On a beautiful summer evening last week, the inaugural Vape Business Awards were hosted by Asian Media Group at an elegant and welcoming central London hotel, the Millennium Gloucester adjacent to London’s bustling “Museum Mile” around South Kensington.
The hotel’s conference centre had already been transformed for the Vape Business Conference held there during the afternoon, and now the hundreds of delegates enjoyed canapes and a fully-stocked open bar with a gentle breeze and sunshine streaming in through wide, open doors onto a gated courtyard,
This relaxing and sociable interlude preceded the night’s festivities, to commence downstairs in a ballroom decked out to celebrate the beginning of an exciting new enterprise for AMG and all the retailers who had arrived here from up and down the UK.
Already the atmosphere was buzzing and the decibels of conversation were driving hardened London pigeons into exile.
Welcome to the biggest opportunity for Convenience retailers since the concept of food-to-go: vaping! Over the next decade vaping will not only help save one million lives of smokers who switch – and there are eight million potential consumers still using tobacco – but will replace the dwindling stream of income that store-owners currently receive from highly-taxed and low-profit cigarettes.
Instead of 5-8 per cent margins on traditional tobacco products, retailers will enjoy upwards of 50 per cent margins on much cheaper and more footfall-stimulating vape products. The market is growing so rapidly, and conversions from tobacco-smokers into vapers taking place so often, that retailers are struggling to keep up with the lightning-fast spread of vaping.
And that’s why we were all present on the balmy evening of July 3 – a historic event recording a potentially historic change not just for independents but also for the nation’s health. The evening’s upcoming Business Vape Awards would recognise and celebrate a new and entrepreneurial sector, and honour the women and men who are doing so much to drive it into the mainstream.
It’s always an anxious undertaking to launch an entirely new project – will anybody turn up? Will it fall flat? But from the very first, the inaugural Vape Business Awards was jam-packed with an atmosphere of optimism and anticipation.
Our host for the evening – Indian TV star Andy Kumar, kicked off proceedings by reminding us that “AMG wants to serve your business and help you to increase your profits in the growing vape economy by doing what they know best: reporting, investigating and networking to provide the most up-to-date and valuable stories, information and contacts you need.”
After that, AMG’s Brand Champion Shefali Solanki took the stage to deliver an inspiring welcome speech – pointing out that, “We are witnessing a vaping revolution, with numbers of vapers increasing nearly 500 per cent over the last five years.” She added that, “Tonight, we aim to recognise and celebrate the achievements of our convenience retailers, pharmacists, wholesalers and suppliers who have excelled within vaping and impelled this massive cultural and economic transformation.”
It is a growing and self-organising network within the brand new vaping sector, from manufacturers to suppliers to wholesalers and onto retailers and consumers, that is building success.
The pharmacy sector, perhaps reluctant to see vaping as a smoking solution, is already starting to warm up to the 95 per cent-plus healthier outcomes that vaping represents, according to Public Health England, and its three-times-greater quitting for smokers than patches and gum, as new research has demonstrated. Vaping is a massive opportunity for the pharmacy sector to boost its revenues.
Shefali laid out the opportunity for retailers in a way that went straight to the heart of the matter, reminding the audience that “Millennials and Generation Z don’t mind paying a price premium for items that have a positive impact on their lives, making vape a lucrative sector – and so far without punitive taxes for the exchequer.”
She emphasised that, “For those in the audience tonight, it means fifty percent margins on this category. There are over 3.2 million adults in the UK currently vaping, and of these, 52% are ex-smokers. With tobacco sales declining and the numbers who are taking up vaping increasing, it is a category that retailers should aim to be proficient in.”
And with that, the excellent Patrick Alan Band struck up a tune and the evening’s banquet commenced.
The judges had been handed a tough task to choose between the excellent nominees for the evening’s lucky 13 categories. With no precedent for any vape awards, every decision was a first-time affair.
This article also appears in the August issue of Pharmacy Business.