By Maria Verven
By concocting unique flavors that seem to defy definition, The Vaper’s Knoll, based in the tiny state of Maryland, has come a long way since launching in 2012.
Starting with 13 flavors, The Vaper’s Knoll now boasts 200 different flavors and has sold an estimated million bottles. This summer, they’re launching two new flavors, despite the fact that they – like every company in the vape space – are eyeing the FDA’s regulations carefully and preparing for the worst.
“Before It Was a Scene”
The Vaper’s Knoll was the brainchild of Geoff Lopes, chief operating officer, and Richard Gue, CEO, friends who both started vaping “before it was a scene” when there were far fewer options for e-liquids and devices.
Like many in the industry, their passion also comes from personal experience. Lopes’ father was also a smoker for 50 years who contracted lung cancer, while Gue’s father died of COPD, another smoking-related illness. “It does make me very anti-cigarettes,” Lopes said. “We believe it will save a billion lives. “
After trying many different e-liquids, they failed to be impressed and were confident they could make higher quality, better tasting products. They struck gold when they developed unique flavors such as Lunar Harvest, by far their most popular flavor that’s responsible for about 60 percent of their revenue.
“When we were brand new, we were known as the company that made indescribable flavors,” Gue said. “Our flavors taste like colors you’ve never seen before. We have to make up what they taste like because they’re completely different from anything else.”
Only a few months later after developing their first e-liquids, they opened a small, 600-square-foot retail store in Pasadena, MD. By the following summer, July 2013, they moved into their current location, a 2,200 square foot store they believe is the largest in Maryland.
By the end of that year, they rented out a warehouse and a lab in Curtis Bay, MD, turning it into a manufacturing and mass production facility. They quickly grew out of that space, and last October, moved into their current 9,000 square foot space that houses manufacturing, clean room, warehouse and offices. In February 2016, they opened up their second retail location in Columbia, MD.
The Benchmark of Quality
Lopes attributes The Vaper’s Knoll rapid growth to “how good our flavors are. We are known in Maryland by our customers as the ‘benchmark’ for what e-liquid should be. That’s what keeps people coming back.”
Word of mouth, social media and vape conventions such as VapeBash in Chicago helped them grow their business, especially during the last couple of years, according to Lopes. “Our product garnered a lot of attention in Chicago and our ‘customer success specialist’ travels to different vape shops across the country, helping retailers host special events to promote and sell our products.”
The Vaper’s Knoll products are now being sold in over 300 stores, and they also have distributors in China, Malaysia, Singapore and the U.K. While international sales are more challenging, the effort to distribute products abroad is well worth it, Lopes said.
Although they sell over 200 flavors through retail stores, their wholesale selection is limited to 18 flavors: five VK originals, five Luxuria flavors and eight King of the Cloud premium e-liquids. Also popular are Lunar Harvest – Black, where they replaced blueberry with blackberry to give this
crowd favorite a refreshing new twist, and Bitchin’ Waffles, a combination of homemade waffles with cinnamon and rich maple syrup.
New Flavors Launching in August
Since their original flavor Lunar Harvest was so wildly successful, they decided to launch two variations on that theme: Lunar Harvest Gold, with its peach undertones and Solar Harvest, which they can only describe as the ‘red’ version of Lunar Harvest.
“Since people try to describe our flavors like a color, our mission was to create a ‘red’ flavor,” Gue said. “So if Lunar Harvest is the blue candy, Solar Harvest is the red candy – like a cherry watermelon popsicle or all the red candy thrown into a blender.”
Gue explained that a research and product development staff develops most of their flavors through trial and error.
“Our flavor development manager takes a lot of time developing each flavor before it goes out for feedback and testing,” he said. “All of our employees try our new flavors and suggest changes; then the flavor team brainstorms ideas about how to make the final new formulation even better.”
Lopes said they’ve only used NicSelect nicotine in all their e-liquids since 2013. “Their quality was above everyone else, the shelf life was better, the clarity and taste was better, plus they give great customer service,” he said. “Our customers love the taste of our e-juices. We’re certainly not going to risk messing with the formula.”
After the final e-liquid is formulated, they send a sample to Entropy Analytical where it’s tested for diacetyl and acetyl propional as well as for the accuracy of the nicotine level. The Vaper’s Knoll is a member of AEMSA (American E-Liquid Manufacturing Standards Association), so they can say with confidence that all of their flavors are within AEMSA limits.
Worried for The Future of Vaping
Like everyone in the industry, Lopes is concerned about the future of vaping following the FDA’s regulations. “After reviewing the application for PMTA (pre-market tobacco approval), attending conferences and speaking to attorneys, I’m convinced they’re setting us up to fail,” Lopes said.
“The PMTA requires you to prove how your product will improve public health. Plus, the process isn’t reasonable for small businesses. Nobody will be able to comply with it unless they’re backed by large businesses or Big Tobacco.”
One of founding members of Maryland Vape Professionals and an active member of the Right to Be Free Smoke Coalition, The Vaper’s Knoll filed a lawsuit in conjunction with SFATA (Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association), AEMSA and several other organizations against the FDA, challenging various portions of their regulations as they pertain to the e-cigarette industry.
Like most in the industry, they are taking issue with the fact that the FDA stuck to its original date of Feb. 15, 2007, refusing to set a reasonable date when e-cigarette technology was actually in the marketplace.
“By refusing to acknowledge that vaping was deemed 95% less harmful than cigarettes and insisting that ENDS be treated in exactly the same way as their combustible predecessors, the FDA’s regulations once again fall in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act,” states the lawsuit.
Lopes is cautiously optimistic. “We can at least put an injunction. In addition to having the support of several smoke-free associations, we have 50 states that could potentially throw their weight behind this,” he said.
Meanwhile, in The Vaper’s Knoll retail locations. customers can sign pre-written letters to their representative, supporting their right to vape. They are also planning a meet and greet for congressmen to come and visit The Vaper’s Knoll facility so they can see first-hand what we’re doing.
“We keep hearing over and over that legislators aren’t well versed in what we’re doing. We’re going to try to change that,” Lopes said.