Ben Wilson is the founder of FreshCig, a company that produces and markets electronic cigarettes. He talks to about the challenges of tapping into a new market alongside many competitors, and of developing a unique selling point in order to stand out.

Like many younger entrepreneurs, Ben Wilson had an eagle eye for business from an early age.

“At 16 I worked in my local supermarket and developed my understanding grocery and retail market. Early on I could see there were obvious gaps in categories across the different retail sectors and opportunities for new innovations that existing companies didn’t seem to be exploiting. I’ve always liked to challenge myself, so I started my own trading company to see if I could take advantage of certain areas of the market."

Ben launched an online goods company and used the profits to start FreshCig, the idea for which came from identifying a gap in a growing market and moving swiftly to fill that gap.

“Electronic cigarettes are a product which still has huge potential for growth based on a burgeoning market now worth around £5 million a year. So we saw a gap in the market and decided to fill it. This comes down to changing consumer buying habits, from unhealthy tobacco cigarettes to healthier and cheaper alternatives, at a time when people are becoming generally more health conscious and are looking to save money.”

A burgeoning market can often be a good thing for new businesses, as tapping into saturated markets is difficult. However, the freshness of the market did cause some challenges for Ben. Firstly, he was joined by a number of competitors who were keen to get their own brand to market as quickly as possible and develop a strong position from the beginning.

Ben's top tips to entrepreneurs
  • Know your business plan but be open to new ideas
  • Be prepared to adapt to the wider market and the needs of your customers
  • Ensure you maintain a healthy cash flow and reinvest profits into the business so it is constantly improving and developing
  • Constantly evolve your product by listening to customer feedback and implementing this - the customer is king
  • Try not to run before you can walk - being first to market is not essential if you have a great product and brand

However, Ben saw this pressure as an opportunity. While the first-to-market brands positioned themselves in line with tobacco-based cigarattes, Ben felt there was a need to differentiate his company to highlight the differences to consumers.

“We positioned our products as being a healthier alternative to smoking and developed a brand that amplified this.”

Another challenge was developing the right product, specifically in a market where technologies change quickly and there’s always the chance that competitors will develop a superior product.

“We responded to customer feedback and the changing market place in order to offer a more affordable and higher quality option.”

In fact, it’s the product – along with the brand – that Ben considers to be FreshCig’s unique selling point (USP).

“We’re a more affordable alternative than many of the other electronic cigarette companies but maintain high quality standards. The Freshcig branding is unique as it projects a healthier image compared to others. This is very important especially as we are in such a niche and competitive market.

“We offer a consumer helpline for any questions or queries customers or retailers may have, this gives a more personal service so we receive a lot of repeat business because of this. All of these points apply to any market; all businesses need the right branding, price and a more personal service to succeed in modern day business.”

Many businesses have a great idea for a product but some entrepreneurs are put off by manufacturing, particularly if they have never had something manufactured before. Ben offers some tips he learnt from his own experience:

“Maintain control throughout and start small to get customer feedback and then improve the product. You may lose money at first by buying a smaller quantity but it’s worth it in order to improve your offering.”

Ben believes that taking sensible risks is key to business success – for him, this was particularly true when it came to manufacturing.

“I’ve always been a believer in sensible risk taking. We needed a supplier that could cater for larger quantities of electronic goods without compromising on quality. Making the call to trade out of China was our company’s first big risk as it meant we would be managing operations across two different continents and the additional logistics attached.

“But the positive impact it has had on the company has far outweighed any original hesitancy – it has enabled us to efficiently produce vast amounts of product and has given us a platform to grow our business in the future.”

Ben started his business in the middle of the economic downturn, which he says was of benefit to his company.

“It played into our favour. Most people look to give up smoking as they want to be healthier and to save money. When the recession hit, people were looking to save money and electronic cigarettes are much cheaper than tobacco so our products were a solution to a problem at the right time.”

Smoking is a sensitive topic and a tightly governed industry, but this has actually helped the electronic cigarette industry, according to Ben.

“Electronic cigarettes aren’t governed by the same regulations or taxes as tobacco products which means tobacco regulations impact on our business in a positive way. For example, the continuous tightening regulations mean that tobacco is increasingly difficult to display and market to consumers. Electronic cigarettes can fill that space as they are not covered by regulations such as the soon to be imposed display ban.

We complied with trading standards advice for our packaging as our products do contain nicotine. We also have chip compliant packaging which refers to the Chemicals (Hazard Information and packaging for Supply) Regulations 2009.”