The vape industry, now worth over $22.6 billion globally, has seen explosive growth in recent years. For smart entrepreneurs, that kind of growth signals a lucrative opportunity; however, there are many hurdles to opening up your own vape shop. Many business owners are turning to online stores to get started in the vape industry.
In this guide, we’ll cover the ten steps vital to starting a successful online vape store:
- Learn the space with industry research
- Find a good lawyer and accountant
- Create a business plan
- Finance your business
- Create a plan for shipping
- Purchase your inventory
- Choose an ecommerce platform
- Build your website
- Do online marketing
- Test and analyze
Step 1: Do industry research
The first step to starting any type of business is taking time to learn the industry. For an ecommerce vape business, that includes familiarizing yourself with the different types of products, performing audience research, and analyzing the typical pricing for vape products.
The vape industry includes several main categories of products:
- Vape pens: also commonly called e-cigarettes, vape pens are one of the most popular vaping devices.
- Vape mods: for more serious vapers, mods offer more power than pens, but are also larger and less portable.
- E-liquids: sometimes referred to as e-juice, e-liquids are the liquids you fill vape pens or mods with that convert to vapor.
- Replacement coils: the part of a vape device that provides heat, coils produce the actual vapor. They can get worn out over time, making replacement coils an important category.
To learn about the industry, look up some of the top vape stores online and browse their websites to learn how they position their brand and products, what they’re charging, and the kind of tone and style they use. Consider visiting some in-person shops as well to get a feel for their atmosphere and observe the shoppers who will make up your shop’s target audience.
Step 2: Find a good lawyer and accountant
This is good practice for all business owners, but especially important when selling vape since many vape products include nicotine. This means that they often incur higher sales tax rates, and many states place age restrictions on selling them.
The laws vary by state, which makes understanding the complexities of legally selling vape online challenging. Additionally, new regulations are being considered and passed all the time. Hiring a lawyer and accountant from day one is important to help you get it right and ensure that your business stays on the right side of the law.
Step 3: Create a business plan
Every ecommerce business needs a well thought-out business plan—it’s how you go from having a great business idea to visualizing, in specific terms, how to turn it into a reality. Your business plan should address:
- Your company’s brand positioning
- Details about your target audience
- Your estimated budget
- Your financial goals
- The steps you’ll take to get your business set up
- Your timeline for completing those steps and launching
- The marketing channels and strategies you plan to pursue
Your business plan doubles as a roadmap to help you realize your vision, as well as a tool you can use to convince investors that your business is legitimate.
Step 4: Finance your business
Starting a new ecommerce business costs money—even the most successful business won’t start turning a profit immediately. You’ll need to cover your initial costs knowing that you won’t make that money back for a number of months, at best.
If you have enough money in savings, this part is easy. If not, you’ll need to look to outside sources such as:
- Finding a business partner
- Seeking out independent investors
- Taking out a small business loan
- Applying for a line of credit
- Getting a merchant cash advance
- Researching ecommerce grants you qualify for
You may need to use more than one of these options to reach the level of financing you need based on the budget you developed in step three.
Step 5: Create a plan for shipping
Shipping is a big part of running an ecommerce business, both in terms of cost and labor. You can save yourself the cost and trouble of both storing and shipping your vape products if you use dropshipping. With dropshipping, you run the website and make the sales, but partner with suppliers to ship the products directly to your customers.
If you decide to stock and ship items yourself, figure out how you’ll manage packaging and shipping in advance. In the age of Amazon, customers increasingly expect low shipping costs and fast speeds. You have a few options:
- Offer free shipping, and increase your prices to cover it.
- Offer a flat fee for shipping, and make sure your prices are high enough to cover the difference.
- Offer free shipping over a certain order amount to encourage bigger orders.
- Pass shipping costs onto customers, knowing it may mean fewer purchases.
All of these options are valid, and it may be worth testing out different ones over time to see which pays off the most in profits.
Step 6: Figure out your inventory
If you choose dropshipping, this step will involve finding the right supplier who sells products that are of high quality and gets them out in good time. Find a few suppliers and place some test orders to gauge how they compare.
If you’ll be handing storage and shipping yourself, you’ll need to pick out your products and stock up. Determine how much inventory you want to buy to start out and pick a place to store it. Keeping track of inventory can get complicated, and figuring out how much to keep in stock at a time plays a role in profitability—investing in inventory management software will help with that.
Step 7: Choose an ecommerce platform
Creating an ecommerce website requires certain functionality beyond what the typical website needs. This includes a way to load products, track how much of each is in stock, achieve secure financial transactions, and offer promotions. For a vaping business, you also need an age verification feature to stay within the law.
To tap into those features, you need to invest in a good ecommerce platform. For new ecommerce entrepreneurs, look for an easy-to-use platform that provides features for building your website, creating strong product pages, managing orders, and processing payments.
Step 8: Build your website
With the right ecommerce platform, this part should be easy. You can either hire a professional designer to help you create your website, or use a website builder that provides pre-built themes and intuitive drag-and-drop functionality so you can do it all yourself.
Make sure you include an age verification pop-up on your site to weed out anyone too young to legally purchase your products. You should also add product warnings to your site per the FDA’s guidelines—your lawyer will help you get the language right.
Beyond the legally necessary parts of the website, there are a few main types of pages that ecommerce websites should include:
- Homepage with information about your business and products
- About page with your brand story
- Product pages with high-resolution images and product details
- Contact page with multiple forms of contact information
- FAQs page that answers the main questions you expect visitors to have
- Terms of Service to cover you legally
- Return policy so your customers know what to expect if they’re unhappy with a product
For an ecommerce business, your website is the most important tool you have to make sales. Make sure you build a website that’s visually attractive and makes a strong case for why customers should buy your vape products.
Step 9: Do online marketing
Vape might be a relatively new industry, but it’s already competitive. Online marketing is how you get your new website noticed online and convince visitors to buy from you. There are a lot of different tactics you can consider to promote your business online, but some of the top options include:
- Search engine optimization (SEO)
- Pay-per-click advertising (PPC)
- Email marketing
- Social media marketing
- Content marketing
If you have time to dig in and learn the basics of each, you can handle some of these yourself. However, many new business owners benefit from hiring professionals to manage their online marketing for them. Either way, don’t skip this step—this is how your first prospects will find you, and hopefully become ongoing loyal customers for your business.
Step 10: Test and analyze
Even with all the research you do before launching your business, a lot of your initial strategy will be based on guesswork. Luckily, each tactic you try will provide you with more information about what works and what doesn’t. Check your website and marketing analytics regularly to gain knowledge about how your audience is responding, and make changes to your business strategy as needed.
Follow these ten steps, and you will be well on your way to a successful online vape business. Don’t let early missteps discourage you—all business owners deal with a certain amount of failure. The ones that go on to the greatest success are those who are able to analyze and learn from those failures.