Education is vital in the e-cigarette and vaping sector, so who better to talk about the category than the sales reps who visit stores every single day? Priyanka Jethwa reports

William Chipchase, Rep, Imperial Tobacco, Brighton area

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How good is retailers’ knowledge of the e-cig and next- generation category in general?
Vaping is trendy at the moment, and many independents have done well to capitalise on its popularity. However, around 75% of e-vapour sales still come from online stores or specialist vape shops, so there’s room for further growth in traditional channels. Therefore, at Imperial, we’re keen to educate and support retailers interested in getting involved with the category – and that is where I can help. 

What one thing do you wish every retailer knew about this sector?
E-vapour is potentially an extremely lucrative category. Blu’s e-liquids range offers margins of more than 40% when sold at RRP, so great profits are available to those retailers who make their stores destinations for the three million vapers in the UK. 

What are the most common mistakes and challenges in this category? 
The biggest challenge for independent retailers is keeping up with the pace of innovation. There’s a huge choice when it comes to systems, flavours, and technologies. Retailers tend to treat the e-vapour category as a side-line, and might limit their offerings to a small piece of PoS on the counter. This may encourage an occasional purchase, but it won’t signal your store as a regular vaping destination.

How can retailers succeed in this sector in 2018?
Begin with a small range and work with your rep to understand the broader category and what products will work best for existing customers, as well as those who may be looking to move over into the category. First time buyers, for example, will likely be looking for a high-quality product from a trusted, well-known brand.

Erich Steinsdorfer, Logic Champion, JTI, South East England

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How good is retailers’ knowledge of the e-cig and next- generation category in general?
Retailers are sometimes less knowledgeable about vaping because it’s a relatively new category. We know from conversations retailers need help with this process, which is why JTI has created a network of specific reps called ‘Logic champions’. We dedicate our time to visiting retailers in our regions to pass on merchandising advice, product knowledge and market information to help drive sales. 

What one thing do you wish every retailer knew about this sector?
Retailers must invest in perfecting their range. Getting that right depends on understanding the market, being knowledgeable about the different brands and devices available, and speaking to vaping customers about their preferences. Staff education is crucial and supporting this is a large part of my role as a Logic champion. 

What are the most common mistakes and challenges in this category? 
The most common mistake I see is retailers stocking a range that’s confusing for customers – either by offering too many different brands, or by not stocking the required accessories to match the devices on offer. Our advice is to stock a consolidated range including the most popular device types, such as refillables and capsules, in a tidy display. 

How can retailers succeed in this sector in 2018?
Retailers must keep up to date with the latest trends and successful products, such as Logic Pro – it recently won a 2018 Product of the Year award. Stocking these best-selling devices from trusted brands will ensure retailers become a destination for vapers.

Matt Tisdall, Head of sales, Philip Morris (PMI), UK

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How good is retailers’ knowledge of the e-cig and next- generation category in general?
Despite customers purchasing e-cigarettes online and in specialist stores, the independent retail channel remains a critical gateway for consumers. Independents should ensure they have good knowledge about the different products available, and should stock a full range in order to fully utilise the high profit offered on all brands, including Vivid and Nicocig. 

What one thing do you wish every retailer knew about this sector?
Offering consumers a diverse range of e-liquids is critical in making sure consumers never leave the store without a product. Traditional retail has been overtaken as the most popular channel for consumers to purchase e-cigarettes, with 41% of adult e-cig users now opting to purchase through specialist e-cig vendors and stores. 

What are the most common mistakes and challenges in this category? 
About 70% of adult e-cigarette users purchase products through specialist e-cigarette stores and online, and this number is continuing to grow. In order to compete for a share of these sales, independents should stock a range of reputable products from well established brands, such as Nicocig or Vivid. 

How can retailers succeed in this sector in 2018?
With nearly three million vapers in the UK and e-cigarette sales predicted to grow even further in 2018, retailers should make sure their fixtures have high visibility, are well merchandised and ranged, and are constantly stocked, so consumers can easily identify products and buy the product they came in for.

Matt Moden, Co-founder and director, Liberty Flights, UK

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How good is retailers’ knowledge of the e-cig and next- generation category in general?
It is vital retailers and their staff feel confident in selling vaping products. Vape suppliers need to be able to support retailers as much as possible. At Liberty Flights, that comes as part of our package – online training portals, PoS, and conversations with Liberty Flights representatives. However, I would say that this is still a very young category and education and reassurance about it is still quite low.

What one thing do you wish every retailer knew about this sector?
This category is growing rapidly and it has the potential to be extremely profitable for retailers. Some of our better-performing stores are achieving £2,500 a month profit from a 1sq m space in the form of a well-stocked Liberty Flights display unit.

What are the most common mistakes and challenges in this category? 
Common mistakes in retail include hiding away vaping products. This a distinct harm reduction category and needs counter-top prominence and regular review. Slow lines can be changed and bestsellers can be extended – it all comes from working closely with category experts.

How can retailers succeed in this sector in 2018?
Embrace it. The category is growing fast and has the potential for high profit margins, unlike many other sector. Use a reputable vaping supplier who genuinely cares and will help you get the best out of the category.