Brett Horth has never missed out on a great business opportunity. Now he’s using his keen entrepreneurial talent to turn VapeStore into the UK’s first vaping franchise
Even before Brett Horth launched VapeStore, Vapouriz and Vapour Labs, his keen business acumen played a huge part in his life. “I’ve always been very entrepreneurial,” he says. “I set up my first business when I was in my mid-20s.” The idea to launch the company in question came to him when he was looking to buy his wife an opal for her birthday. Having been discouraged by how expensive regular jewellers were, Horth decided to find an online supplier instead. And when he did, Horth was surprised by how cheaply he could buy precious stones. Sensing a lucrative opportunity, he decided to invest in an opal-cutting machine of his own and began buying and selling gemstones. “That went on for a few years before the supply dried up,” Horth says. “Then I went on to the next thing.”
The next enterprise Horth founded was a recruitment business. “I did that for about three years before it sadly came to an end in 2008,” he says. With the recession claiming companies left, right and centre, it wasn’t long before the recruitment industry started to contract, ultimately forcing him to close his business. “Estate agents may have been the first to suffer but recruitment agencies like mine weren’t far behind,” explains Horth.
Not one to give up easily, he soon launched a third business: the search engine optimisation firm Evolve Digital Media. While he only ran the company for a few years, it would ultimately lead him to the founding of the UK’s first vaping franchise. “I was introduced to electronic cigarettes when I received a call from a prospective customer,” says Horth. The man was running a company selling gadgets that vaporised nicotine: having never tried or even seen an e-cigarette before, Horth was keen to give it a go. “At the time I smoked 20 cigarettes a day and within a few weeks of trying vaping I had switched completely,” he says. “I haven’t had any tobacco since 2011.” Given his entrepreneurial inclinations and how much he found himself enjoying the product, it’s hardly surprising that Horth quickly embarked on a mission to launch a vape company of his own.
However, setting up the business would prove easier said than done. “The bank wouldn’t even lend me £500,” he says. Fortunately he was able to bootstrap the business, investing £15,000 of his own savings before convincing his godfather and a friend to invest £25,000 and £12,000 respectively. Armed with the necessary funds, Horth quickly ordered 10,000 e-cigarette kits, placed a full-page ad in the Sun and set up his own online vape store, dubbing it Vapouriz. “I made it all back within two days of the launch,” says Horth.
Riding high on the success of Vapouriz, it didn’t take long for him to look for a way to expand his enterprise. “I always wanted to set up my own shop,” says Horth. “And customers were already travelling from miles around to visit our headquarters to purchase products.” Not one to rest on his laurels once he’d spotted a business opportunity, he launched VapeStore in 2013. While Vapouriz by this time was focusing on manufacturing its own liquids under the brand name Vapour Labs, Horth’s new venture stocked products from a wide range of manufacturers. Within a year of opening its doors, the first store in Guildford had a turnover of £720,000. “It was phenomenal,” says Horth.
Following the success of the first shop, Horth launched four more company-owned stores before deciding to turn his hand to franchising, recognising that it would allow the company to grow quickly without losing control of the purse strings. “We wanted to scale but there is no way that we would be able to open 100 stores by ourselves,” says Horth. “It would be too capital intensive for us.” Additionally, franchising has another benefit: it ensures that new stores will be run by people who are committed to ensuring the success of business. “Speaking from experience, I know that running your own business rather than being employed makes people more careful and a lot more focused,” he says. “Sadly, you don’t get that with regular staff members because that’s just the nature of the role: they come and go.”
Understanding the benefits franchising can provide, Horth set out to find his first couple of franchisees. But given his commitment to making VapeStore a success, it’s not surprising that he is quite particular about the kind franchisee he wants to recruit. “We’re looking for business people and entrepreneurs,” says Horth. “We’re not searching for hobbyists. A lot of people would love to own a store because they enjoy vaping but it’s not as easy as that. We want people who share our vision.” Like many other franchisors before him, Horth’s first step was to roll out his offering to as many franchising shows as possible. But the entrepreneur didn’t stop there: his next step was to utilise his tried and tested SEO skills to attract talent for his enterprise. “We have claimed the number one spot on Google,” says Horth.
To make certain that high-quality candidates apply, the VapeStore is offering a compelling franchise package. This includes not only comprehensive management training but also the equipment required to launch the store and help with the initial marketing campaign. “We want our people to do well,” says Horth.
Nevertheless, running a vape company isn’t without challenges. “The main worry at the moment is the new tobacco products directive,” says Horth. This particular piece of EU regulation came into force in 2016 and introduced a new standard for e-cigarettes. For instance, this means that refill containers can’t be larger than ten millilitres, packages must provide health warnings and the maximum nicotine content per 20 millilitres of e-liquid can’t exceed 2%. Failing to meet the new requirements would mean that a retailer like VapeStore wouldn’t be allowed to sell its products within the EU. “The one-year grace period is running out in May and if we don’t sell our stock by then we have to either write them off or sell them in a non-EU country,” he says. “Fortunately our expertise in stock forecasting has meant that we’re on target to sell the majority of our non-compliant products.”
This keen understanding of the market has certainly provided VapeStore with a great start for 2017. Not only did the chain sign up its first two franchisees last year but it has already been nominated for the prestigious Emerging Franchisor of the Year Award at the bfa HSBC Franchisor of the Year awards. And building on this success, Horth plans to expand the network even further over the upcoming months. “We plan to have ten new franchisees by the end of the year,” he says. “In the future the majority of our stores will be franchised.”
Looking back on his journey from cutting opals to running a multimillion-pound vaping business, Horth’s story certainly proves the success you can enjoy when you have a healthy dose of entrepreneurial flair and the courage to pursue your dreams.