constantly cleaning shelves, doors and making sure my stores our safe for my customers and my team. Like every store owner out there, I spend all day in store and come home and have the worry that I might be bringing the virus home with me.

Usually I like to spend time working in each of my five stores, watching and listening and trying to understand what customers want and what product categories are working best for us. It just wasn’t possible to do this in 2020, we were too busy.

It’s therefore been really difficult to keep up with fast-moving categories such as vape, where developing and improving your category management is so important. My strategy has been to work with major brands such as JTI’s Logic and Imperial’s Blu where I have found there is the most support available.

Supplier support has been more important than ever this year because our attention has been focused on keeping the store open and safe for shoppers. If someone comes in after buying a device saying that here is a fault, I want to be able to know that I can swap it and then exchange it with the supplier in a simple way, instead of sending it back by post and waiting for the money to be credited back to me. Imperial and JTI are very good at making life simple for us.

My staff have been invaluable over the past year and now I know why I have invested so much in them because they’ve really risen to the challenges of coronavirus. Obviously, they have been used to operating with restrictions such as Challenge 25 for vape, alcohol and tobacco but at the start of the pandemic they were having to implement a three-customers-at-a-time rule and make sure customers were always wearing masks.

In the end I bought disposable masks we could hand out to shoppers.

Our sales went up by 100 percent in the first March lockdown and we’ve kept about 35 percent of that, but I’d rather things went back to normal because it hasn’t been a nice time.

It has also made noticing trends really difficult. For example, our tobacco sales have gone up around 40 percent this year but our vaping sales have gone up 70 percent. Because shopper behaviour has been so different, it has made judging how many people have switch from tobacco to vape – or if anther trend is happening – really hard to judge.

In 2021, I am looking forward to doing a big range review for all my stores to make sure that our stores are fully up to date. Right now, however, we have another national lockdown to get through.

Bay Bashir owns and runs five Go Local convenience stores in north east England.

Nicotine pouches have been one clear winner for us

One trend we have seen emerge, however, is nicotine pouches. We are selling a lot of the JTI brand Nordic Spirit after their team came into the store and introduced the products to customers, explained how to use them and what flavours are available. I’ve not had a huge amount of time to focus on new products so JTI’s support has really helped. My impression is that customers around 40 to 50 years old are buying Nordic Spirit in the most numbers and it is a new sector that is clearly meeting a need that’s out there.