By COREY NOLES
They never could have fathomed what it would become.
Just a few short years ago when Danne and Heather Reinke started 3D Vapor in East Alton, Illinois, they had dreams of owning their own business and being able to help people quit smoking. In not much more than a year, 3D Vapor had become one of the hottest names in the industry.
Fast forward three years, and the battlefront looks very different. Instead of facing up against other manufacturers and other distribution companies, Reinke finds himself fighting against a set of overreaching regulations and a public image war that threatens to squash the industry that he helped shape.
These days, he’s wearing a suit more often instead of his trademark Dickies shorts red 3D polo. Visits to legislators, conference calls with advocacy organizations and hands-on involvement with regional advocates are taking up a larger portion of his time.
It’s not taking him away from the business he and his wife built — it’s ensuring it stays alive in a burdensome regulatory landscape.
Where it all started
Danne, an ASE Journeyman Mechanic, first discovered vaping in November 2012. After finding success at kicking his cigarette habit, he quickly graduated from various starter rigs, he picked up an Empire mod and a Noble box mod at Vape Bash in Chicago.
While he and Heather were at Vape Bash, he purchased 50 CE4 clearomizers with 900mah pass-through batteries. When they returned home, he posted them on a Facebook group and they sold the next day. The following day he purchased 100 starter kits and 100 CE4s, and again, sold out almost immediately.
The next Monday he ordered 500 with an assortment of MVPs, Egos, mechanical mods, RDAs and some variable voltage mods.
“We even did delivery for awhile,” he said, sitting in the breakroom of the company’s Wood River, Ill., warehouse. “But that’s when we knew it was time to open the store.”
Reinke found a location just a block from where he worked as a mechanic for the previous 10 years. While he got the shop ready for opening day in the evenings, he was literally bombarded with people coming to check out the new store and make the switch from smoking to vaping.
“I even took everything home at night because we didn’t have an alarm yet,” he said, noting that they already had more than 200 customers before they opened the doors.
On opening day, Danne went to the bank and drew $220 of the $250 they had to their name to be able to make change for the day. When he pulled up to the store there was no way to prepare for what he saw. They sold the store completely out of product the first week.
“The line that morning was long,” he said, adding that there were so many people crammed into the 1,400 sq. ft. store front that the door glass was accidentally broken out.
For months, an employee opened the store every day, while Danne came in at lunch. That went on for six months until it just wasn’t possible anymore. By June 1, 2013, 3D had launched a second store.
The shift to distribution
In November 2013, Danne and Heather visited ECC in California for the first time — and in 2014 they were there doing business. With only a 10×10 booth crammed tight full of everything they carried, 3D made an impact with six-figure sales numbers they never anticipated.
Earlier that year, like many others, they learned the hard way about the Chinese New Year and what that means for imported product. Seeing that as an opportunity, he began stocking up on items and reaching out to area stores encouraging them to buy from him and avoid the hassles of importing.
In the process he started carrying a handful of e-liquids: Space Jam, Alpha, the Standard. Right as it began to take off, he noticed a juice floating around a high-end mod group on Facebook that people were going crazy about.
An admin of the group had been including the juice, which he manufactured, with every purchase he shipped out — to the point that people began clamoring for the juice.
“He said he was going to change my life”
Cory Vigil, owner and founder of Boosted, said recently that the first time Danne called him he told Cory he was going to change his life — Cory hung up on him.
“We talked back and they had asked for samples of my two flavors — Boosted and Anti-Lag,” Vigil said. “I shipped it out five times before I got it correct. I even charged them for samples.”
The two had never met, but Vigil said Reinke had to have been pretty annoyed with him by the time he received the shipment.
Within a few days, 3D placed an order. Vigil scrambled to get it filled. In a few days, Reinke called again and order 500 bottles. Without quality boxes or experience producing such large amounts, Vigil managed to slam it out and get it shipped.
“Then I got the call,” Vigil said. Dan called me to say UPS held the shipment due to damage. My heart sank.”
Some of the boxes were trashed, others were returned.
By that time, Vigil had invested every penny he had to his name and Danne said even the 500 bottles weren’t going to cut it. To help Vigil get the job done, Reinke paid for half the order up front.
“I was so scared to ship the order and my wife was studying for the BAR exam,” Vigil recalled. “I asked if I could take her car and drive the order to him [from Colorado].”
Immediately after it was bottled, Vigil loaded in the car and drove 14 hours straight.
“I was so tired I didn’t even want to be paid,” he said. “When I got back, 50 people were there waiting to meet me…I didn’t even make it out of the state before Dan called to reorder.”
And it exploded from there. What formed were a
pair of multi-million dollar companies and a lifelong friendship.
“These people are my family,” Vigil said. “If someday all of this ends, we’ll still be together.”
Ready for war
That this might end was something that worried the Reinke’s immensely in May when the FDA Deeming Regulations were announced. He felt the industry was doomed — for a brief time.
Now, he — along with countless others in this industry — is ready for battle.
And he intends to see this industry win.
As for 3D Vapor, the Reinke’s plan to register as a manufacturer.
“We’ve prided ourselves on customer service for years, and that’s not something we plan to just stop,” Heather said. “We’re going to do what we have to do to protect that.”
Danne Reinke said he feels the regulations are crushing our first amendment rights to tell customers of how vapor changed our lives.
“I think people are finally starting to get scared,” he said. “That’s what we need to see. That’s what gets them to make a call and get active.”
Corey Noles is the Editor