I believe our job as entrepreneurs is to identify opportunities, investigate said opportunities, and capitalize on the ones we see best fit. Entrepreneurship is like a ladder. You start with one thing and slowly work your way up, one rung at a time. I just started this search earlier than most, in high school. I worked out hundreds of ideas, and finally I found one that I thought suited my interests. That is the e-cig and vape industry. Definitely not a lightbulb moment, it took time. I never had vaped myself, but as I researched the industry and my particular market more I realized it is an utter mess from a business standpoint. No, set business processes, price gouging, trashy stores, terrible customer service. The retail side of the industry as a whole lacked one thing: focus. The few, “chain,” stores that did have some focus still focused on the totally wrong things, completely ignoring other important aspects.
I knew that as a brick & mortar store our most dangerous competitor is the online marketplace. They are cheaper, they have an endless variety. What do they not have that we do? Customer service, a buying experience, and knowledgeable staff. Can you guess what the other brick and mortar stores are worst at? All of those things! The only advantages they have over online sales they completely suck at! I did not need to validate the idea. I knew from the start that if we focus and excel at what online has no chance of doing, and our competitors are to blind to see, we will succeed. Succeed we did. Sometimes it is the simplest, and cheapest, of things that matter most.
Now, with the strategy in place, we had 2 major obstacles to overcome, and executing them correctly would make or break the business. Funding & securing an A + location in the cheapest possible way.
I estimated I could get the business open with a $30,000 loan, I already had 10k in cash saved from working constantly throughout high school & roughly 10k in credit cards as contingency funds if needed. The best part? I estimated it would be a fixed monthly cost of $6,000 once we opened the doors, not including cost of goods, and $25,000 in startup costs, we had maybe, at most, 3 months of financial runway to become cash flow positive.
No traditional bank on this planet is going to give a 18 year old kid that just graduated highschool a couple months prior a dime. Definitely with those financial projections and 0 collateral. It easily could cost much more, these projections I could only base off the research I’ve done. I didn’t know anyone that ran a business already who could help guide me. I was all alone.
So what did I do? Well I knew before I got the loan I couldn’t do anything if I didn't find the best location in my town, and negotiate it the best I could. There was one place, right in the middle of town, directly on a major highway, and I was determined to close that deal.
Now, I live in a town with ~2000 people 30 minutes away from what I believe to be the greatest metroplex in the country: Dallas - Ft Worth, TX. I knew the growth data for my area, I knew that this small town, which has this highway running through it, is exploding with new homes and people moving in. Think of this town as the border of the metroplex. Being right in the middle of this gateway, which is already expanding is key to the success of this business.
Luckily, this prime location had been heavily neglected by the landlord, and needed much work to be even close to an acceptable storefront. This was my leverage. He wanted over $2,000 a month for this location. (about average for this area, but only if it was in great condition) The problem was, this was 2x what I had budgeted for, and could not sacrifice any more than I had to. I was able to leverage the fact I would remodel the entire building, but not at that asking price. We ended up closing the lease for ~50% less a month, single net. Now, I had the building, but I still didn’t have the extra $30,000 I needed. We closed in late August of 2018, my deadline to remodel, file a business license, receive all permits, stock inventory, set up utilities, essentially everything, had to be done and open to the public by October 1st. So one month. Once I knew I had one of the hardest parts over with, and out of options for funding, I got lucky, and ended up being able to secure a $30,000 personal loan with my parents co-signing, definitely not the best interest rates.
So in the end, we had one month to open, 3 months to break-even, or my parents and my credit would be totally destroyed with no other ability to pay this loan back. Oh, and a 3 year lease as well that I signed. Well, I was able to remodel the store in about 2 weeks by getting help from family and we did it all ourselves, no contractors. We opened on October 4th, 2018, barely missing our deadline, but close enough.
Well, the first month, we did well. Not necessarily enough to break even, but luckily, my financial estimates were nearly dead on. Roughly, $25,000 to open the store, and fixed monthly costs of around $6200, at the time. That is with one employee and myself to operate it.
Well as it turns out, people love exceptional customer service, competitive pricing, and a large variety! By the second month we were breaking even and only getting busier and busier by the day. Initially, I had much learning to do, as I knew nothing about vaping at all, or running a business. As time went on, I was able to automate and streamline inventory, payroll, bills, and other generalities that come with operating a retail store. For 2019 revenues were great, well into six figures, with a decent margin too. It should be noted that all profit made has gone directly back into the business, no personal salary, as I think all startups should do, regardless of industry.
I think it is very interesting that some entrepreneur gurus recommend quitting your day job to focus more on your business. Yes, depending on what you are doing, it might be applicable. In my case, even though I could survive off of business profit, it would be very stupid to. I have worked a 40 hour a week job all throughout this. It by far, has helped tremendously. I have not once had to use the money from my 40 to keep this business alive. With that money, I have been able to invest into my second startup and currently expand and open new stores with my current one.
