While the FDA has had a hard time deciding on if and how they will regulate vapor cigarettes, there is no shortage of popularity in the Fort Lauderdale area. Each month, as I open up local business magazines, I’m amazed by the sheer amount of stores being advertised in Fort Lauderdale and throughout Broward County.
The booming electronic cigarette and vapor smoking industry started in mall kiosks in the mid 2000’s, but if you ask any industry insider they will tell you the spike in popularity took place in 2008 when brands like Miami-based Green Smoke (now part of Altria,) had customers give them rave reviews on video channels like YouTube.
To this day, YouTube remains a popular avenue for brand exposure, with another company with South Florida operations, Bull Smoke, leading the way with a clever video featuring Coral Springs resident Joanna Rohrback, of Prancercise fame.
Once a very rare, misunderstood device, electronic cigarettes are being used virtually everywhere by individuals looking for an alternative way of obtaining nicotine that doesn’t contain tar, combustion nor tobacco. They are readily available in convenience stores and gas stations across the USA and abroad, and while the most popular flavors are tobacco blends and menthol, vapor cigarette cartridges are made in almost every flavor imaginable.
I caught up with the CEO of the International Vapor Group, Nick Molina. One of his brands, Vapor Zone, boasts over 30,000 flavor combinations customers can choose from or create by blending up to three different flavors made by the company.
The International Vapor Group is at the forefront of the industry, coupling a sizable online operation with a newly launched series of brick and mortar establishments. In an interview to discuss the scope of the industry, I had a chance to speak with Molina at his Fort Lauderdale location situated 3061 N Federal Highway and get his take on the growth I’ve witnessed.
Schmidt: I’m seeing “vapor shops” and “vapor lounges” sprout up all over Broward County, and now you're throwing your hat in the mix. What do you think about all of the stores popping up in the area, and what makes your store different?
Molina: While the industry is growing, there has been a lack of sophistication or creativity. We have viewed this as an opportunity to come in and do something with a truly unique selling proposition. We have accomplished this through our in-store Vapor Bar and Vape-tenders where customers can come in and request one of 30,000 different flavor possibilities. As well you will notice how our stores stand out with a clean, bright and well-lit décor. Much how Blockbuster transformed the seedy video store in the 90s, Vapor Zone is transforming the vapor shop business.
Schmidt: Do you see more of these establishments opening up in the future? It’s almost like there is a gold rush happening in Fort Lauderdale, with everyone trying to grab real estate and be one of the first ones to obtain customers.
Molina: I think there are too many being opened right now. I think only the strong will survive with the right number being those necessary to meet the demands of consumers.
Schmidt: You sell very high-end, technology-driven devices that don’t necessarily resemble e-cigarettes, and you also sell products referred to as “cig-a-like” devices because they are made to the same specs as tobacco cigarettes. Do certain types of people gravitate towards one device or the other? I have to imagine there is an education process at your stores to help steer people in one direction or the other?
Molina: The cig-a-like is really an entry level device. The larger devices can be a bit intimidating at first. What we have seen is a very definitive pattern where consumers begin using the entry level devices and graduate to the more advanced products. This is primarily driven by an enhanced user experience and the reduced cost of the eliquid versus the pre-filled cartridges.
As part of my duty to keep Fort Lauderdale residents abreast of business development, you can count on me coming back to this topic in the very near future.
Just out of curiosity, how many Fort Lauderdale locals have visited any of the vapor shops in the area? Please leave your comments below.