Another job in the year 2014 that didn’t exist a decade ago: Vape Salesman. At VapeRite, a store in an Atlanta strip mall that is much like hundreds of others springing up across the country, the WSJ’s Mike Esterl sees a cottage industry that has quietly become a force reshaping the market for electronic cigarettes:
What the “vape shop” doesn’t stock are mainstream e-cigarette brands like Blu, Logic and Njoy. While those cigarette-sized devices still make up the largest part of the e-cigarette market—which could top $2 billion this year—the fastest growth is now coming from larger, customizable contraptions called “vaporizers,” like those sold at VapeRite.
All e-cigarettes are metal and plastic heating devices, using batteries to turn nicotine-laced liquid into vapor. But vaporizers resemble large fountain pens, with bigger batteries and cartridges, so they hold more liquid, produce larger vapor clouds and last longer. They also allow users, who often call themselves “vapers,” to mix and match hardware and refill cartridges with liquid bought in bulk.
Sales of standard e-cigarettes at convenience stores rose 71% to $562 million in the 52 weeks through May 10, but rose only 3.6% over the most-recent 12 weeks, according to Wells Fargo. Although there are no reliable data for overall sales, Wells Fargo estimates vaporizers are growing twice as fast, approaching 50% of total e-cigarette sales.
Vaporizers play into a desire among younger people to customize their gear, rather than just smoke the same e-cigarette as everyone else. And for the time being, they are sold like counterculture products, in small, independently-owned boutique stores that double as lounges and social hangouts for users.
But can the market can stay that way while becoming much bigger? History suggests a more systematized, corporatized future for vaping if it sticks around as a durable social trend (and addiction). Regulators still haven’t sunk their teeth into the industry, so it’s easy to imagine a future where selling hundreds of different flavors and brands of nicotine liquid, not to mention offering tastings and smoking equipment, could become a much less relaxed business to be in.
But for the time being, the Vape Store is another business very much native to this decade. Will it be around for the next one?