Monthly Archives: October 2013

VapeDojo: Little Store, Big Business

by Willard Rhodes & Joe Friday

In Ellicott City, MD, a tiny vapor lounge called VapeDojo is setting the high bar for e-cig and vape supply stores everywhere.

vape-dojo-outside

If you just said to yourself, “Where in the heck is Ellicott City?” you’re not alone. Unless you live in the Baltimore area, you’ve probably never heard of it. But if you’re within any kind of reasonable driving distance of VapeDojo, and you enjoying vaping, get out your GPS and plan a trip. You won’t be disappointed.

map-to-vapedojo

A few years back, Bryan and Rachel Walker, owners of VapeDojo decided to do something that seemed completely insane. Having made the switch from tobacco to e-cigs, first with disgusting mass-market gizmos, then into mods and better juices, they decided to start an online store to sell e-juice and vaping supplies – in a crappy economy, with almost no money, and only a dim idea of how to market. Yeah, that sounds like a plan.

Bryan had a software background, some business experience, and the starry-eyed enthusiasm that takes so many newbies into the world of commerce – a world that crushes the dreams of many entrepreneurs in less than three years. Armed with nothing more than an idea and some decent supplier connections, they launched vapedojo.com in late Spring of 2012. To market on a shoestring, they jumped on social media methods like Facebook and Twitter, doing whatever they could to get the word out.

Strangely, it worked.  Sales started coming in almost immediately, and have kept on climbing ever since.

Bryan began looking for physical space in October 2012, opening the VapeDojo lounge on Black Friday of the same year. We heard about it and decided to scope it out. It’s not easy for two large human-type mammals to be “incognito,” but we did our best. Friday took the wheel of the vape-mobile and we tooled through historic Ellicott City in search of the lounge.

vape-dojo-wall

VapeDojo is located in a new red brick building at the corner of Frederick Road and St. John’s Lane, on the west side of EC. The whole lounge is not a lot wider than the double-doors at the entrance. Inside, we found a seating area, shelves of vaping supplies, and the young team Bryan has gathered to man the place. On that first visit, one entire display wall was empty, which we learned was because they had sold out of everything on it. This, they said, was where their starter kits normally hung, and the sell-out has been happening every week.

vape-dojo-brian

On the front counter is a whacky-looking display containing sample cartomizers of every flavor they carry, along with some tester batteries and a basket of disposable drip tips. We were invited to try anything we liked, so out came our mods and we started sampling.

flavor-carousel-72

At this point, I need to tell you that when it comes to e-juice flavors, Friday and I are jaded. We routinely test e-juices from all over the world, and are picky as hell about what we like. We were prepared to politely try some flavors, fake some smiles, ask a few more questions, shake hands, and move on. In, out, done. right?

Yeah. No. We were there for like two hours. I finally had to drag Friday out so he could beat rush hour back to D.C. In our opinion, VapeDojo’s juices rank with some of the best we’ve ever vaped.

While we were in the lounge, there was a steady stream of customers through the doors. It didn’t take much to crowd the place, but nobody seemed to mind. There were people of all ages, from college kids to big, rough, construction workers, to what looked like soccer moms, all stocking up on juices and supplies.

Two weeks later, we were back, this time to sit down with Bryan, get some facts, and take a few pictures. Rachel joined us after she got someone else to man the register, and together they answered our questions, providing us the background info for this story.

I asked Bryan about his sales growth since they opened.  After we’d sworn a blood oath not to reveal the numbers here, he told us.  We were suitably impressed. Clearly, the “crazy” move to go into the e-cig business was anything but.  “I never made money like this in I.T.,” Bryan said, “And I was being paid pretty well.”

As for the juice, it turns out they used to buy from an outside source in the U.S., but Bryan revealed that they’d recently made that source an offer, resulting in acquiring both the supply and the juice blender himself. So now they have an online store, a brick-and-mortar store, and a professional juice-making facility. The plan, he said, is to keep the quality consistent – and uniquely their own.

So we asked them what’s the secret to their success.

“Really it’s customer service,” Rachel said. “We decided from Day One that we would do anything it took to satisfy every customer and take care of any complaint.”

