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Smoke Shop vs. Vape Shop: What's the Difference?

August 08, 2020 5 min read

The old-fashioned neighborhood tobacconist has really evolved over the past decade or two. Many local communities once had purveyors of fine tobacco products, and during the cigar craze of the ‘90s, new tobacconists popped up all over the United States.

Smoke Shop vs. Vape Shop

By the turn of the millennium, though, cigar sales had greatly slowed – and tobacco usage in general had become less fashionable than ever. Meanwhile, public sentiment surrounding other types of smokable products began to turn more toward the positive. Tobacconists began to disappear, and smoke shops popped up in their place.

At the beginning of the 2010s, vaping appeared. Entrepreneurs all over the world started small businesses in support of the new industry – and these days, it’s likely that you have more than a few vape shops near you.

So, if you live in a community of a decent size and want to buy vape gear or e-juice, you’ve got two options: smoke shops and vape shops.

In this article, we’re going to help you understand how the two types of retailers compare. When considering smoke shops vs. vape shops, what’s the difference between the two? Let’s explore the topic further.

Smoke Shops Usually Don’t Specialize in Vape Gear

For most smoke shops, vaping items are ancillary products rather than major money makers. The primary products at smoke shops typically relate to tobacco or herbs, and for shops of that type, vape gear is just another source of revenue. That might be a good thing if you’re looking for other types of products. Depending on the store, a good smoke shop might carry things like cigars, pipe tobacco, roll-your-own supplies, herbal and wax vaporizers, glassware and hemp products like CBD.

If you’re interested in those types of products, you’ll probably enjoy shopping at a smoke shop. If you’re looking for replacement parts or obscure vaping products, though, you’re probably not going to find them at a smoke shop.

It’s also worth noting that, for some smoke shops, vaping products aren’t just ancillary – they’re almost an afterthought. Some smoke shops only carry the vaping products that they can get through their existing supply chains for tobacco products, which essentially means that they only carry basic e-cigarette starter kits and refill cartridges or pods for those kits. The selection of vape gear that you’ll find at that type of smoke shop is basically the same as what you’ll see in any convenience store.

Vape Shops Are Typically Staffed by Vaping Experts

Another big difference that you’ll notice when comparing smoke shops vs. vape shops is that you’re not likely to encounter a vaping expert at a smoke shop unless that person actually vapes. A good vape shop, on the other hand, will train its employees so they’re able to answer questions and help new vapers.

Employees at a vape shop are much more likely to know how to set up a new device and build coils. They can talk about vape battery safety or tell you why your vape tank is getting hot. For some people, learning how to vape isn’t the easiest thing in the world. It can be good to have an expert available who can walk you through it.

A Vape Shop Has a Better Distribution Network for Vape Gear

One of the biggest differences between vape shops vs. smoke shops is where they get their products. When a shop specializes in vape gear, it’s in that shop’s best interest to carry as wide a variety of different products as possible. That’s how a company differentiates itself from the competition. A good vape shop, therefore, may have relationships with many different distributors. A vape shop may also carry regional e-liquids and other niche products.

If you want to find products like obscure vape coils or spare parts for an older vaping device, your best bet is to go to a vape shop.

A smoke shop, on the other hand, may work with only one vape distributor or even none at all. As mentioned above, some smoke shops just carry the vaping products that they can get through their existing tobacco distribution channels. You’ll find nothing but mainstream cigalikes and pod systems at that type of smoke shop.

The fact that vape shops often work with several distributors doesn’t just mean that you’ll enjoy a better selection of vape gear. It also means that you’ll enjoy better prices. When a vape shop can get the same product from several different distributors, it can make those distributors compete against one another for the business. In addition, vape shops have more negotiating power when it comes to buying vape gear because they purchase vaping products in very high volumes.

A Vape Shop May Have a Nicer Atmosphere

Vape shops will often do everything possible to distance themselves from smoking and tobacco, and a store’s atmosphere can go a long way toward creating that distance. While some smoke shops are truly high-end retail establishments, others can feel a bit seedy. Some smoke shops carry products that definitely aren’t family friendly. Some are in the not-so-nice parts of town. Some are poorly lit and have mirrored windows. Some attract clientele that you might not necessarily want to be around.

There are exceptions to every rule, of course, but you’re usually likely to encounter a much nicer atmosphere at a vape shop. It all comes down to the shop’s desire to distance itself from the tobacco industry to the furthest extent possible and to make sure that smokers – many of whom are older individuals who don’t know anything about vaping yet – feel completely comfortable.

Some Vape Shops Are True Destinations

Some vape shops are much more than just stores that sell vape gear; a few of them are true destinations in their cities – a bit like the smoking lounges of the past once were. Creating a lounge-like atmosphere helps a vape shop keep people in the store longer and increases average purchase values. A vape shop that doubles as a vape lounge can also generate extra revenue from sales of products like coffee, soda and snacks.

At a vape lounge, you’ll find much more than just vape gear and e-liquid. You’ll find nice seating and activities like a pool table and arcade games. You’ll probably find TVs tuned to sports stations. People who operate vape lounges really work hard to make their vape shops fun places to visit.

Vape Shops Can Often Get Obscure Products

If you need an unusual vaping product that isn’t on the shelves at most stores, you’re going to have the best luck finding that product at a pure vape shop. For one thing, a vape shop that’s been around for a while is likely to have a huge stock of older products. There’s only so much display room available at a smaller store, and the newest and hottest products need to be front and center.

Under the counters and in the back rooms, though, a vape shop will likely have a huge stock of older tanks, coils for those tanks, spare glass enclosures, replacement gaskets and more. Not only will a vape shop be happy to rid itself of those older products, but it’s also likely that you’ll be able to grab those products at very attractive prices.

A vape shop should also be your first source if the product that you’re looking for is something that’s new but a bit obscure. Companies like SMOK have huge marketing budgets. They can afford to pay bloggers and YouTubers to review their products, which means that when SMOK releases a new product, everyone knows about it. Vape shops invest in the products that people are likely to want, and there’s only so much money and shelf space to go around. If you want to buy a lesser-known piece of vape gear, though, a vape shop can almost always special order it for you.


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