SnG Vapor – Interview – April 4th, 2013

Julia: Thank you Steve, for taking the time to talk to Spinfuel this morning. Before we get to the subject at hand; “What is SnG Vapor all about? Which demographic in the vape community is SnG aiming to serve? Lastly, what is your mission statement? Your goals, if you will?

Steve: I appreciate the opportunity to chat with you, Julia. SnG Vapor is all about getting folks into vaping. We serve primarily new vapers through our Brick and Mortar in North Dakota, and extend this concept to the website. We feature super simple starter kits with Passthrough or Twist batteries, clearos, a case, charger, and juice. Everything needed to get started vaping in one package. Our goal, or our mission, if you will, is super simple – we want to introduce as many folks as humanly possible to vaping, and make it as straightforward and simple as possible. We want to have a hand in eliminating cigarette deaths and illnesses, and hopefully make a living on the way.

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Julia: SnG Vapor sells to online and walk-in customers, how long has your retail shop been open? How has the business community accepted a ‘vape shop’ among them, do they understand what electronic cigarettes are, or is there some confusion about what SnG Vapor does?

Steve: Our retail shop has been open just over a year now. We started in the trenches selling kits, clearos, and juice out of tackle boxes at bars, concerts, and anywhere else they would let us in that smokers congregated. We’ve had some interesting experiences interacting with the business community, especially in hyper-conservative North Dakota. We had to do some searching for a retail space that was comfortable with a vape shop, and things that are just a passing thought for most retailers take a lot more effort for those of us in the vape business. Things like insurance, credit card processing, licensing and permits, and personnel get a lot more complicated when you work with a product as controversial as PVs. Combine that with our state banning vaping everywhere smoking is banned – all public indoor spaces, or private indoor spaces where employees are located – and it makes for an interesting juggling act. As to what SnG Vapor does, we see many, many folks walk through our doors unsure of what exactly we do. E-cigs have made their presence known up here, but almost 100% of the gas stations and smoke shops here carry a cigalike like nJoy, Blu, or Cig20; for folks to walk into a store where we focus on eGo-style units on up can be confusing at first, but we have a great staff that loves to answer questions and chat with folks about vaping. We also offer samples of all of our liquids in-store, so it’s easier for customers to know what they are getting into.

Julia: SnG Vapor has introduced a new line of eLiquids, handcrafted in North Dakota, using the highest quality ingredients available. Where does your eLiquid get made, at the Vape Shop or elsewhere?

Steve: We have a lab set up on-site, and we exercise clean-room practices and have implemented many hygiene and chemical handling standards. We believe that e-liquid should be manufactured at least to the standards of food preparation, with the added caution of dealing with concentrated nicotine. I tell my employees constantly, if you wouldn’t make a taco or a hamburger for someone in here, you shouldn’t be making them e-liquids either. We have a YouTube video available on our channel that is a quick, 4 minute unedited look at our mixing room. We made this after some buzz in the reddit community regarding juice makers and their mixing environments. (http://youtu.be/-VnyeIW79yM)

Julia: Can you describe for our readers the actual mixing area, and how the process is done? (A photo would be awesome) What type of precautions do you make in order to prevent problems with contamination? Do you use shrink-wrap neckbands to seal the bottles, or other methods to make sure your bottles are airtight? How are they packaged and shipped?

Steve: I think the video will help readers out more than me describing the actual work area. Our mixing processes were all developed in-house by us, and they help us be both more efficient in the mixing process as well as provide a product to our customers with top-notch quality and consistency. We have a strict handwashing policy, as well as gloves required for any high-concentration mixing. We batch all of our flavors (not the liquid bottles, just the flavors) to make mixing a speedier process as well as give the individual flavor components a chance to blend better. Our PG, VG, and Nicotine bases are all housed in sterile shatterproof bottles topped with laboratory grade digital dispenser pumps to ensure measuring accuracy and eliminate contamination from liquid handling. When we mix down nic base, fill the base bottles, or fill the PG/VG/Nic dispensers, we operate in a closed clean environment with gloves, sleeves, and fully washed. We’ve just started using tamper evident shrink-wrap on our 30, 60, and 120 ml glass bottles, and our 10 and 30ml plastic bottles feature child-resistant caps. We ship well-padded and in sealed Ziploc bags so that if there is damage to the bottle in shipment, leakage is minimized.

