Mountain Oak Vapors Steve Nair
John Manzione, publisher of Spinfuel, sat down with Steve Nair, owner of Mountain Oak Vapors, to talk eLiquids, Mountain Oak Vapors, and the new MOV production facility and retail locations. Below is the complete transcript of the interview, and the photos. Scroll down to the bottom to see the photographs.
Spinfuel: Steve. It’s so nice to be able to talk to you once again. It’s been too long!
Steve: It’s always a pleasure to talk with you John, thanks for giving us the opportunity to share what we’ve been up to not only with you all but with our customers as well!
Spinfuel: First, let me personally congratulate you on winning 5 Spinfuel Choice Awards! As you know, or maybe you don’t, I don’t have any input on the Spinfuel eLiquid Reviews, (although I did take part in the review of Mountain Oak Vapors in June 2012) Julia handles them all. But I have to admit I was very pleased to see so many of the flavors that I personally vape regularly win those awards. After all, winning 5 awards out of just 8 flavors being reviewed is an amazing feat.
Steve: We are very honored to have won those awards, and we look forward to sending some more juice for your reviews very soon!
Spinfuel: Well, Spinfuel is celebrating a year in publication this month (February) so maybe the Choice Awards don’t carry that much cache right now. But just wait, they will soon.
Steve: I think a lot of folks are finding Spinfuel to be one of the most entertaining and informative e-cigarette publications on the net. I know personally many of our customers are familiar with what you all are doing here. Those awards may carry more weight than you think!
Spinfuel: You know, looking back at our first review (here) Mountain Oak Vapors was just 3 months old then. You had already contracted with an eCig company for your juice to be injected into their prefilled cartos. You’ve come a long way in a year’s time, no?
Steve: Yes, Mountain Oak Vapors has come a long way in a short amount of time. Our company has grown from a Mom & Pop style business into something much more than we would have ever dreamed. Right now we are entertaining wholesalers from across the nation from mom & pop brick and mortar shops, to bigger companies who are using our juices to pre-fill cartomizers in their products for mass consumption. Coupled with our now very popular Retail Outlet and Internet business, we’ve been busy! Mountain Oak Vapors now proudly employs 4 others in the south east Tennessee region.
Spinfuel: The reason I wanted to get together with you is that your new facility is now up and running. What’s it like to come in every day and see this great new place? You must be very pleased with how things are going. How are things going, anyway?
Steve: Things are going great John. Just fantastic. We’ve always taken Mountain Oak Vapors very seriously, and so putting all of our funds back into our business just happened naturally. We are very proud of what we have accomplished in the past year, and I guess the new E-Liquid manufacturing facility is just the icing on the cake for us. We are very proud of it.
Spinfuel: When did you complete the move?
Steve: We moved into our Retail Outlet in September of 2012, and by the end of November 2012 we had committed to the facility next door to re-furnish it into a state of the art E-Liquid laboratory.
Spinfuel: Did you suffer any “down” time?
Steve: No John, Down time has never been an option for Mountain Oak Vapors. Always in stock and always available, that’s our motto!
Spinfuel: You’ve also added several new flavors since our last in-depth review, a few we haven’t even tried yet. What’s it like developing new flavors in your new state of the art facility?
Steve: Without patting ourselves on the back too hard I’d just say with anything in life the more often you do something, the better at it you get. At this point I would say we have gotten pretty good at creating new E-Liquid flavors. Although the equipment & facilities have changed, the process remains much the same. Trial and Error, and lots of flavor testing! It’s still a lot of fun☺
Spinfuel: You also have a new logo now. Everyone here thinks it’s a great ‘variation on a theme’ logo. Instantly recognizable as Mountain Oak Vapors, but modern, edgier. Does this new logo reflect maybe an edgier company as well?
Steve: While the decision to move away from our old logo was necessary for reasons I’d rather not get into, I think the move in the end was of great benefit to Mountain Oak Vapors. I agree 100% that our new logo is ‘edgier’, and in the end I believe it represents us better as a company.
It’s the kind of logo/emblem that you can easily picture on a T-Shirt or a baseball cap! I don’t think our companies direction has changed though, a classy, premium, adult product has always been the direction of our company and it’s the direction we still maintain today.
Spinfuel: Is your wholesale side growing as well? Can you tell us about some of your latest accomplishments in that area? Any other eCig companies buying your eJuice to use in their hardware?
