Smoking Essentials: lessons learned in launching our new online smoke shop

While we had no inclination going into the new year, 2016 has turned out to be the best year of our lives.

I’m Jesse, cofounder of Smoking Essentials Inc., a new an exciting ecommerce smoke shop (with a wholesale component, too) launching later this year.

Not only do I get to work in an amazing industry — which I am passionate about — I am able to go on this journey with my best friend and her father, the other two cofounders of our online head shop.

As with any business, there were planty of lessons for us to learn.

Without further ado, here are some of them:

  1. Just when you think you’ve sourced all of the inventory you could possibly need, you learn of yet another obscure product that you should be selling.
  2. When you’re first planning the business in your head, the number you allocate for inventory will in all actuality likely be much lower than the actual amount.
  3. Marketing is difficult. We sell pipes, water pipes and rolling accessories. We cannot call them anything else and neither can our customers. Guess what? Those are not the keywords people are using!
  4. The Magento shopping cart is both easy and very time consuming. Luckily, I was born with half tech and half operations in my blood. We are able to save a lot of money by having me personally implement Magento as our shopping cart, even though I severely underestimated the amount of time it will take me to make it good enough for public consumption.
  5. Overseas vendors can be a nightmare. The harsh reality is that a lot of glass and pipes come from overseas. Even the biggest and most respected companies that blow in-house still procure some of their pieces overseas. I knew sourcing vendors from these countries would be no easy task — and I knew that there are a lot of scammers out there using pictures and descriptions of other people’s stuff — but let’s just say that there is a lot of trial in error when trying to establish a new relationship with a reputable overseas vendor. Having said that, after months of searching, contacting, losing some money and testing, I can say that we have some amazing overseas partners actually delivering high quality pieces at affordable prices. Simply put, it’d be difficult for even the biggest water pipe snob to identify certain pieces as coming from overseas. There is no need to worry though; like many company, we have a lot of items born in the U.S., too.

I’ve gone over the negative experiences in our building of a new online smoke shop, and now I am going to cover some of the pleasant surprises along the way:

  1. Getting followers on social media proved to be much easier than I ever imagined. The business plans calls for heavy social media engagement, but I never expected to get new (and relevent!) followers without any content. All I did was create a bio promising a 25% off coupon for pre-launch followers and they’ve been rolling in ever since.
  2. It’s fun. I’m working in an industry that I love while getting to oversee the work in two of my favorite areas: marketing and operations.
  3. Business can drive a wedge between friendships, but I cannot help but to feel mine is getting stronger. It was already strong to begin with, but there is no even more closeless I did realize before.
  4. We get to make it all about the customer, which is so rare in today’s business climate! Both the cofounders and I are very big on customer and employee satisfaction. Simply put, we get to be extra nice to people all day long, which has the side benefit of making us extra nice to one another, our family, as well as our other friends.
  5. We will be able to offer free shipping on all US orders. I really thought we were not going to be able to do it. I then looked at what successful competitors were charging for similar products and realized that since they were not working on razor thin margins, they were able to offer free shipping on all US orders, too. I recently read that offering free shipping on all orders easily raises sales 10 to 15%. It’s hard to argue against facts like that; you just need to make sure your gross margin reflects the change.

Do you have a head shop or know someone who does — either online or brick and mortar? We’d love to hear some of the lessons you (or they) learned along the way. Feel free to leave them in the comments or reach out to us on social media:

Our smoke shop is not live yet, but if you follow us on Instagram or Twitter, you too will receive a 25% coupon after we launch.

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