Ben Pryor is a man with a mission. As the CEO and founder of VAPO, Ben runs eight brick-and-mortar stores, two online stores, and wholesale operations in New Zealand and Australia. Alongside longtime friend and business partner Jonathan Devery, he’s also recently developed alt., a slim, discreet vaping device branded as “the definitive alternative to smoking.” As if managing all of these aspects of his rapidly growing business weren’t enough, his true mission is a far greater one: a smoke-free New Zealand.
A former intellectual property lawyer, Ben was working in Italy when he noticed how smokers there used vaping products as an alternative to cigarettes. He saw a golden opportunity to bring a niche market back to his homeland and launched VAPO in August 2015. To circumvent New Zealand’s stricter laws at the time, Ben took orders online and used dropshipping to fulfill them overseas.
When the Ministry of Health finally concluded that existing nicotine laws didn’t have the teeth for a domestic ban, VAPO wasted no time in launching its first juice line and saw a huge boost in sales. As order volumes grew, Ben’s living room became an impromptu distribution center and store—much to the dismay of his housemates. With an average of 100 “in store” purchases a day, his cottage industry was booming and, before long, the city council arrived on his doorstep to let him know that an unacceptable number of people were trekking up his driveway each day. Clearly, a real store and warehouse were needed.
A Maverick Goes Mainstream
In March 2017, VAPO opened its first store on Dominion Road, a busy Auckland thoroughfare dotted with colorful shops and eateries. “We wanted to be different,” Ben says. “We wanted to create an environment where everyone felt welcome, with a clean aesthetic and helpful employees who could educate everyone on the benefits of switching to vaping products.”
This all-walks-of-life approach to branding proved to be a winner. But with the store’s runaway success and plans for two more, Ben and his team found themselves scrambling to cover all their bases.
“We needed a powerful system to control stock movements between stores, one that had great integration with apps and was able to coordinate invoices and payments to clients,” he says. “At this point in the business, we were using spreadsheets and would order stock based on what we saw in the warehouse. We did a lot of guessing, which wasn’t efficient or reliable, especially as we grew. Once we came on board with Cin7, we were able to control all of these factors with far greater ease.”
Finding New Markets—Literally
By the end of 2017, VAPO had opened three more Auckland stores, a warehouse and expanded its wholesale distribution, supplying its e-liquid and Alpha kits to two supermarket chains and becoming the country’s first vaping brand to be stocked in mainstream consumer goods outlets. This unchecked growth saw the need for bigger premises so, in March 2018, VAPO consolidated all of its distribution and administration under one roof and converted the old warehouse into a lab where they designed and manufactured their own e-liquid.
At this point, VAPO stores were definitely drawing in people already looking for vaping products, but Ben wanted to capture smokers and convert them into vapers. “We needed a product that was both incredibly easy to use and available wherever you could buy cigarettes.” From this ambition, alt. was born. “We are proud to now have the most widely available vaping device in New Zealand, stocking BP, Mobil, Z Energy, Countdown, New World, Four Square, Pak’nSave, On The Spot, SuperValue and FreshChoice. We could not have gained access to these high-profile retailers without the collective efforts of the VAPO team.”
Nor could VAPO have supplied this growing list of retailers without the inventory management power of Cin7. “We were able to gain full control of our inventory and plan well into the future. With the click of a button, we can send purchase orders to suppliers, and the whole team knows what we’re expecting to arrive.”
Saving Time, Space and, Potentially, Lives
One of the features Ben appreciates most is the use of dynamic bins. “With our ever-growing business, dynamic bins helped us control incoming stock where space was an issue.” In tandem with the powerful reporting insights Cin7 provided, the VAPO team was able to optimize product flow and avoid overstocking. “Cin7 has basically helped streamline our business in an all-cloud-based system. It does the work for you!”
As for the future, Ben says, “We aim to retain our position as the biggest vape supplier in New Zealand and grow to overseas markets, competing against the world’s largest brands. As the industry grows, we know we can rely on Cin7 to cater to our needs, with its robust inventory control and seamless integrations.”
Knowing Cin7 is supporting VAPO’s day-to-day operations frees Ben to focus on the bigger picture, as a staunch advocate for the vaping movement who frequently appears in the national press. “I truly believe that New Zealand now has the most progressive stance on vaping in the world,” he says. “But despite our successes, we cannot rest on our laurels. Big Tobacco companies have responded to our strength, and they are coming in full force to claw back market share. It is our duty to not only help New Zealand become smoke-free but also fight for a New Zealand free from Big Tobacco.”