The Vape Merchant’s slick fit-out is all about breaking down the preconceptions and stigmas around vaping, says Wiig Design’s Bevan Wiig.
Vape devices are a smoking cessation product which can act as an alternative to solutions like nicotine patches or gum. The managing director of Vape Merchant’s parent company Vapertech, Clint Baxter, says the typical vape device is essentially a battery-powered heating unit. The liquid it heats contains flavourings, propylene glycol and glycerine – these liquids can be tobacco-flavoured like a cigarette, or anything from strawberry cheesecake to rum and coke. Shoppers can choose whether their liquid contains 0mg, 3mg or 6mg of nicotine.
The vape device heats up the liquid and converts it into an aerosol, which is then inhaled. Vaping isn’t risk free, Baxter clarifies, but it is less harmful than smoking.
“The big difference is that it doesn’t burn anything,” Baxter says. “Heating is a different chemical reaction.”
Baxter sees an opportunity in New Zealand’s fledgling vape industry, citing a yearly customer spend of $2.5 billion on tobacco products. Currently, Baxter says, there are 255,000 Kiwi smokers looking for an alternative to smoking. He wants Vape Merchant to be an integral part of the Government’s goal to be smokefree by 2025.
“I believe we’re at the very start of the industry right now.”
Vape Merchant is a privately-owned company which operates with a mixture of company-owned and franchised outlets. It’s clearly in rapid expansion mode - at the time NZ Retail went to print, four stores were in operation, and another four were soon to open: Ashburton, Nelson, Linwood and Hornby.
Vape Merchant’s point of difference over existing vape stores is access and ease, Baxter says. Its outlets are designed to be open, inviting and educational, with a broad appeal for many different demographics of smokers, from 18 to 70 plus. Given the unfamiliarity of the product to many people there also has to be an educational component to the stores.
“Our in-store experience had to flow and provide somewhat of a self-educating experience,” Baxter says. “No single consumer is alike and some like to be approached and educated and shown products from the start, others like to peruse at their own pace.”
“If smoking’s been a major part of their life for 15-20 years and you’re trying to get them to consider at least a trial, they want to know what they’re getting into,” Baxter says. “We’re trying to take away the confusion by not having a huge variety of devices and liquids.”
One of Baxter’s favourite aspects of the company-owned Newmarket flagship’s fit-out is the tasting bar area. Wiig says the tester and sampling process is a key element in the customer experience.
“This zone introduces entirely new customers to vaping and flavour ranges, and also offers an opportunity for regulars to try a crafty new liquid release. A range of quality devices can be trialed in a promo zone also.”
Digital media screens and easily-changeable printed information panels provide extra information to customers, and there’s also a central consultation table to give new clients space to get to know the products. Regular clients are able to easily see and quickly purchase refill liquids from behind the service counter.
The luxurious space features a simple and natural palette of materials, and what Wiig describes as “a crispy fresh paint colour”. Vape Merchant’s branding includes navy blue, which Wiig translated into in-store use for a contemporary vibe, and he’s also used black to create depth-increasing contrast. Spot lighting increases this effect and adds warmth.
To get the interplay between branding and design right, Wiig says he worked with Brave Media to build a mood board and create a vibe.
“From that we could seamlessly integrate the fit out and the branding together; they did a fantastic job in flowing our natural timber elements and uncluttered vibe into a strong looking brand to target a broad market,” Wiig says. “I always returned to my base vision through the design process to create a vibe which subconsciously encapsulated a natural and healthy transition from smoking.”
It was important to go high-end with the design as Wiig says competitors in the vaping field were seen as either overly cluttered, or “providing plenty of material for the unwarranted bad stigma of vaping”.
“The Vape Merchant takes the industry and quality of their products seriously - having to include sex toys, bongs, lion onesies, glitter makeup and the odd dreamcatcher into the sales mix degrades the clientele experience.
Vape stores are known for allowing plumes of scented vapour to fill the shop space and occasionally leak onto the street. Wiig says Vape Merchant stores have extraction systems which have been integrated with carbon filters to combat this.
“The ambition is to have these stores in every viable town in New Zealand including shopping malls and Australia. A smoky scene from Ghost Busters will work for some, but I believe it’s not really what the massive market about to enter through the door is looking for. I’m sure those people prefer to see the staff who are providing crystal clear advice.”