Smokeless smoking

Twenty-one year-old Ben Wilson set up Freshcig in July 2011 and expects sales of £250,000 for his first year of trading.

SmallBusiness.co.uk meets the young entrepreneur.

How did you start?

I was 18, had just finished my A-levels and was undecided about going to university. I had done some selling on eBay with my brother and decided to pursue that, investing £2,500 in savings to get it going. The big break came when we approached China and started importing products from there. We would buy and sell mobile phone and tablet accessories online though Amazon, eBay and Play.com.

When did the electronic cigarettes come in?

In July 2011 we bought some electronic cigarette samples, a device that simulates the act of tobacco smoking by producing an inhaled nicotine mist. We used money we had raised through eBay sales to design packaging, import the product and set up a website, through which we started selling.

How did you get the word out?

There are about 600,000 searches for electronic cigarettes per month in the UK alone, so we got an SEO company on board to get us a share of that attention. We also did some promotions on a daily deal website and got some repeat business through that. We ran a radio campaign which got a lot of local traction too. Smoking is a social thing so people who enjoy the experience will talk about it to their friends.

How did you familiarise yourself with the legal requirements of selling this product?

Getting the packaging right was the first hurdle. Nicotine is toxic in itself, because of the way its contained in this product it’s safe but you have to label the packaging correctly, and package the [nicotine-filled] cartomisers in childproof containers.

The internet was a massive source of information and we had some advice from Trading Standards and Business Link to ensure we were doing it properly.

What advice do you have for other companies looking to import from afar?

If you’ve never used a supplier before, start with a small amount of money on a small order and build trust. You won’t achieve the best price on your purchase but it will give you the confidence when you spend a larger amount that the supplier will deliver the goods to you on time.

Also, it’s advisable to get a UK freight forwarder on board, they take a lot of the stress out of importing products. We always trusted the Chinese to do it, but it’s best to have as much control as you can in terms of bringing the products in. If you have any problems, such as the freight being damaged in transit, it’s obviously much easier to sort it out with a UK company than a Chinese one.

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