It’s not even noon on a Sunday in Fridley Minnesota, but Two Stooges Bar is already rocking with about 50 of the biggest names and their businesses in the state. 11am-2pm was dedicated to businesses either already involved or interested in becoming involved with the IVRM. The IVRM is the lobbyist organization that corresponds with the Minnesota Vapers Advocacy, fighting for vaping rights and liberties. It is lead by input by shop owners from across the state.
The IVRM was invoked by the MNVA, and started by Cap O’Rourke. The opening announcement included the statement from O’Rourke that “vaping is not a part of the Minnesota Clean Indoor Act, and it is likely that will be safe to say for the next year! This year has been surprisingly quiet. None of the senators that lead the campaign seem interested in pursuing any of this type of legislation. None of the bills have met deadline so far, so they are technically dead. However, they could be amended. One of the bills is a clean room standard bill, and it’s good to have self-imposed standards in your own shops. We need to make sure we don’t give politicians a reason to regulate. We need to be more vocal when it comes to elected officials because we are in a strange position of being on the opposite side of anti-smoking campaigns and in competition with big tobacco. The bulk of my time has been spent at the municipal level. Since we won at the state level, cities and counties are taking up the issue. Many times we have less than 48 hours to react to these ordinances. It is important to be talking to your tobacco control officers and city council members in your area. If you haven’t done so yet, feel free to show up to a city council meeting and introduce yourself. That is by far the thing that has helped our cause in other areas. Municipal ordinances break down into 4 categories, clarifying no sales to minors, child-resistant packaging, sampling bans and zoning changes. Many times with sampling, the public use ordinances that are going to be enacted will prohibit sampling without the city council members realizing it, and if we are able to contact them they are usually at least willing to back down on that aspect. Zoning laws are also very tricky. In some cases cities have introduced ordinances that would prohibit vaping businesses within something like 1000 feet of schools, day cares, churches, medical facilities like chiropractor or accupunture offices, parks and residential areas. Some of these would lead to a de-facto ban on most stores.
Bennie Muhammud, the Vice President of the board of IVRM spoke about his efforts in the St. Cloud area. “If anyone, or any shop has problems or questions, we need to bring it forward and discuss it. My biggest thing is education first. When I first got into the business, I was only open for about a month and a half when someone told me about the problems and the ordinance that was going to be passed in Duluth, MN to get rid of vaping in public places and vape shops I drove to another small shop north of the twin cities. There, the MNVA was born of 20 vapers concerned with recent ordinances being passed to prohibit vaping in all places, including vape shops. When I first went to the Chamber of Commerce in St. Cloud it was nerve racking standing up and introducing my business. But, now they know me, and see that I’m trying to help; not only for anyone that comes into my store, but also for the community around me. Every legislator that has come into my store expects that we’re just another head shop, but by the time I tell them what I’m trying to do they shake my hand and tell me never to give up what I’m doing. I’ll also tell them that I’m not the only shop that’s doing this. We have to do something that happens in no other business and support the other shops that are doing things the right way. Not only do I share the things we’re doing on our Facebook page, but I also share what the MNVA and even other shops are doing. That way, if elected officials look at our page they don’t think we’re just some little shop, and hopefully they won’t want to try to bring down a group that’s bringing business to our area and to other businesses like Two Stooges when we all gather to talk about fighting for our rights to vape.”
While all of the testimonies were great during the IVRM meeting, one in particular really stood out to me. The manager of a vape shop in Bloomington, MN here discusses the impact that the sampling ban has had over his store. I had him email a complete copy of his testimony.
“I am Bill Urbank, Manager of the Bloomington location of Smokeless Smoking. I was originally hired in the fall of 2012, and was a vaper almost two years before that. On January 9, 2011, Jesse Griffith sold me my first device. Electronic cigarettes were in their infancy; vaping wasn’t even a word at that point. I went home that evening and told my wife, “I just spent a bunch of money on something dumb.” I was certainly wrong. Within weeks I had stopped smoking cigarettes completely. I bought my kit for one reason: I didn’t want to go outside to smoke anymore. At the time, I was unaware of just how cold Minnesota winters can be, but I was glad to be on my nice warm couch watching the neighbors stand in feet of snow, burning through their cigarettes as fast as they could.
While I have not been present at the legislative sessions deciding vaping restrictions, as the manager of Smokeless Smoking in Bloomington I have made a concerted effort to inform and involve as many customers possible in the fight to keep vaping legal. I have been impressed at the level of dedication and involvement many of our customers have exhibited. I was especially moved on November 17th 2014, when scores of our customers waited through the night and into the morning to have their voices heard, and support our right to vape. Sadly, the Bloomington city council was unaffected by their constituents’ plea to keep vaping legal in Bloomington.
On November 28, 2014, Bloomington’s Smokeless Smoking entered seldom traveled waters. As of that day, every single device activated in our store has been done so illegally. Months later, we must still enforce the restriction, and to many that enter our store it is the first time they are subjected to a restriction such as this.
