The wholesale industry needs more ‘weirdos’ to facilitate new sales opportunities in food and drink, says David Gilroy
I’ve never been a smoker, but that’s not for the want of trying. Like most of my teenage peers, I experimented with smoking. I wanted to emulate my heroes: Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger and, of course, James Bond. Smoking was the cool and sophisticated thing to do. I wanted to fit in, but couldn’t get on with it, so gave it up as a bad job. Looking back, I probably dodged a bullet.
This all came to mind recently when I attended Vaper Expo in London. I am doing some work in the vaping world and I have worked diligently to gain as full an understanding of the industry as possible. There are now around 3.7 million vapers in the UK, and the growth potential is strong. I have quickly learned that it is not simply a category, but a discrete, high-energy, fast-paced culture in its own right characterised by youth, tattoos, piercings, goth and rave music.
Business is informal, with trading in a diverse range of edgy brands of devices, liquids and accessories. There is a constant churn of new and re-engineered products. Parachuting into this world, I had the feeling of landing in the Sisters of Mercy’s This Corrosion video. Initially, I was an alien in a weird world, until I realised that the same commercial buying/selling transactions were being acted out as they are in wholesale – only faster and in a coded language that I was striving to figure out.
Another such industry is vegan food. Underpinned recently by the court ruling that veganism is a movement, it is protected as a human right under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Vegan Society estimates that there are more than 750,000 vegans in the UK. The growth of the soya, rice and other alternatives to dairy milks, and the growth in plant-based foods, show how far this segment has come and the potential for growth. Both vaping and veganism are almost countercultures in their own right and require an immersive approach with a deep understanding of the respective markets.
In a blaze of publicity, the Prime Minister’s special adviser, Dominic Cummings, invited job applications from weirdos and misfits to join the civil service to freshen up the thinking. They are not going to fit with the mainstream of conventional wisdom, and that’s the point. At the time, this caused a minor controversy and not a little amusement, but I completely understand the rationale, which brings me back to vaping and CBD.
My knowledge is still skinny, but one thing I do know is that it is a very profitable arena and that wholesalers have totally missed the boat. By and large they’ve stuck with the products from the major tobacco companies, treated vaping as an extension of smoking and in so doing have lost sight of the main event. If they want to really drive forward with vaping (and vegan foods), they need to recruit weirdos and give them the space to operate.
Weirdos will take you to places you’re not comfortable going. They are driven, unconventional and they take risks. Be prepared for failed projects and debris trails. For example, for every eight turkeys there will be an unexpected and spectacular success. Step forward Steve Jobs.
Our industry is resilient, tightly managed and generally successful. It is also, by nature, traditional and conservative with a small. A few strategically placed weirdos could open up new horizons and pathways to exciting business opportunities.
David Gilroy is the founder and managing director of Store Excel