Homemade e-juice has become a fast-growing trend in recent years, with vapers looking to craft their own recipes at their preferred levels of PG, VG and nicotine. A big advantage is the amount of money saved, with DIY e-juice costing a fraction of shop-bought product. But as well as saving money, can we use our mix-making skills to make money? We spoke to some full-time juice-makers who did exactly that. Here’s everything you need to know about making the switch from a bedroom DIYer to the head honcho of a professional operation.
Recipes – Firstly, you need good e-liquid recipes. Actually, you need GREAT recipes. And this takes time and serious effort. “I’m a cook in real life,” says Richard Marsh, the brains behind Gremlin Juice, “so mixing the flavours was second nature.” You don’t need to attend culinary school, but to create top-level juice you need to do your homework. Spend months, if not years, learning how different flavours blend with each other, not to mention the effects of different ratios of PG, VG and nicotine, plus how they interact with different tanks, coils and levels of heat. Josh Smith, who is set to launch his juice company New Day Alchemy, agrees, saying it took over a year “to build up the proper skills, palate, knowledge, insight and creativeness needed.” There are various resources to use, such as flavour bibles and online guides, but the best method is trial and error. Follow some recipes, attempt to clone some of your favourite juices and then move onto designing your own unique recipes.
Feedback – The next step is to let people try your recipes and report back. There’s always the chance that a carefully-crafted juice that tastes perfect to you, could taste like old socks to everyone else. Give free samples to friends and family, and any fellow vapers you might come across. Finland-based juice seller Ryjenko Waltteri did exactly this. “A couple of people sampled my juice at a Helsinki VapeFest and were blown away by the taste and quality, a reaction I didn’t expect since I was only making juice for myself.” Make extensive notes, inorporating the opinions of others, and use these to refine your recipes. Then refine some more, until it’s the best it can be.
Low-level selling – Many DIY vape juice-makers sell small amounts to friends and workmates at rates much cheaper than shop-bought juice. We wouldn’t recommend this, as you put yourself at risk of litigation if anyone has a negative reaction. Plus certain countries have firm restrictions on the sale of nicotine, so you could be breaking the law, unless you sell 0mg juice. However, if you’re willing to take the risk you’ll soon discover which recipes are most popular. These are the ones to focus on.
At this stage it’s time to reassess. If you’re determined to go ahead, and you’re confident you have recipes that stand out from the rest, it’s time to create a professional product. Here we’ll discuss how to make juice and sell online, but there are other options which we’ll look at later.
Business costs – This varies depending on what country or state you’re in, but be prepared for a substantial outlay. Insurance can cost thousands of dollars per year, and is an absolute essential once you start selling to the public. You also need the necessary business licences, and to establish a limited liability company to ensure you don’t lose everything you own if things go wrong. Many top-flight juice companies have their product tested regularly by companies such as the UK-based ECITA to make sure they’re safe and meet the necessary requirements. And don’t forget taxes. Richard from Gremlin Juice warns, “Make sure to set aside 40% of everything incoming to pay your business taxes. It adds up quick, and there is nothing worse than getting a bill at the end of the tax year for $5,000 or $10,000 that you don’t have.” On a happier note, vaping is now tax deductible. Go ahead, buy that new dripper – it’s a vital business expenditure!
Labels – Label design is a lot more important than you might think. An impressive well-designed label can held your juice stand out from the crowd. We strongly advise you use a professional service who can include all the necessary legal information for your country or state. Websites such as Elance or Upwork could suffice, but a trained designer you can meet in person is always best. Avoid anything childlike, as this plays into the hands of the anti-vaping lobby. You also need a distinctive name, something memorable that sums up the qualities of your juice. It might sound obvious but make sure the labels you use are oil resistant. You don’t want to spend thousands on labels, only to have a juice spillage turn the details into a blur.
Website – As with labels, you need a professionally built website. It needs a legitimate billing system, the appropriate legal restrictions, and of course, designed to be appealing and easy to use. This is your main way to reach people so don’t cut costs. A shoddily-made website can be a sure-fire way of turning away customers. Be aware that laws regarding posting e-juice are changing constantly, with many European countries forbidding the import of nicotine-based juice, and states such as Texas passing similarly stringent laws.
Storage – Do you have enough storage space? Not many homes have enough room for gallons of PG and VG, not to mention the huge amounts of flavourings you’ll have to buy. It’s a delicate balance between buying too much, leading to your produce going stale over time – especially when it comes to nicotine oxidising – and buying too little and not being able to satisfy your customer base. Again, the costs in renting or buying space, plus the cost of buying large amounts of e-liquid components can be enough to put off many budding juice-sellers. One benefit is that buying flavours wholesale from manufacturers such as Capella, TFA and Flavor Art is that the cost goes down dramatically, often to around half the retail value.
