The C-Store Champions discuss the e-cigs and vaping products market and give their advice on starting out and managing the category

Rishi Madhani, Today’s Stokenchurch, Buckinghamshire

Rishi relies on a third party to manage his vaping products on a sale or return basis

Paul Cheema, director of Malcolm’s Stores, West Midlands

To help his customers learn more about the vaping category, Paul runs education days

Julian Taylor-Green, The Taylor-Green’s Spar, Lindford, Hampshire

Julian’s store features a dedicated unit displaying his extensive range 
of vaping items

Jeremy Blackburn, JTI head of communications

Jeremy has a wide industry knowledge from working in sales and trade communications as well as in his current role at JTI

Where and how do you display your e-cig range?

Rishi: The e-cigs are with batteries, next to the cigarette gantry. The e-liquid vaping products have their own unit which is displayed on the counter facing the door.

Paul: We are privileged to have a bespoke e-cigs and vaping gantry behind the counter. We were the first retailer to have it and it’s merchandised next to cigarettes; they complement each other.

Julian: We have a 600mm bespoke unit next to our tobacco gantry. It highlights the extensive range and ensures customers can see we are serious about vaping and e-cigs.

How do you ensure your e-cig display is consistently well-merchandised?

Rishi: I was introduced to the market by a specialist magazine distributor who used to supply us with other products as well. When they introduced e-cigs they said that they would put in what’s selling and pull what’s not. The margins are reasonable and it’s on a sale or return basis.

Paul: The unit is on push feed so the products are always faced up. If something doesn’t sell after a couple of months then we’ll replace it. We work with Real Trade, Litejoy and Phillip Morris. They look at our sales data and make suggestions based on that. We also have education days in-store where brands come in and show consumers how products are used.

The C-Store Champions are a group of experienced retailers who understand the role of the local store in their community. They are tuned into the demands and desires of their customers and believe in continual development of their businesses. Each month the Champions share their expertise

Julian: We decided to commit to the vaping market last year, and challenged Real Trade of Birmingham to create a bespoke e-cig gantry. We can adapt the range to meet changes in the market and practice good order processing, regular stock checks and order placement.

We ensure staff have training about the products to assist the customer in making the appropriate purchase.

Jeremy: Retailers should ensure e-cigs are located prominently in store, preferably on the counter top in a bespoke unit. It’s vital that the e-cigs merchandising unit remains well stocked to help guarantee repeat visits from local customers and maximise the profit potential of the category. More than half of users buy at least four refills every month and 36% of customers purchase them more than once a week. Maintaining range and availability of E-Lites in a visible location in store will therefore drive repeat custom.

How has the market changed over time?

Rishi: The vaping products that you fill with liquid have come on in leaps and bounds, with different batteries and chambers. You can get lots of different fruit flavours, too.

Paul: It’s changed massively. At first it was more of a novelty product and people who were vaping were still buying the occasional 10-pack of cigarettes. But the business we’ve lost with the tobacco display ban has been picked up by the vaping market.

Julian: There’s a gradual shift to becoming better educated about what products are about and how they meet the consumer’s needs. There’s a better understanding that cheap imports are not always best and that quality represents better value. Suppliers are coming into the market with a more balanced approach.

Jeremy: Since e-cigs entered the UK market 10 years ago the category has shown rapid growth, doubling in value in the past two years alone due to continued innovation and some great product launches. Traditional ‘cig-a-likes’ initially characterised the market, but in recent years many products have moved towards a more 
design-led device such as E-Lites Curv.

What factors are driving growth in the vaping market?

Rishi: The overall cost - cigarettes are about £7.50 for 20, whereas vaping products can potentially last most of the week for £5. Plus the assumption is that it’s a healthier product, and lots of places allow you to vape indoors.

Paul: It’s the trends that drive the growth - for example, cloud smoking is the newest thing. You need to know your product to be able to sell it, and know the consumer’s budget. The moment you start selling something that they don’t trust because they don’t believe in you, you lose the sale.

Julian: The cost and consumers’ desire for health are driving a movement to vaping. As the market starts to mature we are seeing a levelling out of the playing field and the convenience sector has a better balanced offer to meet consumer needs.

Jeremy: The affordability of rechargeable e-cigs is a key factor, as is the constant development of e-cig flavours, with vapers tending to switch between a wide variety of flavours rather than sticking to one. Sales force support and committed innovation from manufacturers such as JTI is also driving growth. By providing advice on the category and NPD to match market trends, we’re helping retailers grow their e-cig sales.

Which segments of the e-cig market are showing the most pronounced growth?

Rishi: Nowadays it’s all about personalising things, from your mobile phone to your car. The personalisation of e-liquid vaping products is driving growth. I saw someone the other day with a battery pack with a skull on it with LED eyes and the more he pulled on it, the brighter they glowed!

Paul: It’s got to be e-liquid vaping. We have the standard pen at £39.99 and the luxury pen and tank at £99.99. And we let customers build their own tanks with coils and cartomizers.