What motivated you to start your own business?
The beginning of my story and background does not differ greatly from any other lower middle class family. I grew up an only child, and did not have fancy things growing up. However, my parents did a tremendous job raising me and would go through great lengths in order to do what was needed to provide for me, they showed great care. Even though I did cause them a lot of heartache and headache with my actions, definitely in early highschool. I did well in school, but it was too easy for me, which got me in trouble many times. I realized quickly that school is just a game to be played.
Studying, and pouring over textbooks was never necessary. I could pay no attention all school year, and still would have the uncanny ability to glance over someone else’s notes or do a few google searches and ace the test with little preparation. It got too easy though, and I got in trouble and spent almost the entirety of junior year in a small cubicle, not being able to talk to anyone, in something called In-school-suspension. It got so bad I even dropped out for a few weeks. I did come back, when the school finally said they would release me from this school like prison. Not soon after graduating junior year, though I found out I was going to be a father, at 18.
My parents were very supportive, as always, but this served in a way as a wake up call. My daughter, Layla, was born half way through my senior year in 2017. At this point I realized traditional education was not for me, I was always challenging the status quo and disagreed heavily with the school administration's rhetoric: either go to college or be a nobody your entire life. Real encouragement. They would never listen to my ideas, I had always thought of school as a place of free thinking, to pursue your dreams however wild. It was disappointing to see otherwise.
So I graduated, and partially driven with the desire to prove every single one of those teachers wrong, I was determined to change this world, without college, and come back after I achieved success and invest heavily into reimagining the entire public school system. To create a true environment that encourages the dreamers, challengers of the status quo, and to show, by example, that no matter what hardships come your way we all have the power to change this world.
By no means am I to that point yet, as I stated from the start, success is like a ladder. A vape store is not going to change this planet. The experience, money, and knowledge gained from running one though, will catapult me onto the next rung on the ladder. Which has already begun.
Do you have any advice for someone just starting out?
How have I done it, so far? Let me start off with mentioning every day is a new challenge and there is no formula to follow. I did not start off as confident as I may be now. Everyone has their doubts. What I did know, and if there is anything to gain by reading this always remember this one thing:Regardless of what you have in any aspect of your life, you have nothing to lose.You will be dead one day. You can have ideas, dreams, knowledge, money, anything. But nothing compares to being remembered and leaving a legacy, however big or small.
Scared of the embarrassment of failure? It is more embarrassing to have to put your parents in a nursing home, because you can’t afford to take care of them. It is more embarrassing to struggle with relationships because you worry about money. It is more of a failure and embarrassment to be average, dying and being forgotten, than it is to bomb an interview, lose a client, go bankrupt, anything. You have the responsibility to your family, to your community, and country to do everything in your power to make a difference. I could’ve had my daughter and said, “I better not take on this debt, if I fail I might not be able to provide for her.” That is the wrong way of thinking. What did I think? I better hustle and get something figured out fast. I know how public school is, If I do not make enough money to put her through private school we are in much more trouble than bankruptcy.
There is not an excuse in the world to not do something about your current situation. Whatever risk you take for the betterment of yourself or family, you must attack head on, give it everything you have. Your friends, family, and those around you might not get it now. They grew up in the same school system I am trying to change. They have been programmed to live a life of mediocrity. We might not be able to change them, but we can change the future.
Have a vision, something to drive you. Be it family, fame, fortune, or country. There is no set formula. You just have to set a baseline. You will evolve, your vision will expand, your capabilities will improve. Just believe in yourself and always remember, you have nothing to lose in trying, you have everything to lose in not.
No matter what you hear your idols, your competitors, your mentors, anyone who influences you doing. Don’t compare yourself. Analyze, develop, understand what it is they are doing, be it habits, programs, books, lifestyles. You don’t want to ignore them, you still need to understand them. It is trial and error to find what books, tools, habits work for you. Try them all, take every opportunity. You can copy exactly as someone else does, and it probably won't work for you. What they do capitalizes on their strengths and weaknesses, not yours. Trust me, they did the same thing. They studied and researched like hell everything around them. Until they found what works, and it evolved from there. You want to look in the mirror and say, “if I was competing head to head with myself from a week ago, would present day me win?” If you say no to many weeks in a row, there might just be a hole in your personal philosophy.
What are your next steps for Sirius Vapor LLC?
I am still evolving as well. My current business is looking to add new locations very soon. I have another startup which I expect to be launching this summer. I wish to talk more about it but it is too early as certain legal aspects are still being worked out. I will be back, and I am very excited to share how much even my own personal philosophy has evolved in the coming months. I will be glad to answer any questions, be it on actual programs, podcasts, or books, or philosophy that anyone may have on twitter.
|Company Name:||Sirius Vapor|
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