Julia: How soon are orders filled for eLiquids? How soon after mixing will your customers receive their order of eLiquids?

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Steve: Most e-liquid orders are filled within 24 hours, and as of this interview, we are at a 90% or higher same-day shipping average. With first-class US shipping, the customer is receiving a bottle of liquid that is less than a week old, and sometimes as fresh as a day or two.

Julia: How much ‘home steeping’ do you advise your customers to do before they vape the juice?

Steve: As stated earlier, we batch all of our flavor concentrates. This means that the four separate flavorings we use in Mt. Doo, for example, get mixed together in a bottle with enough PG to bring the concentration up to 20% of the total e-liquid volume. Then when a bottle is ordered, the PG, VG, and Nic get mixed in. This allows the flavors a head-start on combining (steeping) together, and makes it so that every bottle of liquid we ship is ready to vape when it arrives. That said, there is no juice on the market that doesn’t richen slightly with age, so any steeping that a customer wants to do will only benefit them. But when that vape-mail comes in, the juices are all ready to be loaded up and vaped if you’re the impatient type 😀

Julia: What are your thoughts about the eLiquid community these days? Would you ever buy eLiquid from a vendor that mixes, packages, and ships a customer’s liquid in a home setting? Would you ever concern yourself the possibility that some vendors may not take necessary precautions to assure their products are fresh, non-contaminated, and safe to vape?

Steve: This is something that concerns me Julia. One of our pet projects is working with other vendors, specifically juice makers and B&M stores, to assist them in getting their business off the ground the right way – sort of an unofficial mentorship program. The first thing that we do is stress the importance of a clean environment for juice production. The ‘home setting’ or ‘basement juice’ moniker is tossed around a lot, but I’ve had some delicious juices that come from a juice lab properly set up in a spare bedroom or a basement, as long as it’s done right and proper handling and hygiene procedures are followed. I’ve worked with one juice vendor that actually only mixes every few days, and assembles/disassembles his lab when he mixes. This is 100% acceptable in my eyes, and he follows proper hygiene procedures and stores everything securely and safely when not in use. That being said, I do know there are too many juicemakers out there that literally just mix on a folding table in a den or spare bedroom, and that scares me. These are products that we are putting in our body, and cleanliness and purity should be of utmost importance. I again return to the foodservice analogy – I’ll buy sandwiches off a food truck as I can be fairly certain that truck has been cleaned and inspected, but the guy that makes pulled pork in a crockpot in his kitchen and then puts it on buns, wraps it, and sells it would scare me off from purchasing his product.

Julia: Last question about your eLiquids, for now anyway. We would like to talk to you again once we’ve had the chance for the Spinfuel eLiquid Review Team to use your liquids for 3 days. So anyway, the last eJuice question; How should a customer store your eLiquid, and how long will your eLiquid stay ‘fresh’ if stored properly? The main reason I ask is because you offer a huge 120ML bottle option, which I think is a fantastic idea, but if I were to buy such a large bottle for my personal use it might last me 6 months.

Steve: When properly stored and sealed, any quality e-liquid should last about 18 months before flavor degradation sets in. The key factor here is the quality of the flavorings used, as well as the nicotine base used. We’ve sampled dozens of nic base vendors, and some seem to degrade rather quickly at room temp (around 60 days) while a sample of the base that we currently use has been sitting on a shelf in our lab, in a closed 60ml bottle, for over a year now with no visible degradation in color, and no noticeable flavors coming out of it when mixed. We use a ml of it each month to see how it’s coming along, and we’ve been impressed so far, for the last 13 months.

Julia: Well, now wait, I just thought of one more eLiquid question, if you don’t mind. Would you recommend the 120ML bottle option to an average Vaper if he or she was buying it for his or her personal use, or is it too much juice to have to stay fresh long enough for a single person to consume it all? Know what I mean? (The last time I purchased a 60ML bottle of my favorite juice it lasted a month, then there are 60ML bottles I’ve had for several months that are still half-full. I would love the idea of 120ML bottles of juices I love to vape, just not sure it would stay fresh long enough unless it was for the entire office. But then I’m not in the eJuice business.)