“We will not let anyone walk out of here without a complete demo of the equipment they’ve bought from us,” added Bryan. “We put their gear together, we show them how to fill it, and we have them vaping before they go.”

We were sitting around a tiny kitchen table in a corner of the lounge. “I sit down with them right here and show them everything,” said Rachel, pointing down at the table. “The e-cig, the charger, all of it. I treat them like I’d want to be treated if I was going to buy vape stuff.”  She also said they often spend hours of the day on the phone, helping newbies get started with items they’ve purchased from the website.

iSmoka-kit-72

According to them, VapeDojo’s best seller is their “iSmoka” kit containing an automatic eGo style battery, 1.6 ml tank, and replaceable coil. The cartomizer unit is capped with a soft tip, and the kit comes with a screw-in charger that has a standard USB connector at the other end. VapeDojo sells it for $14.99. Bryan pointed to the wall full of kits, the same wall which had been empty when we visited for the first time. “That will all be gone in a few days. We’re moving about 2,000 kits per month, so about 50-75 a day, give or take, split about evenly between in-store sales and online.”

Bryan and Rachel led us into the back room, where we found their team of vape-enthusiasts packing orders and manning computers. A huge set of shelves held their stock of juice, which they carefully mix into a wide range of flavors and nicotine strengths. I don’t ordinarily like fruit flavors, but really liked their Black Menthol, a mix of blackberry and menthol, as well as their Berries & Cream. Friday tried a bunch of them, and I don’t think he was able to decide on a favorite – no surprise, considering how many they have.

juice-shelf-1-mod

Here’s something else I noticed about their juice flavors. My life partner is not a vaper, and has often expressed negative opinions about flavors I’ve vaped around her in the past. But when I vaped juices from VapeDojo in the house, she commented right away that they were different – much better smelling and actually pleasant.  When we returned to the store get the information for this story, I told Bryan and Rachel about it, and they said they’ve heard the same from others – that they could vape now around people who had complained in the past, because the vapor itself smelled better.

Bryan shared with us that they’re about to open a second location in Harrisonburg, VA, adjacent to the campus of James Madison University. Doubtless, once they do, it will be as well-visited as their Ellicott City store.

We highly recommend a visit, if you’re in the Midatlantic region – especially around Baltimore and Washington D.C. (it’s a straight shot North up Rt. 29).  If you live somewhere far away, like East Kneecap, Alaska, maybe you can’t get the full experience of a visit, but you can still order online from VapeDojo – as apparently about a zillion other people are doing. www.vapedojo.com


Hot Weather Vaping

By Willard Rhodes & Joe Friday

Summertime! It’s the season to be outdoors and doing stuff. Great weather to vape at the beach, on long walks, or just chilling in the yard.  If you’re reading this in the Northern Hemisphere during October through May, though, you might think these tips don’t apply. Ok, what about travel to warmer places? And don’t forget, we have fans all over the world. Check out these hot weather tips, so you can avoid problems and have a good time.

HEAT – Why, when it comes to e-juices and vaping equipment, the sun is not your friend.

1.  Do not leave your e-juice bottles or tanks sitting in the direct sun or inside a hot vehicle. Temperatures inside a closed car or truck can reach as much as 132º F (55.5 C), according to the animal care information site, RedRover. In fact, according to a study from Stanford University, even on comparatively cool days, such as 72º F (22 C), a car’s internal temperature will rocket to 116 degrees within 60 minutes in direct sunlight.

Here’s what happens: 
E-juices will start to break down at 105-106º F (40 C). The juice discolors, the viscosity changes, and the flavors can get really weird.  This is especially true for juices with high VG (vegetable glycerine) content. For example, a juice can go from Banana Cream to Earwax flavor once it gets hot enough – and cooling it down won’t change it back. Also, exposure to high heat for extended periods can break down the nicotine in the juice. When you vape overheated juice, it can cause your cartomizer, atomizer, or tank to clog up quickly, get leaky, and become unuseable. YECCCH!

