Big Interview: Fred Cassman, Founder & CEO, Mist

Since the UK's indoor smoking ban in 2007, the rise of e-cigarettes has prompted a surge in vaping retailers popping up on high streets all over the country. An example of this is Mist, founded by Fred Cassman when he realised there was a market for it amidst online forum reviews.

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Fred Cassman Mist

“Mist is the first job I’ve ever had. I was at secondary school when I first discovered vaping and I got really into it as a hobby.”

Fred Cassman knew from the beginning that he wanted to start his own vaping business, at a time when e-cigarettes were not a widely available in the UK as they are now.

Back in 2007, when the indoor smoking ban came into action in the UK, vaping was practically non-existent. More than a decade later, the sale of e-cigarettes have boomed – not just in the UK but also globally.

Since launching Mist in 2011, Cassman has expanded his business to three bricks-and-mortar stores. It all started from a forum, where Cassman wrote reviews on vapes and realised people wanted to learn more about ecigarettes were and how they worked.

“This year, we’re planning on hiring more staff, particularly in the marketing area, because the market has become increasing competitive since I first started,” Cassman told the Retail Gazette.

“There a vape shop in every corner and countless online shops are popping up.

“People were curious to know more. I was talking about all the new vapes coming out.

“There wasn’t much availability in the UK either. I was maybe 16 and I organised a thread on the forum after finding a wholesale supplier in China and said, ‘does anyone want to get involved in a bulk order from the manufacturers with me?’”

“There a vape shop in every corner and countless online shops are popping up.”

Cassman promised a group of stakeholders involved a 10 per cent commission for helping him organise his business. He ended up with £15,000, which led to the birth of Mist.

“At that point I knew I was onto a winner,” Cassman said.

“The trust I built up on the forum added to it, the time and enthusiasm really drew people in.”

Cassman dropped out of university half way through second year to commit to the business full time even though it was a huge risk. Friends and family weren’t told until the business materialised because of the outlandish concept of the vaping industry.

“I had the forums where I’d talk about my ideas,” he recalled.

“I was spending more time thinking about the company than university, and I couldn’t think about both of them at the same time. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”

Since its launch, Mist has been focusing on health rather than lifestyle, with the aim of encouraging smokers to switch from cigarettes to vaping.

“This year, Mist is going to be a big revert to being a healthier alternative to smoking so everything that we do we’re going to have a successful switch attempt – such as from smoking to vaping,” Cassman said.

“Our aim is to have the highest switch success rate in the industry.”

Although the vaping industry is mainly focused on the gadget quality and the different flavours the ecigarettes provide, Cassman believes it is constantly evolving.

“Recently, lots of the vaping companies that are popping up are becoming almost like vape lifestyle brands, so people are seeing these crazy flavours, big gadgets etc,” he told Retail Gazette.

“It is a massive driver to buying an actual vape and stopping people buying a vape.

“There’s so much misinformation around vaping. What’s been really helpful is the Public Health England report which was a government funded study, and they’ve basically said that vaping is 95 per cent safer than smoking.

“Our aim is to have the highest switch success rate in the industry.”

“People still think vaping is worse for you than smoking and that’s another objective that we’re trying to squash this year.”

The vaping sector may be booming, but this doesn’t mean it is immune to the challenging trading conditions that continue to plague the UK retail industry, especially in context of high streets. If anything, Cassman believes that starter-kits in vape shops are what helps keep them afloat as the sector is still in its infancy.

“Vaping is still quite complicated and almost intimidating and need for a service, a physical person telling you how it works, what the best flavour is, really is what people want,” he said.

“So, we’re honing down on that service and making sure we’re offering the best service possible.

“We try to encourage our online shoppers to go into our shops, but vaping is tricky with the advertising regulations so its hard to drive traffic.

“If you have value and you believe that you can do something better than someone else, or you have a product that’s better than someone else’s, then you genuinely have nothing to worry about.”

Meanwhile, while a growing number of UK businesses dealing with imports are already setting up plans on how to face an increasingly likely no-deal Brexit, Cassman told the Retail Gazette that it should be business as usual for Mist, as most of his customers are already from the UK.

“In terms of costs, we buy a lot of our stuff in China, we don’t buy from the EU. We’re relatively lucky and protected, but the pound the sterling going down is our biggest fear,” he said.

“However we’ve got some measures in place that would protect us from currency drops.

“But obviously if we did want to expand into EU territory, it probably would slow things down.”

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