e-Cigarette Market is Evolving.
With only a couple of months before the end of the 2012 (and good riddance!) I thought it might be interesting to point out how quickly things in the ecigarette marketplace have changed (for the better) in a single year.
This positive change will, in my opinion, make ‘2013’ the “year of the shakeout”, a time that when the history of ‘electronic smoking’ is written, it will be noted that the first batch of companies to find success found themselves on the street instead.
Shakeouts are marvelous things to behold, I was there as a major player when it happened when the infamous Internet Bubble popped, and they make getting up every morning pretty exciting. Things change on a day-to-day basis, startups and shutdowns, new products, and more just appear and disappear without notice. This kind of change is what we have in store for next year; only I think the changes will happen even faster than they did during the Internet Bubble.
2012 – The Year eCigarettes Went Mainstream
Spinfuel called ‘2012’ the year when the eCigarette went mainstream, and as it turned out, we were right. The eCigarette has gone mainstream and it’s not unusual to see articles in magazines, actors using them in movies and TV, and retail vape shops popping up everywhere. Chances are when you’re out on the town with your eCigarette people know what it is. Last year they had no idea what you were doing, and they often got of your way when they spotted you.
Things are evolving so quickly now and I believe it’s because of a few smart people in the industry who have decided to take a more honorable approach to selling eCigarettes, and it’s looking better than ever that the success of the eCigarette as an accepted hobby, and an accepted substitute for smoking cigarettes, is assured.
To put it simply, a shakeout was inevitable because the first companies to find success did so on the backs of unsuspecting smokers looking for a life-changing event.
E-Cigarette Market – If you’ve been addicted to a product for decades, a product that will most certainly cause an early and agonizing death, you’re likely to try anything no matter what the cost. The “First Responders”, if you will, took advantage of this desperation and put out the cheapest products they could find marked up as high as the market would allow (and then some). The early brands could get away with almost anything, with certain impunity, and they took advantage of it at every turn. Greed was the primary reason these early companies did what they did, and greed is still a major motivator.
However, people learn quickly and what they learn they pass on just as quickly. Because of that newcomers today are sidestepping many of the mistakes that were made by yesterday’s newcomers, and the old practices are being abandoned by some new companies and these new practices are; higher quality, lower prices, and more honesty. Pretty simple, but highly effective.
The Old Ways – The Proprietary eCigarette
A year ago the major players in the mini-eCig brands were brands like Green Smoke, South Beach, Smoke Frii, NJOY, Blu Cigs, V2, et al. Every one of these brands sell batteries and cartomizers that are sold with the proviso that IF you even try to use a cartomizer on their battery that is NOT the theirs, or use another brand’s battery with their cartomizer you’ve killed any warranty that came with the starter kit.
They told you, flat out, that using anything other than their charger, battery, and cartomizer you could damage the product, and endanger your life. You weren’t even allowed to refill the cartomizers because “not refillable” was stated over and over. Buying into one of these brands, and hundreds more, meant being locked in on their products and their products only.
I remember talking to one of the owners of these big brands about this very topic. I was told in no uncertain terms that their cartomizers and batteries are carefully designed to work together and that doing otherwise was risky, and would most probably not work.
Now, we all know, or should know, that refilling a cartomizer with any eLiquid is fine, if you can get the damn top off or find some other way to fill the empty one.
If your battery uses a 510 or 808 thread you can fill Boge or SMOKtech cartos and fill your own and it will work just fine. In fact, I buy Apollo eCigs empty 510’s and 808’s all the time and use them in a variety of batteries. But these old companies don’t want their customers to know that lest it cut into their profit margin.
To these now-dinosaurs in the industry this proprietary way of selling eCigarettes seemed like the best way to maximize profits, but it couldn’t last forever, and maybe they knew it or maybe they didn’t, but either way I think they didn’t expected things to change so quickly. None of the above brands have budged from these positions and I somehow doubt they ever will. And even as they become irrelevant they act as though nothing has changed.
I can’t shake the feeling that most of the above brands are on their last legs. I’ll get into why I think that below, but it sure looks that way to me. Hell, if Lorillard hadn’t bailed out Blu Cigs I doubt that even they would survive the new paradigm headed our way. (Unless they get their new, better battery out sooner rather than later.)
I’ll admit though, out of all the above brands Blu Cigs has the best tasting flavors and the most elegant and balanced batteries, not to mention the best personal charger, but their batteries just don’t work long at all. That has to change and if it does, they might make it. Even though I group them with dinosaurs they are better than the group to which they belong, except for that damned battery.
The New Ways – Less Bullshit
I wish I could tell you how many times we’ve been asked why we were all so impressed with ‘lesser-known’ or newer brands in the second half of 2012 then we were in the first half, but I’ve lost count. “Why all this promotion for Halo?” people would say. Now it’s 777 eCigs they are asking about. So let me tell you why Halo Cigs, 777 eCigs, and some others we will be reviewing very soon, are going to kick Green Smoke, South Beach, Frii, and all the others off the eCigarette map next year.
Open Standards and Higher Quality
First, Halo Cigs and 777 eCigs have adopted, from their very beginnings, a more open approach in their business model. Some of the major differences are:
- Both sell empty cartomizers that can be filled with ANY eLiquid.
- Neither one void your warranty if you use another brand’s cartos.
- Neither one declares their products incompatible with others.