2.  Do keep e-juice bottles and filled tanks in a cool place, like in a plastic bag inside a cooler. This is true whether you’re leaving them in your vehicle, or if you’re going somewhere that the sun can beat down on your equipment – like an open boat or on a beach blanket.  If you don’t have a cooler, think about putting your juices and equipment in some sort of case and, if you have to leave them in your vehicle, put them in the trunk or somewhere low down in the car and away from direct sunlight. That’s not as good as keeping them chilled, but it’s better than nothing.

The point: You’ve made an investment in e-juice, so protect it from getting baked into something you won’t like.

3.  Heat can also cook your batteries. E-cigs all have one thing in common: they contain lithium ion batteries of one type or another. When heated past 100º F (38 C), the lithium ions in these batteries begin to form the metal itself, damaging the cell. As a result, the battery will hold progressively less and less charge. If you’ve been leaving your vaping equipment out in the direct sun, or inside a hot vehicle, don’t be surprised when the battery seems to go dead faster than before.
 Worse yet, if lithium ion batteries get REALLY hot, like in excess of 120º F, they can “go thermal,” meaning they rupture and explode!

We’re not kidding. We’ve done this in experiments in the VR lab, and the results are spectacular – like “wear a welding mask/kids, don’t try this at home” spectacular. To be safe, and considering the stats showing how internal temps in closed vehicles can easily reach dangerous levels, it’s best to either take your batteries with you or store them in a plastic bag inside a cooler.


Travel Vaping Tips

by Willard Rhodes & Joe Friday

TRAVEL – How to enjoy vaping on the road and in the air.

Planning a trip? Going on vacation? Maybe traveling for business? It takes a bit more thought and planning to vape on the road, but it’s worth it. We’ve assembled our best vaping travel tips to help you vape on the road.

1.  Plan for success.  If you’ve decided to stop using tobacco entirely, there’s nothing to tempt you to fall off the wagon then running out of juice on a long trip. Murphy’s Law still applies even in the 21st Century – if something can go wrong, chances are it probably will. Our advice is to take along at least double the amount of juice or pre-filled cartomizers you think you’ll need, and the amount of batteries you go through in a typical day plus two.  Take extra chargers, as well. If you’re traveling outside your own country, make sure you take one of those traveler’s plug adapter kits, so you can still charge your devices even if the wall plug resembles some kind of weird sound jack. A whole bandolero of batteries won’t help if they’re dead and you can’t charge them.  Also consider bringing a pass-through – a device that connects directly to USB for vaping (with or without battery). These can be quite handy on long car trips.

2.  Take literature and maybe even packaging. It’s not that we’re telling you to start passing out materials like they were religious tracts. The point is to explain, if you get confronted in some foreign airport in Outer Zambonia, what your devices are and what they do.  Some law enforcement folks – even here in the U.S. – are more than ready to believe that e-cigs might be “drug paraphenalia.” This is especially true of mods, which don’t look much like a regular cigarette. If you have some literature and packaging, it will be a lot easier to explain what you’re doing, and maybe avoid some uncomfortable time being stretched over the back of a police car or held in a windowless airport security room by some rough looking guys in wrap-around shades and excessive amounts of guns and tasers on their belts. (Do not ask how we know this.)

3.  Don’t vape on planes – unless you’re a bazillionaire with a private jet. Almost all airlines worldwide ban smoking on their planes, and no amount of fervent argument or literature is going to make the cabin attendant agree that vapor isn’t smoke.  But the chances of you following that advice is probably near zero, and even we have stealth-vaped on long flights (deep inhale, hold it until the vapor is all absorbed, and try not to look like you just took a bong hit). Trouble is, one strong cough and you’ll be surrounded by a big cloud that’s going to take a lot of explaining. If you’re losing your mind, go in the bathroom – but vape AWAY from the smoke detectors in there. We’ve never set one off ourselves, but have heard of people who did – apparently it takes a direct exhale into the device, but who the heck would do that anyway?

4.  Don’t vape in airports.  See above.  You might have an easier time in the restroom, but don’t count on your fellow travelers not ratting you out to the nearest airport security person.  If you’re clever (read: sneaky), you might get away with stealth-vaping, but have the good sense to do it away from crowds and lines.  Some airports have “smoking areas” outside, which is OK if you’re waiting for your ride but completely inconvenient if you’ve already passed through the 100-mile-long security line and can’t reach them. Yes, yes, we know vapor isn’t smoke; sometimes, you just have to work with what’s “allowed.”

