November 16, 2020
Just because your competitor has closed their doors doesn’t mean the return of lockdown restrictions should be celebrated, says Tom Gockelen-Kozlowski
Here we are again. After the Welsh ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown saw vape shops close once more last month, England is now back to where it started in March. Vape stores are closed and it doesn’t look as though any arguments about the importance of these businesses to public health is going to change the government’s view that these stores are ‘non-essential’.
Does this mean that Boris Johnson et al think that dry cleaners and garden centres – which can stay open – play a more important role than businesses which keep former smokers off cigarettes? It’s difficult to make any other conclusion.
On the bright side, this presents convenience stores with another opportunity to showcase the depth of their vape range and expertise. In our last issue, One Stop store owner Sunder Sandher explained how he had seen new customers arrive in his store who had been previously using a nearby vape store before it closed due to lockdown. His top-notch category management meant that, even after his specialist competitor reopened in the summer, Sunder was able to hold on to these customers.
Retailers across England have an opportunity to do likewise in the weeks ahead.
Yet, vape – and other so-called “new nicotine products” – are still an emerging and fast-evolving market. This means that for brand recognition and consumer usage to be cemented, every channel needs to be trading.
Take Ploom, for example. JTI’s new heat-not-burn device was scheduled to launch in London with two dedicated Ploom stores operating alongside 60 hand-picked independent retailers. The launch has gone ahead for the chosen stores but they now will not have the support of these two hub stores – growing consumer recognition and creating demand for the system’s EVO sticks across the capital – until they are due to reopen in December.
And this logic applies across the whole of the vape market. Think of it another way: Bookshops are unlikely to prosper in a world where there are no libraries to foster a population’s love of reading.
In the short term, then, there is a clearly an opportunity for convenience stores to sell more vape products in the next few weeks. Long term, however, no retailer of vape products should be celebrating the shuttering of the UK’s specialist vape stores.
At the end of the day, when it comes to this category’s success: we’re all in this together.