Manufacturing – As for making the juice, there’s only so long you can get away with making it in your bedroom on your own. If things go well you need to pay people to do this, and eventually invest in a filling machine at the cost of a few thousand dollars. There are some tricks to make it run more efficiently, such as making a large amount of flavour base, and not mixing it with nicotine until you receive an order – this will help keep all the eliquid you manufacture as fresh as possible (nicotine can darken the color and alter taste of eliquid as it ages). Consistency is key! If a customer buys a bottle of juice today, they should be able to buy another bottle next month that tastes exactly the same. If you get lucky, things can escalate quickly. Rich at Gremlin Juice launched in 2013, and two years later works seven days a week, even putting the hours in while on vacation. “We are now a fully staffed facility in Lacey, WA in a 2,000 foot office/lab space. PG and VG are now delivered by Semi trucks, and UPS and FedEx are daily visits.”
Clean room – The need for a certified clean room is a bone of contention with many DIY juice-makers, with one side claiming it doesn’t matter as the heat from vaping can burn off any impurities, and the other stressing the need for safe hygienic product. What’s certain is that if you’re selling to a mass market, you need to be strict about hygiene and cleanliness. This is a product that people put in their bodies, so the chance of anything going wrong needs to be minimised. The major juice-makers go for an ISO Certified Clean Room, which Joshua warns can cost mega-bucks! As yet, this isn’t a widespread legal requirement to sell juice but as consumers demand better quality product, not having one can restrict your sales.
Marketing – The importance of this shouldn’t be underestimated. You can have the greatest juice in the world, but it means nothing if no one knows about it. You need to get your juice in front of as many people as possible and this involves giving away a lot of freebies. A good place to start is by attending vaping expos and arranging face-to-face meetings with local vendors, where you can explain your juice line in person. This is much more effective than a faceless package in the post. When sending sample packs out to online reviewers make sure they have a decent reach – it’s pointless if they only have a dozen followers on YouTube. Join all the biggest vape forums and become an active contributor. Organise giveaways, discounts and competitions on forums, Reddit and relevant Facebook groups. Giving away early juice experiments on Reddit played a large part in the launch of Gremlin Juices: “Every Friday, I would find someone on Reddit and give away the weeks’ worth of playing. I was told “You need to sell this stuff!” and finally, I decided to try it, and after all the publicity from Free Fridays, the opening went well.” Frustratingly, the major online players such as Facebook and Google frown upon direct advertising for vape-related products so you need to work around these. Ultimately, word of mouth will make or break your business, but this means getting your product in front of as many people as possible.
Outsourcing – If the above sounds like too much hassle – and according to everyone we’ve spoke to, it’s no walk in the park – you have the option of outsourcing the whole process to e-liquid manufacturing companies like Molecule Labs, California Vapor and Lonjas UK (many of which are already ISO certified). These companies can take care of all the manufacturing, creation and branding for your juice (or they can make your liquids according to your recipes); in some cases, all you need to do is come up with a name. Some of the world’s biggest juice brands use these types of companies. Note: Most of these companies will require minimum order quantities that can range from hundreds to thousands of bottles, so it’s not exactly feasible to use these resources for small ventures.
Sell recipes – There’s always the option of selling your recipe to your local vendor. If the reaction to your mixes is positive, then it’s worth setting up a meeting with your local vape shops and seeing if they want to buy your recipes so they can make your juice to sell themselves. You’re unlikely to get rich from doing this as fees tend to be around a few hundred dollars but it might be an easier option than ploughing your life savings into a risky venture.
Head-hunted by a vendor – A rare occurrence, but this is exactly what happened to Waltteri Ryjenko with his Pandemic Fuel juice line. “Word got out, and one of the biggest shops in Finland contacted me about selling my juice.” This led to a distribution deal, resulting in orders with companies across Europe. It goes without saying, for this to happen your juice needs to be something special. It also helps to be in a developing market as Waltteri ended up being “the first manufacturer to bring a ‘premium’ juice line to Finland’s market.”
It’s important to be aware of existing and upcoming legislation being applied to vaping-related items. A number of European countries, such as Finland and Norway have banned nicotine, so all juice sold there has to be 0% nicotine. Waltteri has the following complicated set-up: “I develop the flavors and concentrates here in Finland, we mix it in our lab in Poland since nicotine is allowed there, and ship it to Latvia for distribution.” A bill was recently passed in Texas that essentially prevents companies shipping juice without obtaining picture ID. These regulations have led to many online companies stopping shipping produce to Texas. In Europe, the upcoming Tobacco Products Directive puts numerous stringent restriction on the making and sale of juice, which, if passed, will annihilate countless small juice-making companies. If you’re entering into this industry you have to be aware that it could all be ended on the whim of ill-informed law-makers. As Joshua Smith puts it, “Being scared about regulations that will come is another concern. You begin to realize just how many risks you are actually taking.”
Is it worth it? All our juice-makers all say they wouldn’t change it for the world, but to be aware that it takes a lot of hard work, and a substantial amount of luck. The market is saturated and becoming more so all the time. You need to stand out with something special – an original product, with high quality flavour and excellent packaging and branding. And that’s not even half of it. You need to be a chef, a scientist, a marketing genius and a business whizz-kid, all at once. Oh, and you also need a whole lot of money to get it off the ground. It’s an uphill task, but if you’ve got this far and still think you can do it, then you might just have what it takes to be a success. Good luck!