by Norm Bour
Every industry has it’s “issues.” Sometimes they are caused by the people in the industry itself, sometimes from outside circumstances beyond our control.
Just look at what happened to travel, hospitality, and aviation last year…
When we posed the question of “what are the issues?” to smoke shop industry experts, we got answers. And rants. And lots of good, valid feedback.
If there was ever a number one factor that permeates throughout almost every industry it’s Uncle Sam and all his too many relatives. Federal, state, and local laws all have a way of getting in your pocket—and your face—and making life difficult.
The smoke/ head/ vape space is just as prone, or even more so, than more “mainstream” sectors.
Yan Gleyzer from Vape Guys in Virginia has three shops, a distro, and a hemp flower company, so has reasons to be critical of over-regulation and taxation. “No question, those two things never let up,” he said, “but not far behind that was counterfeit items, mostly from China, and the trademark infringement issues they bring.”
That has been an ongoing issue within this industry almost from the start, which began with cheap Chinese products which we sold from car trunks and back rooms. Along with that comes his point number three: “The issue of pandering to children—or the appearance of that—has been a constant issue, especially in the vape liquid market, which is where I started in 2014.”
Ginny Saville from Botany Bay in Kentucky also has three shops and echoes her distain for government interference. “It’s not just the taxation, but some of the obscure and random laws are dangerous. We can’t advertise like most businesses, and we have to use window coverings that make us look like we’re doing something illegal! By hiding what we do makes us look shady.”
I have seen that on a national level, and part of the problem is that the state by state laws are random and in many cases intrude upon each other.
Savile said, “We interface with state and local officials and try to stay active in the community, to let them know we are one of ‘them.’” That also helps build their brand and stay visible.
Boston Smoke owner Geoffrey Yalenezian is a second generation smoke shop owner and has a long history to look back on.
“The ban on flavored tobacco and vape products was way over the top,” he said, “and will force lots of vape shops out of business and push people back into conventional tobacco. That works to our advantage since we mostly are a tobacco shop, and have been for three decades. But we also sell a lot of flavored tobacco. Even so, our business is down 300 percent with that flavor ban in our state of Massachusetts, and just over the New Hampshire border it’s up 300 percent.”
Not a coincidence.
And coming up from behind is the huge elephant in the room, the 800 pound gorilla, and that is the ever-expanding cannabis and dispensaries growth.
Yalenezian continued: “These guys are starting to sell more and more smoke shop items, like batteries, pipes of all sorts, and dab tools. That used to be our domain! If they can expand and follow different rules than we smoke shops do, we are going to be a very boring industry,” he lamented.
And rightfully so.
The rules in Massachusetts seem to be arbitrary and very unbalanced as flavored WEED is legal, while flavored TOBACCO and vape is not. So it’s OK to get high using flavors, but not indulge your tobacco needs?
As a parent Yalenezian worries about that, too. Let’s face it, our smoke shop/ head shop industry started as an underground, alternative industry. Only in the past few years has it become more above ground and mainstream. His cannabis fears of more and more “high” drivers out there causes him concern.
I guess we have to be careful about what we wish for; we might just get it.