For the 39-year-old business owner Mike Smider, the most exciting part of his job was to receive his orders of new products.
“(When) something new is released and I get it in (…) I'm like a kid in a candy store looking at all of these new products,” laughed Smider, rubbing his palm.
Smider started his e-cigarette business Queen City Vape in 2014. Located on Halifax St., several blocks away from downtown and next to the Regina’s police station, the store has colourful e-liquid bottles lined up neatly on the shelves, shiny hardware displayed at the front desk, and a sweet scent coming from e-liquids swirling in the air.
If you do a Google search in Regina, 11 vape stores show up. But according to Smider, QCV was the first. Since the business went from online to an actual store, he gets about 50 customers every day.
Smider was a smoker for 15 years before he was introduced to vaping by a friend four years ago, and developed a strong interest in it.
“I saw him (…) dragging on this little battery powered stick-looking thing and blowing out what looked like smoke, and I asked him about it. And he explained it all to me, and a couple of days later I ordered my own kit,” he said.
Soon he quit smoking and made this new habit a business, and persuaded his friend to become a business partner.
Vaping is the act of inhaling water-based vapor using a battery-operated device. The “flavours” depend on the e-liquids loaded into tanks of the devices. Different from tobacco, e-liquids provide only nicotine to customers and eliminate other harmful chemicals that can be found in tobacco. Some e-liquids don’t even contain nicotine and provide only the flavours and smoking-like experience.
To non-smoker Smider, vaping has already changed from a quit-smoking-aid into a hobby that allows him to do experiments with the vaping mechanism.
“Being able to tinker around, and use my brain and calculate stuff and build things and use my hands and get something working afterwards (...) That's satisfying,” he said.
Among all the e-cigarette hardware in his store, Smider’s favourite was a mechanical tube he customized for himself. He has an electronics school background and a father who was an electrician for over 40 years, so he knows how to make electronic things work.
“You get drippers, which are just an open top bowl basically with positive negative posts,” he explained. “You build your coils out of specific wire, you mount the wires in there, you check the resistance of them, and then (check) if it's safe to use (…) It’s almost law you are dealing with, like basic electrical theory, and you can customize all sorts of stuff with these.”
Having a passion for e-cigarettes, Smider doesn’t only spend time modifying the devices he’s using, but also loves to educate his customers about all the products in stock.
“Basically I ask them what they are looking for in terms of hardware. Like, are they looking for something to mimic cigarettes' style, drag, or something small and compact, or something with a little bit more power adjustabilities, settings, larger tanks, etc.,” he said. “And I sort of walk them through the differences between all the devices, and explain what's what about them.”
This strategy ensures that customers have a positive experience shopping and are confident about choosing his store, said Smider, and he was happy to watch the business growing in front of his eyes.
Rick Siba, who has been vaping for six years and has 600 followers on his Saskatchewan Vaper’s Page on Facebook, says he followed the page of QCV. Although he lives in Saskatoon and hasn’t been to Smider’s store, he heard of him from friends and said Smider is a well-respected storeowner within the vaping community.
Smider says he supports the proposal for age restrictions on e-cigarettes that came out last year. According to him, not selling to minors is an unwritten rule that most sellers had been following already, and he would like to see this regulation in place.
Smider says he is glad he made e-cigarettes retailing a business and putting all his focus into it. He says he hasn’t really thought about what the next step might be, but he is happy with where everything is right now: “I'm proud of what I've accomplished here.”