We’re not celebrating in the normal sense of the word, but we are appreciating the fact that life is (kind of) returning to normal after two years of COVID pandemic. At a recent event in Texas it was a pleasure to not worry about masks, to eat food from a buffet line—without wearing a mask—and to have the peace of mind to shake hands and hug our friends as we used to prior to 2020. We’ll call that PC: Pre-COVID.
Aside from COVID, the smoke shop industry is kicking ass and both vendors, shops, and even consumers are anxious to get back to the way things were. At that recent Smoke Shop Event in Austin I spoke with a few different people to get a sense of what they thought of today’s “New Normal.”
Matt Bodenchuk from Toker Poker created a simple little device for tapping down pipes and cleaning screens. It sells for less than $10 and can be customized for different companies, and since many “low ticket” items seem to sell more briskly in bad times as well as good, Matt is very upbeat about the future: “I am so happy to be able to travel and reconnect with people in the truest sense. On top of the pandemic I also had a baby and that made it even more difficult to get disconnected with people, just when you need that connection more than ever.”
When asked about the “lessons” he learned on the way, Matt said, “First off, we can’t take ‘basic’ hygiene for granted anymore. From airplane travel to eating in restaurants, even though the experts always warned us to wash our hands and keep things clean, even pandemic aside, those warnings were well placed.”
Another vendor, Andrew Tharrington from Headway Designs, got into the industry at just the wrong time—just as COVID was emerging in Q1, 2020.
“It was weird when I started since I had no benchmark for comparison. As a new kid on the block we started slower than we would have liked, but it did give us a chance to grow organically and make sure we had all our systems in place. We did a decent amount of business just on the phone, via email and through our website, but now that we can actually meet people, shake their hands, share a beer, and such, it is so much better! Just reading their body language and listening to them more closely has dramatically increased our business!”
Now that some of the inconveniences are easing, Dani Radigan, the owner of Chasin’ Vapor in Wisconsin, is looking forward to traveling again.
“Expos and conferences were not big on my priority list,” she confessed, “since we never knew who would show up and what hassles we’d run into while traveling. Our business has really changed over the past few years and Delta 8 is now outselling vapor products in our stores. That means we need to get out there and see what’s new to stay on top of things.”
Geoffrey Yalenezian said he never stopped going to shows and never will.
“We are always looking for new products out there, so shows are a vital component. Our Massachusetts shop has been crushed by the state’s flavor ban, but our New Hampshire shop is holding steady. We constantly have to adjust our inventory to satisfy the customer’s needs, and there is no better way to do that aside from smoke shows—COVID or not.”
I have noticed in my (recent) travels that the travel industry is not quite up to speed yet. Since many airline employees were given “early outs,” that means there is a shortage of pilots and support staff. The rental car industry continues to have the upper hand as the demand is outstripping their supply of cars since many of them were sold off when their industry ground to a halt. All sectors of the travel industry are trying to balance budget, demand, and predictions of future growth before they go all in.
The bottom line: life will probably never return to what it was. Masks are not required in most places, but the airline industry (and the FAA), is still insistent upon their use. Maintenance of aircraft and cleaning of them will continue to be a top priority, ditto rental cars, hotels, and convention centers.
The good news is that the personal side of business is returning to what it was as people feel more comfortable shaking hands and hugging, and the “elbow bump” and fist bump, which was the norm, may soon be a thing of the past.