Steve: Our wholesale market is expanding every week, new wholesalers from across the country and overseas as well are in contact with us. Right now it’s just finding a balance between what we can reasonably handle in a specific time frame and what we cannot. Sometimes we have to put folks on hold as our company grows, and then we hire the personnel and expand a little to handle it. It’s a problem, but a great problem for a growing company to have!
Spinfuel: Your retail store has been open for a while now. I’ve always wondered about this; do walk-in customers get the opportunity to try out different flavors when they stop by?
Steve: Yes! Our local customers get great deals when they come in our stores. Where most retail outlets tend to gouge the prices (typically higher than those you may see online) we actually offer our in-store customers a slight DISCOUNT on their juice. Hardware prices and accessories are always the same as our online prices, so no markup is happening here. As you mentioned, the best thing about having us close by is that you quite literally get to “try before you buy”. We have a comfy vaping lounge setup where our customers can sit down, relax, and enjoy a vape from any of our pre-filled clearomizers. Literally every flavor we produce is available for sample.
Spinfuel: Sticking with the retail side for a minute; when it comes to certain flavors do you find that the locals prefer different flavors or nicotine levels than do your online customers? If so, what do the local vapers like to vape?
Steve: I actually do notice a bit of variation in flavor choices. Our local customers are literally OBSESSED with Blister, a (relatively) new Cinnamon Red Hot flavor that we released. It’s all the buzz in South East Tennessee, and we’re happy for that! I don’t think our national orders line up with that buzz though, but I think once the word gets out it probably will;) On Nicotine Strengths, I think above and beyond on ALL fronts (retail, online, and wholesale) that 18mg is the most popular nicotine strength.
Spinfuel: Do you have any events at your store? Unveiling of a new flavor for instance, or just a vape meet up? Do you hold them often?
Steve: Not at our store, but we are very proud to announce the creation of the “Scenic City Vapers” club that we are a part of, (http://www.facebook.com/groups/sceniccityvapers/?fref=ts) which is a South East Tennessee Vapers club. We had our first vape meet on January 27th 2013, and we had nearly 100 attendees! 2 Vendors were present (Mountain Oak Vapors and SmartVapes out of the Memphis area), and the event organizer (Dimitris Agrafiatos) AKA “The Vaping Greek” is a celebrity in the vaping community known for his contributions on the Vape Team (http://vapersplace.com/vp-live-vape-team/), which is a sort of internet talk show that airs Wednesday Nights at 9:30pm EST. We have another meet scheduled for March 10th (coming up soon!) and so we’re working now on getting some products together to put on display there. All in all these meets are about having fun. We bring products, but sell them at highly discounted prices, and there are great giveaways (over 20 raffle prizes at the first meet!). It’s a perfect place to bring new vapers or smokers who are on the fence. It’s an event that is full of very knowledgeable people who are always willing to help and guide new vapers in the right directions!
Spinfuel: A couple months back you released an incredible root beer type flavor called “Double Barrel”. How did you come up with it? You must have had an idea of what you were wanting the end result to be. How did you manage to produce such a great flavor so quickly? And did you know it was going to be this popular when you created it?
Steve: Honestly, it’s just one of those things where you have an idea of what YOU would like in vape, and you put it together. When the end result is spot on, you know you’ve got something folks are going to appreciate on your hands. We let some of our customers try it for a few weeks and they were asking us to get that flavor released! We had no choice but to oblige!
Spinfuel: Steve, you sent me a bottle of your new Pendragon flavor a couple of weeks ago. One of your new NET (Naturally Extracted Tobacco) flavors. I’m going to be very honest with you. I loaded up a Kanger T3 the day after it arrived and it was “okay”. I liked it, but it didn’t blow me away. As it happened, I let the juice sit for about a week and decided to try it again. I was floored! It had matured into one of the best flavors I have ever had, bar none! It got sweeter, fuller, and it had a very mature flavor, a drastic change for the better. I love it! Are your NET flavors meant to steep a little longer or am I just crazy? Because, honestly, after about a week it was so good I nearly hid it from everyone in the office so they couldn’t get any.
