A year-old startup local electronic cigarette startup has planted its flag on the Southside for its new headquarters and has its eye on selling franchises for its retail stores.
Avail Vapor last month bought a 37,000-square-foot office and manufacturing building at 820 Southlake Blvd. in Southport Office Park in Chesterfield County.
It paid about $2 million to buy the property from Southlake LP. The building previously housed an optics manufacturing and research operation, James Xu, Avail’s president and major shareholder said.
Xu said the new headquarters will centralize Avail’s managerial, manufacturing and distribution efforts. It will also be home to yet another one of the company’s retail locations, giving consumers a glimpse into the production of the nicotine-laced liquid used in e-cigarettes.
“Imagine if you go to Krispy Kreme and get to see the things hot off the line,” Donovan Phillips, an Avail co-owner, said. “It’s an entire customer experience.”
Avail’s new home base is less than a half-mile from the headquarters of Sweet Frog, another fast-rising local startup.
Led by Xu, Phillips and Cole Smith, Avail has grown to 10 stores in Virginia and Maryland since opening its first retail location in Carytown in 2013. It has another 12 stores in the works, Xu said.
“A year ago we had zero employees, and today we have over 50,” Xu said.
The company plans to have the Chesterfield location open by July, he said.
In the months ahead, Avail will be filing the paperwork necessary to franchise its brand, Xu said, letting would-be entrepreneurs stake their own claims in e-cig territory. An Avail franchise will cost about $101,000 to $212,000, according to the company’s website.
“Right now, the industry is like the wild, Wild West,” Phillips said.
Avail’s rapid growth is a microcosm of the e-cig market these days.
Since entering the mainstream in the U.S. about seven years ago, e-cigarettes have grown into a $2 billion dollar industry. It still trails the $100 billion traditional cigarette industry, but that hasn’t stopped tobacco’s big players, such as Altria and Reynolds American, from ramping up their e-cig operations.
The boom hasn’t escaped the notice of federal regulators, either. Earlier this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposed the first set of regulations governing the burgeoning business.
Xu said Avail welcomes the new laws as a way of maintaining an industry-wide standard of quality for e-cigs.
“People have already discovered the benefits of e-cigs,” Xu said. “There’s no turning back.”