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.”