Steve: NET’s are definitely a special blend. It’s one of the reasons why we separate them into their own line (Gold Labels). These are naturally extracted flavorings from Pipe Tobacco. We don’t use the cheap stuff either, these are some of the best aromatic pipe tobacco’s on the market and we extract them to perfection. Pendragon is a Cherry Vanilla pipe tobacco, which is mild on the tobacco side, and creamy/sweet on the cherry vanilla side. For some this flavor was a little too mild (you mentioned it yourself!) and we have since given it a “flavor boost”. Pendragon has become one of the most popular flavors from that line up. FVF RY4 is no slouch either, as it is one of our best sellers over all now. We plan to continue to expand on this line up and offer more natural tobacco flavors to our customers in the coming weeks and months.
Spinfuel: Tell me, you were doing NET flavors, at least one I’m pretty sure, back before you moved into your new facility. Has the new place made it a lot easier to extract the natural nicotine? What’s the process now, generally speaking of course?
Steve: Well John, while we did dabble behind the scenes with NET’s, we never offered any for retail sale until the recent launch of our Gold Label line. The facility has had a good deal to play in that, it offered us the space and equipment to be really be able to do what we need to do to extract these delicate flavors. It should be noted that we are not extracting nicotine in this process. Simply the flavor of the tobacco leaf itself. Much like one would extract strawberry flavoring from strawberries, or blueberry flavoring form blueberries, we are extracting tobacco flavoring macerated pipe tobacco.
Spinfuel: Let’s talk again about your fancy new digs. Oh, and thank you for the photos. The place looks amazing! Did you just want more space or was it a whole new way to do the business of Mountain Oak Vapors?
Steve: I don’t think we went into it (our retail store, or our E-Liquid production facility) with a specific design in mind. More so both locations came quickly out of necessity more than anything else. We needed more space but we also wanted to streamline our production as well as in-act some of the highest quality standards that any E-liquid Manufacturer has to date. From proper storage of nicotine, to titration testing for our batches. Food Grade stainless steel tables and NIST calibrated laboratory equipment. All of these things just add up to taking an already high quality product to the next level. Mountain Oak Vapors is always looking for the next level, that’s why we are at where we are today.
Spinfuel: I don’t want you to divulge any top-secret information (not that you would anyway) but how much did you increase the output for Mountain Oak Vapors? By that I mean, is there a lot of room to grow now or will you be looking to expand again sooner rather than later?
Steve: I thought with everything we’ve done recently that we’d be set for a while. The way the industry and our company are growing, I’m not so sure. We may be looking to acquire a warehouse soon. We are also currently looking into opening more retail locations in the East Tennessee region. Certainly we have greatly increased our production capacity for E-Liquid with our new facility.
Spinfuel: And speaking of growth, in a couple of months we’re going to hear exactly what the FDA has in mind when it comes to regulation of the eCigarette industry. Is there a real concern that the FDA isn’t going to allow certain flavors from being sold? I don’t know about you, but if I couldn’t vape your Heavenly 7, White Leaf or Cinnamon Swirl (to name but a few), I don’t know if I’d want to vape anymore. Do you think these kinds of idiotic (my words, not yours) regulations are possible?
Steve: I don’t think that is what we will hear in April John. Perhaps I am being optimistic, but I think vaping is here to stay for the time being. Keep in mind there are plenty of flavored pipe tobacco’s out there, and they’ve been around for a long time. Certainly we are concerned and keeping a watchful eye on what the FDA will decide to do.
Spinfuel: Another thing people seem to be speculating about is the safety issue over eLiquids. Mountain Oak Vapors has always been first rate when it comes to packaging, shipping, and all that, but how has the new facility aided you in providing a safer or more sterile environment for creating new flavors and producing your products daily?
Steve: Oh, it’s been very helpful. We’ve always taken our product very seriously but now we have things like standards and practices that our employees must follow. SOP’s and handbooks for our lab and equipment, Food Grade stainless steel surfaces that are kept clean twice daily, highly accurate and calibrated equipment to do our measuring. I think all of that leads to a higher quality, safer, cleaner product.
Spinfuel: And speaking of the locals, do you have to undergo any type of inspection or other local government regulations? Are they generally friendly or do they look at your business and don’t quite understand it yet?