Steve: We recommend that most folks grab either 10 or 30ml bottles until they find a flavor they like, and have vaped at least 30ml of before plunging into a 120ml jug of one flavor. Of course we believe all of our flavors are excellent, but there are some flavors that will be great for the first 30ml or so, and then a vaper’s taste buds will start to get used to it and the flavor won’t pop as much as it did when it was new to their tastes. This (in my opinion) goes for any e-liquid out there

Julia: Okay then, let me tell you how I happened across your website a few weeks back. I love the aesthetics of the STV Vivi Nova’s (Neptune), but it seems no matter how many tweaks I try with the wicks there are just too many ‘dry hits’ or burnt taste during a single vaping ‘session’. I’ve spent a lot of time experimenting with the wicks, and although I have gotten much better results it’s still a hit n miss game. So I googled the problem I was having and began reading the results of the search.

Before long there was a link to someone talking about a ‘Ceramic/Mesh head for the Vivi Nova and that led me to you. Seems like SnG Vapor is developing a “Hybrid Ceramic/Mesh” that just might solve the issue so many vapers are having with Vivi’s.

Steve: We think we’re almost there J

Julia: SnG Vapor claims to have cured the inherent problem with the Vivi Nova with this new product. Does this new head improve the vaping experience dramatically?

Steve: It does, Julia. We’ve taken the best properties from RBAs and essentially stuffed then into a Nova head. Now, this won’t hit those magical peaks that some perfectly set up RBAs will, but we feel they’re at about 80% of the performance of the high-end RBAs. We just do it in a $6 wick vs a $150 RBA.

Julia: What does it purport to do? How is it different, not just cosmetically, from the normal atty head replacements for the Vivi Nova’s?

Steve: Our Nova head works on two downfalls of standard Nova heads. The first of these is wicking. Especially with thicker juices that are mixed 50/50 or thicker, wicking is a continuous problem on the Novas. They just can’t get the juice up to the coil as fast as it vapes off, especially at the higher wattages. The second is the wicking itself getting burnt from these dry hits, and imparting a permanently ‘toasted’ taste to your vape, ruining the head and requiring a replacement.

We’ve removed the stock wicking and replaced it with a hybrid SS/Ceramic wick, wrapped in 30ga Kanthal. The stainless steel mesh wicks like a thirsty man in the desert, ensuring that there is always juice available at the head to vaporize. The XC-116 braided ceramic sleeve provides both a juice ‘reservoir’ at the top due to its great absorbency, and also insulates the stainless from the coil, ensuring that there are no ‘hot spots,’ as RBA enthusiasts often refer to the electrical shorts that occur between stainless mesh and the coil wire. We chose to go with a heavier gauge of Kanthal instead of NiChrome both to keep the resistance down and to offer a little more durability in the higher wattages.

Our current Beta 2 units all meter out within a half-ohm of 1.7, and handle 4.5-5.0v without dry hits or burning. One of our beta testers/reviewers ran Boba’s Bounty, a notoriously thick VG juice, and was vaping comfortably at 4.3v with no dry-hit or other wicking issues.

These heads are also incredibly durable and capable of prolonged dry burns due to the heat-resistance of the ceramic sleeve, so switching flavors is a walk in the park. Once a tank has been either vaped dry or emptied out, a quick dry burn will burn off all the excess juice on the wick and get it ready to take another liquid, with very little bleed-through between flavors.

Julia: What inspired you to want to develop a ceramic/mesh atty head?

Steve: As a shop owner that caters to new vapers, I constantly struggled with the fact that while I pushed the simplicity of clearos, the cape just wasn’t the same as a well-built RBA. I wanted to have a crossover product that worked well for those who had outgrown clearos and moved into a VV/VW mod, but weren’t ready to jump into mechanicals, RBAs, etc. We believe this fills that gap very nicely.

Julia: How is the development going? You’ve reached Beta 2, how close are you to a 1.0 product release? What can we expect to improve in a 1.0 release?

Steve: We’re fairly sure we have all the issues worked out, and the feedback from the community has been awesome. Our biggest roadblock to a full release is the availability of the heads. We’ve been struggling to get them in since Chinese New Year, and are hoping ina few weeks to be able to have a reliable supply. We’ve done 4 batches of 100 pieces so far, and they’re selling great, but if we can’t get the base heads to work with, we can’t produce the final product.

Julia: You are, essentially, rebuilding these atty heads one by one; it must take a huge amount of manpower to build enough to meet what will obviously be a huge demand, if they work as advertised. Do you think you can meet the demand?