- Both brands sell their products at fair market value.
- Both products sell high quality batteries and eLiquid.
- Neither make false or exaggerated claims.
Halo Cigs – We fell in love with Halo Cigs (Review) the minute we used their products. Their great starter kit that sells for $54.95, their batteries for $14.95, and their empty cartomizers for $8.99 are all examples of how to price your product fairly. Their superior eLiquids are all American-Made, in-house, and delicious.
I’ve gotten to know one of the head honcho’s at Halo Cigs over the past several months and I know for a fact that these guys are all about being honest brokers and maintaining high quality and standing behind the products they sell. These guys look for ways to save their customers money. They give away 10ML bottles of new eLiquid flavors so you can try it first, unlike the ones above who would rather you didn’t try them first. And when it comes to setting a retail price for their products its clear that the people behind Halo Cigs wouldn’t feel right about gouging their customers.
777 eCigs – These guys at 777 eCigs (Review) are still very new to the game. To be perfectly honest, as an artist and designer I’m not impressed with their packaging, colors, or logo, but man these guys KNOW the right way to build a long-term eCigarette company.
The biggest factor with 777 eCigs is their amazing assortment of great-tasting flavors. I remember my first thoughts about them when we began our reviews. “Who offers 16 flavors in a mini-eCig product??” This was obviously the first time I had seen a prefilled cartomizer with the name “Italian Crème”. “How incredibly brave” I thought.
Then we had the pleasure of tasting their prefilled cartos and eLiquids. We instantly recognized that every one, save for their two menthol flavors, were of the same quality of our friends in the eLiquid business. They were excellent! Each flavor delivered great vapor and great taste, akin to some the better eLiquid companies out there. You might remember reading in Spinfuel that we’ve said that nearly all prefilled cartomizers have a certain ‘base flavor’ to them. Somehow 777 eCigs prefilled cartos don’t have that base flavor, instead they taste like you’ve filled them yourself with quality juice.
Their price-points are also lower than the dinosaurs in the industry. For instance, they sell packs of 5 prefilled cartomizers for $8.99. They sell their eLiquids in bottles as well for about 50 cents a ML. 777 eCigs (and Halo Cigs) is also about being the most honest brand around; you just don’t find false claims and exaggerations on their websites. I have developed a lot of respect for these guys, and I know that they will be in the market for many years.
Now, let me just say that I know I am leaving some great companies out, as well as some very bad companies, and it’s not as though I’m doing so for some ulterior motive. These are the brands I am most familiar with, the ones I can talk about with some authority. Besides, would you really want me to go down the list and write another 10,000-word article?
The eCigarette market is changing faster than the computer industry did in the 90’s, or the cell phone market did. Overnight new tech is developed and new businesses pop up. It is without a doubt an exciting time to be inside the industry and reporting on it.
Don’t get me wrong though; yes I am ‘bullish’ on the eCig market overall, but I also realize that there are many, too many, crooks and creeps in the marketplace. Dishonest people are all over this market because the gold is just waiting to be picked up off the roadside and the bad guys can’t resist. For every Halo or 777 there are Regal’s or Bull Smoke’s, or even the deceptive practices of companies like V2. It can be depressing.
The new paradigm (and I don’t use that word lightly) is going to be about honesty, fair prices, higher quality, and developing a legion of loyal customers who know they won’t be ripped off. I know this sounds overly optimistic, even typing these words rubs me the wrong way for some reason, but I’ve watched this industry in 2012 and I’ve seen the big names fade and new guys approaching the industry from a new direction and I can sense the response from the public… it’s a positive one.
Vapers are Learning Faster
Finding the right brand for you, as a new Vaper, is still a very difficult task. It will remain so as long as the bad guys are heavily financed. But the customers, the new vapers, are getting on their feet faster and finding the better brands quicker than ever. We’d like to believe that Spinfuel is playing a part in this new paradigm, but we’ll leave it to history to see if it shakes out that way.
In any case, the market is evolving so quickly and I personally think it’s too late for the older brands to change, even if they wanted to. The young guns are coming, armed with better products, better prices, and a more transparent business model. These are all good things for the industry, but we must stay vigilant because the scams are still out there.
We are encouraged by companies like Halo Cigs and 777 eCigs, and you’re going to be very impressed with some of the brands, both mini-eCigs and larger battery/eLiquid brands coming through the pipeline that we are currently reviewing.
For the next several months we expect a full-blown slugfest between the young Turks and old guys and we’ll be here trying to sort it all out for you.
John Manzione and Julia Barnes
After I wrote this piece I began to think more about the industry as a whole, and how I had to leave out several examples on both sides. I have to admit that there are still far more crappy brands out there than there are good ones. But I am beginning to see more and more good ones.
Companies that are looking for reviews approach us through email every day. Apparently most of them don’t bother to read our reviews and only see us as potential marketing platforms. When we respond with our Submission Guidelines and ask them to read our reviews before confirming a review of their product we often times do not hear back from them. It’s clear that once they actually read a few of our reviews they understand that we won’t roll over for them and we have no interest in becoming an affiliate.
In recent months though there’s been an uptick in the companies that are accepting our stringent guidelines and our absolute declaration that no matter what, the product will stand on fall on the merits. There is an increase of companies that are confident that their product is a good product at a fair price. And you know what? We are discovering that they are often right. – jm