An emerging trend worldwide has been the move away from cigarette and pipe smoking to “vaping,” or inhaling water vapor, or “e liquids” through electronic cigarettes.
Many, like Zootie’s Vapors founder Eric “Zootie” Sutton, started vaping as a way to quit smoking. A three-pack-a-day smoker, Sutton said he tried all kinds of
cessation tools, but none helped him kick the tobacco habit until he found vaping.
But while he was a fan of vaping, his first experience in a vape shop was less than stellar.
“The people behind the counter didn’t care. They were no help at all,” he said.
And that’s why Sutton decided to invest his money after working as a national distributor of vape products into opening a retail location. His first shop, located off Rt. 9 in Paeonian Springs, opened last April. Just about six months later a second Zootie’s Vapors location in downtown Leesburg followed. The Leesburg space, at 19 Wirt St., proved to be an easy transition and came with the added bonus of a backroom pinball arcade.
But, despite the fun and games, the biggest driver for Sutton is the educational effort that comes with owning a vape shop and the experience he tries to create for his customers.
Sutton is aware of the concerns that vaping will someday be considered a public health threat, but he points to current research which shows that vaping is 95 percent safer than tobacco smoking, and underscores how many people have quit tobacco smoking thanks to vaping. In addition to running the vape shops, Sutton also hosts a vaping advocacy podcast broadcast out of Zootie’s Vapors on Thursday nights.
“We’re all about trying to change how people perceive vaping,” he said. In fact, Sutton said he fully supports further research on vaping and its impact on public health.
And when it comes to customer service, Zootie’s aims to set itself apart from the competition by being eager to help all its customers, whether they are new to
vaping or not. Sutton also said his staff puts the products it sells through rigorous testing to ensure it meets the store’s quality standards. Some of its products available are even certified organic.
Sutton said he does his best to keep abreast of different regulations popping up nationwide, including attempts to classify vaping as tobacco. Some proposed regulations in Virginia could hamstring his efforts to keep prices reasonable for his growing customer base, he said, pointing to proposals to tax vaping materials the same as cigarettes, a move which Sutton said “kills small businesses.”
Sutton said he quit a good paying job “to be an entrepreneur and do something I could be proud of.” And he is optimistic about the growth potential of Zootie’s brand, but he’ll wait to see the outcome of proposed federal regulations before he pursues additional locations.
For more information on Zootie’s go to zootiesvapors.com.
See more photos here.