August 2015

CROWD CHASERS No Shell Games for Schell Hammel

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Dedication to Excellence and Complete Transparency are Hallmarks of Hammel’s Success

By Maria Verven
Photos by Wendii Roberts

Schell Hammel believes her success isn’t just due to the fact that she was one of the first to open a vape shop. She’s certain her success is due to her unwavering dedication to being the best.

Hammel and her husband opened The Vapor Bar in McKinney, Texas, in January 2011. Only the second shop to open in the entire Dallas-Ft. Worth area, it was so successful they’ve since opened six more stores in and around Dallas- Ft. Worth, Houston and Huntington, West Virginia. This summer, they’re opening their eighth store in central Texas.

Hammel was also one of the first to develop her own line of e-liquids for her shops. Sold under the Forever and Forbidden brands, she has maintained a steadfast and rigorous adherence to the quality of their e-liquids, spending tens of thousands on equipment and testing.

A smoker for 22 years, Hammel watched three grandparents die of lung cancer. “From the day my grandfather got sick and was in the hospital, he begged me to stop smoking,” Hammel said. “I was still riding that elevator all the way down to the bottom to smoke until the day he died. When I tried my first e-cigarette in 2010, I immediately knew I had found the answer.”

“I Can Sleep Fine at Night”

“I didn’t open up The Vapor Bar just because it was a hobby; I opened up The Vapor Bar because I’m a vaper, too,” Hammel said. “With each person who walks through our doors, I hope we can change their lives forever. It will be one step closer to heaven for him,” she said.

“When you walk into one of our shops, we’re going to treat you like a family member, because that’s what you need to get you through this,” Hammel said. “Everyone behind that bar knows exactly what you’re going through, because every one of them has switched themselves.”

Both Hammel and her and husband Jeff had a background in the medical and pharmaceutical industries, and were experienced in complying with rigorous safety standards.

They believe this helped them focus on health and safety. From the outset, they implemented several precautions to ensure they were providing customers with the very best products and quality e-liquids.

“It’s very important to me what goes into your liquids. There’s no halfway. We are extremely transparent in everything we do. As a woman and a mom, I’m more focused on nurturing and protecting others,” she said. “I don’t ever take my job lightly. I can sleep fine at night knowing I’m doing the right thing by my customers.”

Dedicated to Being Diacetyl Free

Unlike most vape shops that either buy other e-liquid brands or make their own, all of the e-liquids sold by The Vapor Bar are created in their certified clean lab and are certified by the American E-Liquid Manufacturing Standards Association (AEMSA) for quality. They sterilize all lab equipment, use stainless steel mixing equipment and all workers wear masks and gloves.

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Hammel estimates they’ve spent tens of thousands on testing the raw flavoring and ingredients, as well as the final products. “If you could only imagine the financial strain this initially put us in,” she said. “On the flip side, we couldn’t afford not to [test] because it’s not just an ethical issue; it’s a liability issue.”

Hammel said 98 percent of The Vapor Bar’s e-liquids are completely free of diacetyl and acetyl propionyl, and the remaining 2 percent are “extremely low.” While these chemicals can give e-liquids a sweet and buttery flavor, they’ve been associated with a lung disease called popcorn lung.

Hammel said they don’t test just the final e-liquids, but every ingredient that comes in the door. “The most important thing is safety. We put it above everything else.

“It was shocking to find that some of the raw flavoring that was commercialized as diacetyl free tested positively for it,” she said. “You have to test everything, because you can find these chemicals in fruit flavors— flavors you didn’t know you could find them in.”

Hammel said that it was horribly difficult to formulate all of their flavors without diacetyl and acetyl propionyl. “When our first test results came back, we pulled quite a few flavors off the shelf. Fortunately, they weren’t our highest sellers.”

At the same time, they introduced 15 new flavors. “So, while we took a few flavors away, we turned it into a positive by adding new flavors.”

“I Stand My Ground”

For the time being, they’re going to stick with their current line of 120 flavors, while continuing to listen to customer feedback and make changes based on this feedback.

Hammel said their most popular flavors include Hell Frozen Over, a blend of mint and cinnamon, Shaded, a “bold” tobacco flavor, Hummingbird, a blend of watermelon and berry, and Beach Bum, a blend of watermelon and mango.

“Fruits are rapidly gaining ground mainly because of the popularity of drippers,” Hammel said. “A huge populace has already switched and reached that precipice where tobacco doesn’t taste good. Fruit flavors are gaining ground as more people who are becoming constant vapers are graduating to different flavors.”

Hammel said she gets a lot of sales calls from other e-liquid brands. “When they ask me if I will carry their line, I tell them I need your testing.

The conversation usually stops there. Until I get that testing, I can’t verify the content or the quality.

“That makes me unique in the marketplace,” she said. “I stand my ground, and there’s no way I’ll carry something in my shop that I can’t stand behind.”

“We Lecture to Our Loved Ones”

Hammel said as a woman, she’s not alone in concentrating on the safety aspect of vaping.

“Women tend to be more inquisitive than men. I believe women pay more attention to the standards and safety of a product, just as they’ll lecture to their loved ones about eating properly,” she said. “Transparency, education and standards appeal to us.”

While women enjoy flavor variety as much as men, she noticed they tend to go for different colored devices with more “bling.” “We try to have customizable things on hand so they can make it their own,” she said. “Hey, who doesn’t like to customize and specialize? It’s just like an accessory.”

Hammel said she believes women tend to understand “you get what you pay for” more than men. They will also buy kits and products for the men in their lives, due to mothering instincts.

“As women, we want to share the good news that we found something to help the smokers in our family. We’ll break the bank to try and save them. God love us, we can’t help it,” she said.

Until the FDA finalizes and enforces its guidelines, e-liquid labs are operating without any standard operating procedures. Hammel and her team at The Vapor Bar are clearly ahead of the game; they took it upon themselves to create their own high standards and safety procedures to protect their business and customers.

“I don’t know how to operate our business any other way,” Hammel said. “I believe your brand defines you. Our customers are loyal to us because we strive to be loyal to them.”

The original Vaping VampTM, Maria Verven is partner and chief marketing mentor of VapeMentors.com.