Tobacco: Courting ‘Nancy’

Can c-stores cater to the unique needs of the female vaper?

As the prime tobacco customer of convenience retailers, Bubba isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. But if c-store retailers play their cards right, he could be getting a sidekick: Nancy.

Nancy--a profile formulated nu e-vapor suppliers and stakeholders--is 40 to 50 years old and has smoked cigarettes for years. She is eager to quit and identifies e-vapor varieties as a cessation solution.

For this and other reasons, giving Nancy attention is prudent: Female e-vapor users represent 50% of a typical vape shop’s clientele, once dominated by younger males.

“Nancy is very loyal to vaping,” says Maria Verven, partner and chief marketing mentor for Vape Mentors LLC, Costa Mesa, Calif., and founder of Vaping Vamps, an online provider of e-vapor varieties to females. “If you get her regular business, you’ve secured at least $1,000 a year in revenue [per female customer].”

Pinpointing the Drivers

There are a multitude of reasons why female consumers begin to vape. Some women see vaping as a smoking cessation solution, others a fashion accessory piece where the actual product quality matters less. It’s about style but also subtlety—and all this drives product development. “Women focus groups almost invariably indicate they are seeking something lighter-weight and subtle, not some big honking device,” says Verven.

But of all the reasons for the growth of female vaping, cutting back on or outright quitting smoking might be the most prevalent.

According to David Bishop, managing partner for consulting group Balvor LLC, based in Barrington, Ill., 20% of female tobacco users are more likely to use e-cigs or an e-vapor device than males to reduce cigarette use, citing data from The National Tobacco Survey. Males who are trying to quit smoking opt for moist smokeless tobacco as a primary aid.

Looking closer at the demographic, female millennials who smoke combustibles “feel a stigma about smoking and attempt to conceal it with discreet use,” says Adam Kustin, vice president of marketing for Miami-based VMR Products, which manufactures the Vapor Couture brand.

Younger female users have a different take on quitting smoking, says Bishop. “The ones who have tried to quit smoking find that the habit has not yet been ingrained into their list of habits, and they have the wherewithal to quit,” he says.

Bishop sees female shoppers placing high value on e-vapor products for multiple reasons: “They don’t resemble combustibles on one hand, but offer a fashion statement on the other. Resplendent color palettes of products are clearly appealing to them.”

Store-Level Reality Check

E-vapor manufacturers have proactively designed new products exclusively for Nancy, but while c-store operators certainly notice the innovation, many can’t say that Nancy is a significant driver of their vaping sales—at least not yet.

“I see smaller packaging, more colorful vape options and more customization,” says Chris Kaden, category manager for tobacco, HBC and novelty for Odessa, Texas-based Alon Brands LLC (dba 7-Eleven). “We might have noticed female shoppers giving e-vapor product trial, but not in waves. From what I’m carrying in our stores, none of it is geared to one gender or another—it’s very universal.”

Yet Nancy is wise to the e-vaping innovation that speaks more to her. The result: It’s a transformation from being a casual user a few years ago to that of a power user.

With that, the market is evolving. “What was embarrassing to be seen with two years ago is now in vogue,” says Kustin of VMR Products.

The Vapor Couture line includes a number of accessories, including a stainless-steel fl uted charm necklace. “There is a segment of millennial females who wear vape products as a badge. They demonstrate the fact that they use a vaporizer rather than conceal it,” says Kustin.

Indeed, form and function have equal upside to a female shopper, with one weighted heavier depending on individual needs. “The fashion of products reminds me of eyewear, scarves and other accessories in the female buying pod,” says Alex Schreer, director of marketing for Doral, Fla.-based Trendsettah, which recently rolled out Blow Dazzle, directed toward female users seeking a designer look and feel.

“I think that this is about, ‘Look at me.’ It’s innovative and eye-catching and plays to fashion and what’s trending now,” he says.

Yet suppliers and retailers should be careful not to stereotype. In the e-vapor segment, there are trends and there are fallacies. One of the latter is the belief that all female vapers must want a pink-colored device. “Pink is not the be-all-end-all for the ladies,” says Verven. “Female vapors prefer a multitude of colors, such as gold, silver and black.”

And if smoking cessation is the reason for vaping, it’s wrong to assume all want some level of nicotine in a device. Verven says 40% of her customers vape with no nicotine. Some also view these products as a way curb calorie consumption.

If You Build It?

Bubba might not be going anywhere, but when will Nancy arrive? The wide array of e-vapor varieties in c-stores is limited. (See sidebar below.) Many retailers build their mix around the four or five top-selling brands, and offering an ultra-wide selection isn’t in their wheelhouse.

“I don’t think retailers have seen clear evidence about female e-vapor product adoption. It might be a case of feedback from focus groups and some anecdotal thinking about female usage growing,” says Bishop.

Kaden of Alon Brands says the chain doesn’t have a gender-driven merchandising plan. “We haven’t had any requests by female shoppers for certain brands. I think the key is to emphasize e-vapor products that have superior quality over the fact that it’s gender-specific,” he says.

Along with technological quality and innovation, manufacturers know they can’t take their eye off flavor innovation—of which there is high demand for the new and exotic, says VMR’s Kustin. “We have a chemist on staff in Miami who creates new flavors and can reverse-engineer flavor profiles very quickly If we get a request for a piña colada flavor, we can turn it around quickly,” says Kustin.