As many of you are involved on the customer service level of this industry, I propose a thought experiment: Think of the last thing you said that made a customer angry. Maybe you were sold out of a product, maybe you were unable to fix a broken device. Concentrate on the interaction you had with the customer after that moment; think of the hostility, the distrust, the frustration, the vitriol the customer displayed during the rest of the transaction.
Now imagine that every customer interaction goes similarly.
“I’d like to try some new flavors.” Absolutely, let’s head outside.
“What’s wrong with my device?” Let me take it out there and find out.
“Can I get 30ml of…(customer vapes)” I’m sorry, it’s against the law to do that in here.
Over. And over. Eleven hours a day.
What follows is a broken record. We answer the same questions, and watch as our customers become confused that such a poor decision could be made. We educate people as best we can. I can answer the questions that follow, in order, before they’re asked.
“No, it’s not all over, just in Bloomington.”
“Since the day after Thanksgiving.”
“Yes, I do believe they intend to enforce it. I’ve seen many city vehicles in our lot trying to suss out what goes on in here.”
“There was a giant opposition. We were very well represented at the meeting when the ordinance was passed. It seemed as though their minds were made up before it even began, and I don’t know what could have swayed them.”
The dynamic changes at this point. The experience that they sought, we can no longer offer. Customers feel rushed as they stand outside, trying to decide which new flavor they’d like. They feel silly as we stand in the parking lot, frustrated that we could not enjoy the comfort of the lounge we spent so much time and money to set up for them. They offer ways they think we could get around the law, trying to find a loophole in the legislation that could somehow make it legal for us to vape in our own store.
This is just salt in the wound. As we calmly explain why the ordinance makes their idea impossible, they realize that no, they’re not the first person to think of this.
Now, not only are they dissatisfied that they didn’t get the experience they came for, now we’ve made them feel dumb. This certainly does nothing for customer satisfaction. We must work that much harder to smooth things out to ensure retention.
This is, of course, if they haven’t given up on us already. At least once per day, one of three situations will occur:
We get a phone call from someone asking if the store is still open.
We get asked where we are moving, and if there are any sales. (People will always be ready to cash in on your demise.)
We get asked how long we expect to be able to stay open.
Even a simple “How’s business been?” is a loaded question. We try to stay positive, but let’s face it. Everyone knows the ordinance hasn’t helped our sales.
Surely you can imagine what this does to employee morale. The constant repetition of frustration, dirty looks, and cries of “bullshit!” from our customer base is tiring at best. At worst, it is utterly defeating. My employees jump at the chance to spend a day at our other locations. “I get to vape while working!” they say, happy to be in an environment that hasn’t been compromised by a bad law-making decision. While this has nothing to do with my performance as a manager, it has become more and more difficult for me not to take it personally. I want every Smokeless employee to want to work at my store, and I make a concerted effort to make my store a great place to work. However, any problem in the slightest is compounded by the fact that customer interactions inevitably come back to this ordinance. thus begins another revolution of the record, skipping to infinity.
At this point, you might think, “Wow. This guy sounds like he hates his job.” I don’t. At all. I just have to constantly remind myself of what I do, what my job is at its core: I help people quit smoking. We sell miracles; every cigarette not smoked by someone that enters my store is a personal victory. Even someone who enters our store for information only benefits from the education we provide. They may never vape, but they know someone who will, and better yet they know that vaping is not what big tobacco or big Pharma makes it out to be.
Time and again my employees and I recount the events of November 17th, how forty or so people, hundreds of pages of customer testimony and a hundred more of scientific research could not sway even one council member to vote against the bill as written. Initially, there were many who asked what they could do to change the law. We directed them to the MNVA website, as well as the Change.Org petition. As time has passed, interest has waned. Our customers begrudgingly accept the change, and as we go, we see less and less of them. From time to time people still ask, “How is it coming? Do you guys have a chance of getting it changed?” As of now, we don’t quite know. However, if the laws proposed at the state level pass, it won’t matter. Every vape store will be like this. All of our customers will become increasingly disinterested, as more and more vaping will be demonized.
This fight will continue.
It will not get any easier.
It is excessively important that we as retailers keep our customers informed of what’s ahead. Get people’s attention directed toward the legislation. The earlier, the better. As time draws near, make it as easy as possible to have your customers to be involved. We must guide their hand to even the most basic of participation, lest we lose it. It will take a concerted effort to succeed where others have failed initially, and keep vaping legal statewide.”
To learn more about the IVRM visit http://www.ivrm.org
Or like their new Facebook page! https://www.facebook.com/pages/Independent-Vapor-Retailers-of-Minnesota/1624520334443284
If you are a dog tag wearing member of the Vaping Militia and wish to write an article for http://www.thevapingmilitia.org please contact Alex Carlson at firstname.lastname@example.org
Alex Carlson is the creator of the Ridiculous! Vape Vlog, a YouTube news show based on consumer interests in the vaping community.