Steve: John, I think we’ve personally turned 100’s (if not 1000’s) of local customers into full time vapers. We are very proud of that. That is folks lives John. We hear their stories, we interact with them. We’re happy to help them make the switch from traditional cigarettes to electronic cigarettes. You know we’re not allowed to tell them that this is better for them, or that it will help them quit. Thankfully, most of our customers come in here and tell us that their doctor sent them. That’s crazy to hear. I don’t think their doctor is telling them to go out and find Mountain Oak Vapors… but the fact that their doctors are advising them to turn to electronic cigarettes. Well heck John, that says something. Times are changing, I hope the FDA stays on the right side of history in regards to e-cigarettes. As far as local regulations, as you know right now Electronic Cigarettes are a self-regulated industry. What we do with our facility, our equipment, stainless steel tables all that. That is stuff we do for our own sake, to prepare for the future and any regulations that may come our way, we do it for the pride of our own product, and for the well being and safety of our customers.
Spinfuel: I’ve begun to hear the words “Clean Room” bandied about these days when it comes to the newer, or larger eLiquid vendor’s environments for eLiquid mixing. With Mountain Oak Vapors though, it really is a “clean room” atmosphere isn’t’ it? Was that difficult to build and maintain?
Steve: It was expensive John, I can tell you that! Everything in business comes at a cost, but we are very proud of our business so investing in it further does not cause us to lose any sleep. We will keep investing in Mountain Oak Vapors and that will lead to better products for our customers. Maintaining it can be a challenge, but by separating our E-Liquid manufacturing from our shipping/receiving and retail store, it’s really been easy to keep it all clean.
Spinfuel: Despite the enormous investment you’ve must have made in the new retail store and mixing facility you haven’t raised your prices in a long time, if ever. Is that your way of saying “Thank you” to all your customers? I mean, seriously, prices on everything continues to go up and here you’ve made this huge investment and passing the cost along would have been an obvious move, but you’ve resisted. I think that’s just great.
Steve: We don’t plan on raising our prices unless we absolutely have to. I don’t see that happening for us any time in the near future. As mentioned previously we’ve actually LOWERED our prices for our in store customers (can you believe it?). It’s a way of giving back to a local community that has really rallied around our retail outlet and what we are doing here at Mountain Oak Vapors. I think our prices have always been fair, and our products priced at a point that allow us to operate our business the way we need to, to do the kinds of things we’ve discussed here in this interview John. Unless the FDA or Federal Government interferes I don’t see us having to change that model.
We don’t run as many sales and promotions as we used to. Heck, we would like to run more, the problem is the man power and time right now, but we’ll get it all under control soon. A typical weekend sale may generate a few hundred orders in a few evenings. That makes for a very rough Monday morning, and a very rough week for all of our employees! These are problems John, but good problems for a growing business to have!
Spinfuel: Getting back to your individual flavors for a moment; I have to mention your new “Blister” flavor. It comes with a warning not to use certain types of tanks or plastics with it. First, why is that, and second, “Blister” is a flavor I can handle only on those days when I need a truly powerful vape, like after an aggravating meeting or a long day at the office. And even then I can barely vape more than maybe a third of a milliliter. Did you create this flavor just to see if you could create something that could blow the back of Vaper’s head off, or was it on a dare? I mean, come on, it’s a great flavor but you can’t expect someone to call this an all-day vape can you? (smiles)
Steve: Like I mentioned previously John, there are many many folks that vape blister all day, every day. Some people enjoy the heat (and the hit)! Some flavors and ingredients have tank-cracking qualities, Red Drop & Mountain Mist for example have a high citrus content. Citrus is known to be a tank cracker. Generally speaking, this only affects Lucite Tanks. But some polycarbonate tanks can also be cracked, although polycarbonate has a high chemical resistance. Unfortunately when buying Chinese hardware (it all comes from china) you never know if you have polycarb or not. One good thing to note is that Polyethylene (like the Smoktech dual coil tanks) are crack-resistant chemical grade plastic. Polycarb tanks such as the Vivi Nova also resist cracking. Most clearomizer’s such as the Vision’s hold up well too. Some cheaper plastic tanks (Lucite) will crack in a heartbeat, this should also tell you how safe those tanks are for holding ANY juice. It’s just one of those things as a vaper you have to know. Which juices can crack tanks and which ones can’t. There are some good lists you can find on forums such as ECF that contain a list of known tank-cracking flavors. For me personally, I just stick to using equipment that can’t crack. Such as glass tanks or PE/PC Chemical Resistance plastic. The last thing you want is your $50.00 JTank to get cracked because you put a ripe banana flavor in it and didn’t know any better.
