If I did nothing but follow headlines, I would think that retail was dead. With one big exception: vapor shops.
(NOTE: I don’t think retail is dead. In fact, I think 2015 will be a interesting year for retail growth. But that’s a different topic. Let’s talk nicotine.)
Vapor shops are everywhere. And they are doing about $1 billion in business. New regulations might change the landscape a little. But one way or another, these shops intend to be here for a while.
Why then, are software options for vapor businesses so bad?
Every retail business struggles with sales tracking and inventory management. And vapor shops have their own unique spin on those problems. Yet if I search for modern vape point of sales, I don’t get much.
I see some sites offering that service. But they all look 10 to 20 years old. Ancient and clunky Windows-based systems, awkwardly crammed onto an iPad screen with the words “mobile” and “modern” plastered over them. I won’t name names — I’m already being mean enough.
Maybe a modern “just for vapes” options will come around. In the mean time, what’s a poor e-cigarette business to do? Probably look at software that isn’t tailor-made for vape shops. Problem is, now the burden is on you to ask the right questions and now why your business is special. The customer service rep you might get on the phone probably just finished talking to a clothing boutique or a beauty salon and might not have any experience with your type of business.
I’ve had the opportunity to help setup several vape shops and below I’ve listed some of the main concerns I would have if I had just opened a store and needed inventory/point of sale:
1) Can it sync to an ecommerce site?
This might not seem obvious, but I chose it first for a reason. The ecigarette landscape is changing quickly. It’s a “strike while the iron is hot” kind of game and vapes have a huge market online right now. The savviest business owners I know have found a way to grow both at the same time — but you have got to find software that works with you, not against you.
Even if you aren’t ready for online sales today, plan ahead.
2) Nicotine levels, bottle sizes, and flavors
Options, options, options. Which system is going to make it the easiest for me to input, track, and adjust all my variations?
Some systems limit the number of options or don’t let you customize. You can just scratch those off your list. But there is a lot more.
3) Which system has the least data entry? Which is the most flexible? Which is the easiest for my staff to use at the counter so that everything stays accurate?
This is where vape shops are more complicated than most retail businesses and your software better not collapse under the pressure.
4) What about inventory management?
Another thing that makes the industry unique. And this may vary depending on how you run your business. Do you track inventory in bulk liquid units? Or do you track it by the bottle? How do you track all the changes?
(Personally, I would use one system to track bottles. And another system to track the transfer of bulk liquids into bottles. It adds a step — but cuts down on human error and makes tracking down mistakes much easier.)
In the end, there are modern solutions that can work well for a vape shop. You just need to know what questions to ask to weed out the bad ones. Have an idea of how you would like to organize and track your products. And be prepared to walk a software consultant through your process. A demo or a free trial probably isn’t a bad idea either – and most modern software companies offer at least one or the other.