By Alyssa Stahr
Whether it’s bicycling through the neighborhood on a childhood paper route or running a fledgling business, entrepreneurs have one thing in common: they love creating something from nothing. D an Lawitzke has come a long way from his paper route.
Mister-E-Liquid started in 2010 as an e-commerce website. Handcrafting custom e-liquid per customers’ requests, the company grew steadily with a customer base all over the country. Lawitzke starting smoking socially in college; however, the habit grew to a pack a day. Lawitzke worked as a musician to help pay his way through college, and his parents helped with tuition and books. But with that help came expectations.
“I was singing four hours a night, and the smoking was affecting the way I was able to drink beer for the rest of the week,” Lawitzke mused. “A buddy of mine was using an e-cigarette. Actually, the eGos had literally just hit the market. I tried it and jumped right in to the whole thing.”
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Lawitzke wasn’t happy with the e-liquid side of things, and at the time, there were about four online stores that weren’t Chinese. He started making e-liquids just for himself, blending different varieties together. Without a lot of disposable income, he stuck with the eGo. A smoke shop that he frequented sold starter kits with a stick battery. It was “garbage,” he said. At that point, he was still smoking cigarettes infrequently, but as he got into the community and making his own liquids, he didn’t want to be a “poser.”
Graduation time came, and with that came the expectation that Lawitzke would enter Corporate America. With a dual degree in international business and finance and an internship under his belt, he knew he didn’t like working for other people.
“I was always a self starter. I had a paper route from when my parents said that it was OK. I played in bands and managed those bands, and it didn’t really hit me until I worked for someone else that I didn’t really want to do that,” Lawitzke said.
Every job had been a means to an end, to pay for books or to buy the newest guitar. His parents were pushing for the corporate life, but Lawitzke decided to take a leap of faith.
“It may have been just a chapter in my life that I’ll remember. But, it’s really blossomed into something special. I said, ‘I’m going to find someone with a thousand bucks to front me, and I’m going to start a website.’ That’s how Mister-E-Liquid was born.”
The new company operated out of his home, allowing customers to pick up orders from his front door. Twelve flavors and eGo-type kits (the Joyetech kind) that sold for $80 to $90 were on the Mister-E-Liquid menu. Lawitzke searched on the Internet and sourced an eGo-type kit called a Riva. It was basically an eGo without the Joyetech name on it.
“Joyetech had so much cash into their branding, but there was so much room for competitors,” Lawitzke said. “I got an eGo kit that I could price at $50, and that blew up.”
Word of mouth grew, and a year and a half later, the company had grown to the point where there were so many people showing up to Lawitzke’s house every day, that he was forced to look into a retail store.
“Ten to 20 people every single day would come to pick up orders. My neighbors must have thought I was selling drugs or something,” he said.
At that point, one of his best friends from high school tried the e-cigarette and said that it wasn’t really for him. Lawitzke asked him for help selling online orders because the website was starting to grow. Days were spent marketing, working on customer service, making liquids, shipping products and more. Lawitzke’s business partner Dave bought in, and they opened the first retail store in 2012, Mister E’s Vape Shop. There was a third guy who was really into vaping, so Lawitzke started to teach him to make e-liquids, and he became the third employee. That third employee is now the head flavorist for the company. Then there was the fan girl. She was really into what the company was doing, so she became the fourth employee, running customer service. A couple of years later, Lawitzke married her.
By the end of 2012, the company had grown to eight employees, and to the point where it was bursting at the seams. Mister-E-Liquid was wholesaling liquid internationally, leading to a need for more space. In 2013 they opened a 17,000 sq. ft. manufacturing/distribution plant, as well as another local retail store. By the end of 2013, the company had 29 employees, and Lawitzke began to focus on professional e-liquid manufacturing. His passion for liquids and inspiration for new flavors stems from several different places.
“Sometimes it’s me going, ‘Hey, I want to vape something that tastes like this,’” he said. “The majority of the time, the real winners just come out of Josh’s brain. He does a lot of research into what notes pair really well, complementary flavors, depending on what he’s going for. That’s a process all on its own.”
Head flavorist Josh started from an artisan perspective, trying to make the flavors as interesting and complex as he can. He sometimes does 20 revisions or more on a single flavor before it’s ready for release. Everything the company does is tested and documented, then retested for diacetyl, and results are published on the Mister-E-Liquid website.
Around 2012 to 2013, the company helped to start The American E-Liquid Manufacturing Standards Association (AEMSA). Early advocates of the industry sat down at a vape event and discussed e-liquid regulations.
“AEMSA started with a couple of people who said that there should be some sort of group that’s looking out for the consumer. They got nine vendors on board, and we were one of them,” Lawitzke said.
The new team wrote its bylaws and goals on the regulation front. Then, Mister-E-Liquid had to make changes following
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the guidelines that AEMSA said, and it wasn’t cheap. “I had to replace a lot of stuff from our lab. It was a lot of time and commitment, but we needed to do it to feel like we were doing right by our consumers,” Lawitzke said. “The marketing side of the business definitely needs some attention. Renaming a product ‘Fruit Loops’ or ‘Sour Patch’ — shame on those people.”
Lawitzke said that he isn’t going to say that the industry is marketing to children. He believes that it isn’t. However, from a marketing and manufacturing perspective, not producing in a clean environment, or just a clean room in general, is detrimental.
“The sterilization process is important. There’s still a fair amount of people making e-liquids in their basements. There’s as much of a manufacturing problem as a marketing problem. I wholly believe from the bottom of my heart that this can be a self-regulated industry. People have to start thinking with their heads instead of thinking with their wallets,” he said.
As for future FDA regulation predictions, Lawitzke said that it’s going to be very expensive from a manufacturing side. He predicts that ISO 9001 will be required, along with GMP requirements—whether food grade or pharmaceutical, he’s not sure. He thinks that flavors will be kept; however, labeling will change. It will require a “ton” of cash, probably in the $5-$10 million range to have sellable products.
In 2014, the company added its third retail store outside of Lawitzke’s home town. They also started a hardware subsidiary under the brand name Carbon Method, where they released its first mod called the Radix and a line of wide mouth drip tips. However, Lawitzke said that since Chinese manufactures are destroying everyone’s pricing, they have shifted focus away from the manufacturing side.
Today, Mister-E-Liquid distributes to 60 countries, hundreds of vape shops across the United States and employs 72 people. The company is opening two more retail stores by the end of the year, which makes the retail count at seven, and is in the process of launching two lines of e-liquid by the end of the year.
“We launched Reverb, which is a high-dripping, high-VG line in quarter four of last year; that’s really taken off. We have something really special for the end of this year. We’re taking our time on it. It’ll be something that I don’t think has been done before, and it’s pretty cool,” Lawitzke said.
While the Mister-E-Liquid team is hoping for a fantastic 2016, Lawitzke looks back at the last five years with fond memories of his entrepreneurial spirit.
“Going from school and thinking my only job going forward was to contribute to someone else’s bottom line, I never thought that I would be good at being an entrepreneur,” he said. “I never thought that our products would be in hundreds of vape shops across the United States. It’s definitely an interesting experience. My wife and I are happily married. The couple that vapes together stays together.”
For more information, visit http://www.mister-e-liquid.com