5 Things I Learned From Working in a Heavily Scrutinized Industry

Your business might be legal, but that doesn’t mean people will like it. Numerous industries – from the tobacco, alcohol and pot industries through to seemingly innocuous ones like the sugar or gaming industries – come under a lot more scrutiny than most other businesses. For small businesses, start-ups and entrepreneurs, this can make entering and remaining in these industries a pretty daunting prospect. Will we be able to survive, or are regulations or general public opinion going to crush our dreams before we’ve even started to pursue them? How can we keep revenues up when everybody is trying to bring us down?

Our field – e-liquid, used in e-cigarettes – isn’t inherently bad. Ultimately it’s about helping people stop smoking. Reports from the UK – the Royal College of Physicians and Public Health England – stress that vaping is vastly safer than smoking, though it isn’t completely benign. However, the industry attracts a lot of criticism, especially in the U.S.. Surviving this scrutiny hasn’t been easy, but with some perseverance and plenty of hard work, you can do it.

So if you’re in an industry under scrutiny, how do you survive and thrive? Here are five key lessons I’ve learned.

1. Remember There’s Always a Way Through

The e-cigarette industry is set to be particularly hard-hit by the upcoming FDA regulations. These mean that every single vaping product on the market has to be supported with extensive documentation and evidence, with an estimated cost of $300,000 per product or much more. This is enough to crush most of the small businesses that make up the industry. We carefully considered closing too, but we didn’t.

No matter how grim the situation seems, or how little chance you feel like you have for success, there is always a way to keep going and jump through any regulatory hoops you encounter. You just need to plan carefully and think about the long-term opportunities more than the short-term cost.

2. Be Prepared to Make Sacrifices

But it wasn’t easy. In fact, in order to comply with the regulations, we’ve had to reduce the number of products we have available. As well as cutting a nicotine strength from our line-up, we’ve also had to drop two of our eight original flavors. Otherwise, the cost really would have been too much to bear.

The general lesson here is that sacrifice is often necessary when you’re working in a scrutinized industry. For example, if you’re selling sugary drinks in today’s climate, you may only add the amount you need to in order to make something that tastes great, but that is becoming increasingly untenable as a strategy with the intense scrutiny placed on sugar. Instead of butting up against the brick walls of consumer demands and things like sugar taxes, reformulation to reduce the sugar content may be the only option.

It’s better to sell a slightly altered product than be unable to sell any at all or to have to increase your price and risk putting customers off.

3. You Should Set a Positive Example

Scrutinized industry means scrutinized businesses. If you’re working in a controversial area, people will be just waiting for an excuse to come down hard on you for business practices. This is why it’s vital to go above and beyond the bare-minimum requirements and set a positive example.

E-liquid, for example, is often criticized for coming in flavors like bubblegum, which are expected to tempt kids to start vaping. This isn’t banned in the FDA regulations, but we’ve still gone one step further. By focusing on tobacco flavors for adult smokers, Black Note has placed itself above this criticism, and made the focus of our business clear: we want to help people looking for an alternative to smoking, not create new addicts.

Similar examples come from the field of fast food. McDonald’s has recently stopped using poultry that has been treated with antibiotics in its US stores, in a bid to tackle well-founded concerns about antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Taking proactive steps like this can cast you in a positive light, even if most of your industry is under intense scrutiny.

4. Always Hold Yourself to High Standards

Much like the previous point, holding yourself and your product to a high standard is absolutely vital for establishing trust from customers. One big concern in the e-cigarette industry is the use of diacetyl, which is a buttery flavoring chemical (one you’ll find in your microwave popcorn, for instance) that has been linked to lung damage when inhaled. This has been found in substantial proportions of e-liquids on sale in the U.S..

So at Black Note, we have always been completely diacetyl-free, as well as free from several other chemicals of concern. We prove this with lab-testing, so customers know they’re getting the high quality they pay for.

The lesson here is that going that extra mile when it comes to the quality of your product and service can make a big difference, especially when you’re in a scrutinized industry. You need to show the world – and your potential customers – that while there may be some bad apples in your field, you aren’t one of them

5. Work to Keep Your Customers Loyal

Gaining customers is the really hard part when people aren’t sure about your overall industry, but once you’ve done that hard work – with the help of the tips above – keeping those customers is just as important.

That’s one of the reasons we originally offered a recycling program. Our e-liquids came packaged in cardboard tubes, and to help protect the Earth’s resources and reward loyal customers, we’d provide a free bottle of e-liquid for every five tubes returned to us for recycling. The FDA regulations mean we can’t do this anymore, but we also offer reward points with every purchase and a referral program that pays back loyal customers who refer a friend to us.

These are only little things, but they encourage customers who try us out to keep coming back for more – and also help to create new customers. Brand loyalty is valuable for any business, but if your industry is under scrutiny, doing little things like this to keep your continuing customers happy is more important than ever.

Conclusion – Go the Extra Mile When You’re in a Scrutinized Industry

The reality is that if your industry is under scrutiny, it’s going to be a lot tougher to survive, especially as a small business. But the truth is that often – even when the situation looks hopeless – you can survive. It’s a challenge, but if you’re willing to stick at it, and most importantly of all, go the extra mile with regards to product quality and customer care, you can thrive even when your whole industry is under scrutiny.

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