5.  Label your juice bottles. Airport personnel get extra-nervous about unlabeled bottles in luggage. Put their minds at ease – or at least try – by bringing bottles with labels, or even by making your own labels on your computer and sticking them on before you go. If the label says something like “Berry Blast,” consider ripping that off and sticking on something that doesn’t sound like you’re carrying fruit-flavored nitroglycerine. Maybe, “Berry Bingo,” or “Fruity Bongwater.” Ok, maybe not that.  But you get the idea.

6.  When in doubt, pack it.  You might get away with carrying e-cigs and vaping devices on airplanes – we’ve done it often – but if you are worried about the risk, put your vaping stuff in your checked luggage. Our usual practice is to put just the bare minimum in our carry-on bag, and the rest in our checked bag – especially bottles of e-juice, which can draw unwanted attention from airport security.  Not checking any bags? Be sure to follow the advice in Tip #2, above, and don’t argue with airport security if they get shirty. Keep your cool and show them your materials. You’re less likely to get in trouble with cigarette-looking devices than with the larger unfamiliar mods, in our experience.

7.  Don’t start a fire on the plane.  You laugh, but if you pack your bare batteries wrong, the ends can touch, short out, and even start a fire in your luggage. This is mostly a tip for mod-users, whose units take removable batteries. Pack each battery by itself, like rolled in a sock or otherwise wrapped in such a way that it won’t touch metal or other batteries.  You don’t want to be the schmuck that forced your plane to land in East Elbow, Kansas because clouds of smoke were filling the cabin from the luggage compartment.

8.  Don’t let the maid see your stuff.  Almost all hotels have non-smoking rooms, and they will charge you an arm and a leg for “cleaning” if they think you smoked in it.  Yes, we know, vapor isn’t smoke and there’s not much smell.  You might also think the chances of you setting off the smoke detector are slight. But if the maid sees your equipment and tells the manager, there’s a good chance you’ll get charged anyway – and good luck explaining the whole vapor-vs-smoke thing.  Worse, if local laws forbid vaping entirely, you could spend some time with the local jack-booted polizei, which won’t be your favorite part of the local ambience.

9.  Know the local laws. Most places we’ve traveled have been vape-friendly, but we’ve heard stories of others who ran afoul of law enforcement – or at least had a lot of explaining to do – when their vaping equipment wasn’t recognized or was somehow regarded as illegal. If you do get stopped, for God’s sake don’t go all militant. Just stay calm and show the nice officer what it is you have and how it works. If you’re in a foreign land, and you’re drinking, and you’re vaping, consider having a Designated Explainer – someone who stays sober enough (bonus: ..and speaks the language) to explain what that thing is you keep “smoking” while you mop up the local liquor and scenery.

10.  Be careful vaping in rental cars. This is similar to the whole thing about vaping in non-smoking hotel rooms, and it’s all about the smell. More and more rental car companies are getting anal about smoking in their vehicles, and will charge you out the wazoo if they think you stunk up their car. Crack the windows, air the car out thoroughly before you return it, and really REALLY don’t let the rental car people see you vaping in the car, not when you leave and certainly not when you pull up to return it.

11.  Buyer Beware.  In most developed countries, the quality of e-juice ingredients – if they allow them to be sold at all – is generally regulated by some governmental authority, like the FDA in the States for example. The same cannot be said everywhere, though. We’ve tested samples of so-called “bargain e-juice” from overseas that contained stuff nobody would want in their lungs, along with crazy amounts of nicotine. It’s safer to take along the juice you need, bought from a source you trust. Also, be advised that not all vaping devices share common connectors, or can take batteries from just anywhere. There’s a brisk trade in counterfeit lithium ion batteries in parts of Asia, and the fake labeling looks very realistic. Yes, it’s also possible you actually can get some great deals on batteries overseas, but take someone with you who really knows the area, speaks the language, and can keep you from getting ripped off.

If you follow these tips and use some good old common sense, you should have a safe, enjoyable trip, vaping to your heart’s content. Have fun! Send us a picture of you vaping in some faraway land, so we can be jealous.


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