Spinfuel: Well, all I can say is that I’ll never forget the first time I vaped Mountain Oak Vapors Blister, that’s for sure. (In a whisper; you know, vaping Blister is like, if you’ll excuse the word, addiction. I bet that anyone that vapes it can’t stop at one drag. Five or six, yea, but not one. It’s a strange sensation.)
Steve: You gotta keep coming back for more John! Personally I like Blister a whole lot, but I’m with you, it’s one of those ‘sometimes, not all the time’ vapes for me! Brandy vapes it 24/7, as do some of our other employees and a whole ton of our local customers.
Spinfuel: Several months ago, when Mountain Oak Vapors and Spinfuel worked with 3 other fine eLiquid companies, we created special 60ML bottles. Since you now have this amazing facility that can handle a larger production schedule, do you have any plans (that you can talk about) to maybe, just perhaps, offer your flavors in a larger size? It would be so convenient to be able to keep a 60ML bottle of Heavenly 7 around, not to mention the other flavors I order from you.
Steve: I think with Mountain Oak Vapors we have to stick with glass packaging for all our products. The problem with the bigger glass bottles is the likely hood of breaking in shipping. For now there are no immediate plans to offer larger individual bottle sizes. However, some folks may be excited to know there are plans to offer a SMALLER bottle option in the near future. (Larger then a 1 dram sample bottle, but smaller then our 15mL option). It will be a specially designed 5mL Amber glass bottle. Our customers can look for it in the coming months!
Spinfuel: Can you talk about any new flavors that are in the pipeline now?
Steve: Oh we have quite a few. We JUST released a brand new flavor called “Blue Drop” as a follow up to our highly successful “Red Drop”. We think customers will have a lot of fun with it, and it truly is a great flavor deserving of the name. We also have an absolutely to die for delicious caramel apple vape, we will be releasing it very soon. On the tobacco front we have about 6-8 new extractions happening right now for our Gold Label line. Will any of them make the cut? We’ll have to wait and see!
Spinfuel: I’ve never asked this question to an eLiquid artist like yourselves, but have you ever created a flavor that just didn’t sell? Something that you thought would be huge and turned out not to be? Have you pulled a flavor from your roster yet?
Steve: Oh yes, we’ve had our share of failed flavors. Generally speaking we do not want to be a vendor that has 100’s of different flavors, we want to keep our options limited, yet quality. For this reason often times when we create that “next best flavor” we analyze our line ups. We re-visit old flavors and check on the sales data. If we’re not vaping it ourselves, and the sales data does not stand behind the flavor, we decide to discontinue it. So far our decisions have been great ones I think. Over time this has led to a more and more quality line up “best of the best” so to speak.
Spinfuel: Just which flavor is your biggest seller?
Steve: Red Drop, beyond a doubt has always been our best selling flavor. Consistently turning in at the #1 or #2 spot in overall sales data since its inception about 8 months ago. That’s why there is a lot of excitement surrounding our latest release “Blue Drop” just recently!
Spinfuel: And lastly; Now that you have this great new facility and a crazy-successful retail operation, where does Mountain Oak Vapors go from here? Are there any new mountains to climb, have you set larger goals now, and most importantly; are you taking the time to get some rest, take care of yourselves, enjoy some of the fruits of your labor? God knows you deserve it.
Steve: Boy John, I wish we had more time to rest. I was actually fighting what felt like the flu earlier this week, but in retrospect I’m not sure that I was sick at all. Exhaustion may have just taken me down for a few days. Funny how if we don’t get our rest, our bodies will make sure that we do! As we continue to grow I think it will be tough on us for the time being, but we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I think we as we hire more personnel and continue to grow it will just get easier for us to take some time off. Right now our plan is to just keep doing what we’ve been doing, continuing to invest in our business and give back to our local community any way we can.
Spinfuel: I can’t thank you enough for giving us this time to talk to you, share these photos of this magnificent new facility. Personally, I feel a certain connection with you guys. Both our companies were new to the vaping scene around the same time, and things have changed a lot in just a year. But there are always a few bottles of Mountain Oak Vapors on my desk at work and at home. There will always be a place for MOV here at Spinfuel, and in my personal vaping life. Thank you for meeting with me, and thank you for creating some of the very best eLiquids on the market. Let’s not let another 9 months go by before we do this again.
Steve: Agreed John! It’s always nice to sit down and talk with a friend. We look forward to maybe seeing you at one of our vape meets or perhaps in town for a local visit? Keep in touch!