Julian: The key to growth is the variety of flavours we stock. We need to ensure continuity of stock and that consumers are confident we can meet their needs.

Jeremy: Rechargeables are the leading segment, with a 56% value share, driven by the affordability of these devices. Tanks are also becoming increasingly popular, currently accounting for 27% share of value.

What changes do you expect in the category over the next 12 months?

Rishi: I think it will pick up a lot more over the next 12 months. As we speak people are working on innovations.

Paul: I think it will get more exciting in e-liquid vaping - we’ll see more powerful batteries and bigger and better tanks. The category has another couple of years of growth.

Julian: I think the biggest impact will be from the introduction of standardised plain packs. This could potentially be a game changer with regards to the cost of the standard packs, but could potentially see a shift to alternative smoking solutions and less frequent visits to the stores.

Jeremy: We expect to see the market continue to grow, and with the technology of e-cigs evolving, we predict a great deal of new product development in the category. JTI is aware of the growth opportunity the tank sector represents and has begun to invest in the future of the category with the recent acquisition of Logic, the leading independent US e-cigarette company which owns the Logic Pro tank system. We are also leveraging our knowledge, sales contact strategy and continued investment to build on the success of the E-Lites brand.

How often do you review your e-cig range, and where do get advice from?

Rishi: Jensons come in every three or four weeks. We’ll give new products between six and eight weeks to get established and if something isn’t selling we’ll swap it out.

Paul: On a monthly basis - on every brand visit we look at what has sold. Sometimes we get new stock every few weeks. The big brands Imperial and JTI have been down to see what we’ve been doing. But we couldn’t have done it without Phillip Morris, Real Trade and Litejoy.

Julian: We review our range every three to six months. Working with our chosen category partners, we review our sales patterns and discuss their knowledge of market changes and opportunities. We make sure our range is fresh and up to date, which at this stage of our evolution can be quite challenging as we are still in the process of building our creditability as a supplier of e-cigs.

Jeremy: The rapid growth of the e-cig category presents a significant opportunity for retailers and there is a big demand for guidance and education from suppliers. In response to this, we have developed our sales force to be able to understand the e-cig category so retailers will benefit from regular visits from their knowledgeable JTI rep. Retailers can visit for more information on the E-Lites product range and to further boost their knowledge on the category.

What advice can you give to retailers entering the category for the first time?

Rishi: Because it’s such a young market there are distributors out there who are more than happy to work on a sale or return basis. Don’t go and spend £300-£400 on a display when you don’t know what the demand is like.

Paul: If readers want to come and have a look at our unit they are more than welcome. I’d say don’t just stick to one brand; work with several. And don’t stock cheap brands and devalue the category.

Julian: They should seek advice from a market specialist. They need to decide how much space they want to dedicate to the product, how much they want to spend, who their target audience 
is, and how they are going to market the product to them. Staff training also needs to be taken into account. The main thing is to be clear in your own mind what you are looking to achieve and how long it might take.

Jeremy: To avoid overwhelming consumers with too much variety, retailers should stock well-known brands such as E-Lites and offer a consistent, focused range of disposables, rechargeables and tanks. The E-Lites range includes a full kit, instant use, charger and refill packs, and it’s important to maintain availability of all SKUs to answer demand from e-cigarette customers. This will ensure they become a destination store for vapers looking for a comprehensive selection of quality e-cigarette brands and models.

What does your vaping product range include?

Rishi: We sell vaping products from Jenson. They used to supply rechargeable e-cigs, but now they’ve stopped so we sell the disposable ones as well as e-liquid vaping products.

Paul: Our range starts with the most simple product, which is the Nicocig electronic cigarette, and then ranges up to the advanced E-Lites Curv.

Julian: We have a comprehensive range of products, from complete starter kits, single-use e-cigs and replacement parts to a wide selection of vapours available in a variety of tastes to suit all consumers

Jeremy: JTI offers both the E-Lites original range and the recently launched E-Lites Curv, a high-quality product which enters the popular rechargeable sector of the e-cig category. From its unique oval shape and quality Swiss-made e-liquid, to the simple one-touch charging system, E-Lites Curv clearly differentiates itself from other products available within the category.

What policies do you use to prevent underage sales?

Rishi: We have the same policy as we do for selling traditional cigarettes in our store. You have to open your eyes and look at it in that way. Doing so avoids any issues and confusion.

Paul: It’s exactly the same as tobacco - we can’t sell to anyone under the age of 18 and declined sales are logged on the till.

Julian: All our supervisory team undergo Personal Licence training. Being members of the Spar symbol group means that we can utilise the online Spar Guild electronic courses on a six-monthly basis to ensure our team are kept up to date, and age-related sales are the responsibility of the team collectively.

Jeremy: It is essential that retailers have confidence in the future of the category, and with more and more people using e-cigs that includes proper regulation. We applaud the government’s decision to place an age restriction of 18+ for the purchase of e-cigs, as well as a ban on proxy purchasing. Regulation should focus on keeping e-cigs out of the hands of minors.