Steve: I’m fairly confident in our production guys, and right now we’re capable of pushing out around 300 heads per day. These won’t be as available as the standard heads are out in the marketplace, and of course won’t initially be available through as many resellers, but they also won’t be complete vaporware.

Julia: The usual Atty Heads for the Vivi Nova are about $3 apiece; the Hybrid is currently $8. If the Ceramic/Mesh head can last 3-5 times longer than the normal head it turns out to be a great value. Do the latest testing data still point to a 3-5 times the life of a normal atty head?

Steve: We’ve only been working with these for about 60 days. However, I am personally using one that I have vaped about 80ml of liquid through, and it’s still going strong. We’re hoping for a mL rating of about 150ml through these, so about 50 fills. Now, as with all e-cig heating elements, there will be outliers on both sides, but due to the inability to burn them and the heavier gauge wire, we think these are definitely a longer lasting product than the stock Nova heads. That being said, I’m sure we’ll run into the occasional vaper that shoves 6v into them with a pure VG juice and blows their coil in a month, but those should be extreme circumstances, and not the norm.

Julia: Let’s talk a few minutes with the actual operation of the new Hybrid head. After replacing the normal head in the Vivi and filing with juice, what’s next? Is there an initial burn-in requirement or can someone just start vaping?

Steve: It really depends on the user. The first mL or two will probablyhave a slightly metallic taste to them from the stainless and kanthal. We recommend starting the voltage out a little lower, and gradually increasing it as the taste goes away. Once the wick and coil have been sufficiently coated in juice, it’s vape on!

Julia: If the user were vaping the Vivi with a VV or VV/VW APV, what initial setting would you advise? What is the voltage range most of your beta testers are finding acceptable? Do you prefer variable voltage or variable wattage as the first steps in breaking in the Hybrid? Does it even matter?

Steve: Either a variable voltage or variable wattage device will suffice with these heads, as long as it has a decently capable output. We do not recommend these for use with eGo batteries (including Twists, Spinners, etc.) as they generally don’t have the ability to push enough power into them to really get them warm and cooking. A solid VV or VW device takes these from an ‘OK’ vape to a great vape. I usually recommend for folks to start breaking them in around 3.7v, or 8w, and then go up from there until they are getting a sufficient amount of vapor, flavor, and throat hit.

Julia: You state that there is a break in period, and that the Hybrid will improve over the course of the break in period. In pure vaping time, how long, on average, does it take to break it in? Are there certain things you should or should not do during the break in period? Such as when you buy a new car they say that you should not take it up past 60mph for the first 1000 miles (I’m making that up, I have no idea), are there any such rules for properly breaking a Hybrid in? If so, what are they?

Steve: Not really Julia – nothing you can do to these during the break-in period will cause any permanent damage to the unit, but too much voltage before it’s sufficiently coated up will cause some nasty flavors and harsh throat hit.

Julia: You cannot ship these Hybrids overseas because of the Netel XC Ceramic fabric being used in the construction of the heads. Do you have any idea why that is?

Steve: From our understanding, the XC was developed for military applications, and is in-eligible for export outside the US. This is not gospel from us, but rather what the research of others has found. We receive instructions from our XC supplier not to export, and have to agree to not export before we can purchase it. Therefore, we do not export J

Julia: Last question; although you are selling them as beta products, and after you have so many available in a batch, do you anticipate a time where they will be readily available to the customer? If, say, I were to decide to use the Hybrid in my own collection of Vivi Nova’s, will there come a day when I can go to SnG Vapor where the likelihood of the Hybrid being in stock and ready to ship is near 100%, or will the Hybrid always be a ‘hard to get’ product?

Steve: The only thing keeping us from a steady stock of these right now is the availability of donor heads from China. Other than that our production methods are very easily duplicated, and our QC process is unmatched, so we should never have an issue with supply as long as China co-operates. We are also developing alternate products (think of the same setup in an iClear30!) in case the supply line issues we are having with the heads now does not work itself out prior to us being ready to launch.

Julia: Well, Steve, I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to answer all my questions. It has been a real delight to learn more about your company, your eLiquids, and the new Hybrid Ceramic/Mesh Atty Head. I am also looking forward to having the “team” do a full-on review of your eLiquids. I will definitely keep you posted on our experience with the new Hybrid. I’m definitely excited about getting a much better vape from all the Vivi’s I have. You just may have created a product that will make the Vivi Nova master of the clearomizers!

 

Julia Barnes, April 4th, 2013

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