One of the best ways to save money and still enjoy the hobby of vaping is to join, or start, a co-op. A “cooperative” can consist of as few as 2 or 3 people or as many as, well, as many as you want. In a successful co-op everybody benefits. Vapers get to try out eLiquids they’ve never tried before, trade hardware, exchange tanks for clearomizers, or a hundred other things. Vaping Co-ops are all the rage right now because as the economy refuses to get better, and vaping becomes more and more mainstream, there is no better way to keep the hobby exciting then to interact with other like-minded people and trade with them, or use the collective purchasing power to get great deals.
A co-op (or coop) is something I like to refer to as a “friendly society”, where profit is not the defining goal, but rather the benefit of the individual through the cooperation of the whole. It’s not socialism, but it’s not exactly capitalism either. It’s just a way to, in my mind, enjoy the benefits of group purchases or group sharing. Having said that, very few co-ops are truly successful because there are always a few people who are hardwired to cheat, steal, or scam others. Knowing that before finding one, or starting one, will allow you to set your goals a bit more realistically.
A Vapers Cooperative
A vapers cooperative is a ‘business’ that is owned by its members. There are no employees, yet everyone is employee-like. Members can vote on major buying decisions and might even elect the board of directors if there are enough members and if the collective is interested in forming one from among their own numbers. A large cooperative can benefit a lot from group purchases of eLiquids and even hardware since they can often qualify for wholesale pricing.
If you were starting a cooperative I would strongly advise you not to attempt to use your group buying power to deal with any Chinese manufacturer like your favorite vendors do. I know personally how hard your vendors work to get hardware in from China, and the risks they take to get it here. The merchandise can be delayed, confiscated, destroyed, stolen, and knockoff’s sold as the real thing, and unless you’re ready to spend a lot of money (and even if you are) your chances at getting what’s coming to you is slim to none. The Chinese may call themselves communists, but it’s a twisted kind of communism based on raw, ruthless capitalism. Caveat emptor to the extreme.
Instead, I would suggest dealing with companies you are already dealing with; MyVaporStore, Totally Wicked, TheDigitalCig, and so forth, and most premium eLiquid vendors that have wholesale pricing as well. You’ll still wind up saving money, lots of money, but your risk will be nil.
Dealing with the members
Depending on how small or large your co-op is will have a direct effect on several issues; the amount of discount you’re purchasing power will have, how satisfied you will be with each buying decision, as well as balancing your wants and needs against the needs and wants of the many.
Say you and a couple of your friends decide to form a co-op to save money. You should start off as a trading co-op for the first couple of months so that you can see for yourselves just how each of you get along when there are material goods involved. Are you able to trade a 30ML bottle of eLiquid that you don’t like for a 30ML bottle you do like, or is the member who owns the eJuice you like only willing to part with 15ML in exchange for your 30ML? If so, you can’t expect any better when you start buying new products at wholesale pricing.
Once you’ve determined that the group you’ve formed is a decent group and the trades have worked out fairly (most of the time) you might want to test the waters with a first-time wholesale purchase. Vendors do have minimum purchases in order to qualify for wholesale pricing, and wholesale pricing could very well have certain stages of discounts. Buying, say, 50 to100 “whatever’s” for X amount of discount, and 101-250 “whatever’s” will get you X more of a discount. Follow?
For your first time purchase as a co-op it really shouldn’t matter what the net-net deal is, you should be more interested in how smoothly it goes, at first and throughout the first few days/weeks after you take delivery. Did to go smoothly? Was anyone unhappy? Did anyone get the short end of the stick? If so, how was it handled?
What To Buy
Again, depending on the size of your co-op, there will come a time when a deal too good to pass up will be dropped at your doorstep. Do you have a method set up to handle such things? Who makes the final decision? Do you vote on each purchase, and if you do, how do each of you react should the decision go against you?
For instance: Say you’re being offered a great buy on 100 Kanger ProTanks. Normally the wholesale price for 100 pieces (MOQ) is $11.20 plus shipping, for a total of $12.50 per unit. Considering they sell for $18-20 retail, that’s a big saving. (Buying direct from China will run you $9.00 plus shipping and a whole lot of risk). But a one-time deal comes up where the seller is willing to let them go for $8.50 apiece if you buy 100 of them. A better deal, yes, but how do you feel about owning 100 ProTanks?
For the sake of argument let’s pretend your co-op that is being offered the great deal on the ProTanks is made up of 5 people. They vote to buy the 100 ProTanks for $8.50 and the result is 3 yes and 2 no. You are one of the “no” votes. Regardless, you will now own 1/5 of 100 ProTanks, or 20 ProTanks at a cost to you of $170. Are you are willing to handle this scenario in a pleasant, solution-oriented way or are you now pissed and determined to get YOUR way next time? Now consider it all in reverse, do you know the other 4 people in your co-op well enough to know how they will handle being on the winning and losing side? Believe me, it can get quite complicated from there.
In co-ops that have a hundred of more members the purchasing power can be really big and the potential to vape of a fraction of what it could cost without the help of a co-op is huge. But how are differences handled? Do you have to participate in every purchase? If so then there will be times you won’t feel great about being a member. At the same time, there will be times when you feel like everyone should belong to a co-op.
Avoiding problems can be achieved by deciding at the formation of the co-op what you can and cannot do, buy, trade, etc., as a group co-op. Knowing the pitfalls, as well as the benefits, will help you run, or live in, a better co-op. Know your maximum potential and your maximum harm before starting a co-op or joining a co-op.
The eLiquid Co-Op Scenario
If your co-op forms for the benefit of saving money on eLiquids it can be a great way to save money and experiment with new brands and flavors, or you can wind up spending a lot of money on juice you’ll never vape. So again, you need to know going in what you will be able to buy, and from who, how much, and how many different flavors, brands, etc.
Trading a few bottles of eJuice with someone in your co-op is a lot different than pooling your money to buy 50 bottles of eLiquid in 6 different flavors and 6 different nicotine levels.
I strongly suggest that each member of the co-op discuss the types of eJuice they like, what they don’t like, what their current nicotine levels need to be and what they think it will be down the road. If your co-op has too many different considerations in the eLiquid area than you’re better off not making group purchases and keeping it as a trading option.
Which brings me to this: A Vaping Co-op does not have to include every area of Vaping. Your co-op could exist only to purchase certain eLiquids, or certain piece of hardware; it doesn’t have to get involved in everything. There could very well be a co-op called “The Mountain Oak Vapors Cooperative” and exist for the sole reason of buying MOV eLiquids at the wholesale price. There is no rule that says you can’t be a member of several different co-ops, or start several different co-ops.
The Ideal Vaping Co-op
Before you join any vaping co-op you need to talk to all the members and look through all their previous activity. If they are too small to keep proper records then its more of a “friends” co-op than anything else so whether you decide to join or not isn’t that big a deal. If it extends past a small number of friends then records have to be kept and they have to be open to any new member that asks to see them. If they want you to join the co-op but insist that you don’t need to see the records then this is not the co-op you want to join.
If you want to start a co-op with a small group of friends it’s a good idea to discuss your goals, what each of you want to get out of the co-op and if it is a do-able situation and everybody’s okay with it, then have fun. I’m not saying nothing will go wrong, it probably will at some point, but they won’t be life-crushing situations. Annoying maybe, but not much more than that.
If your plans for a co-op include having as many as 40-50 or more people, than you’re going to need a lot of organization and a governing body to make decisions for the group. As long as everyone agrees to turn over some of their own authority to the group will, through a governing body, then it could work.
There is one sure-fire way to make sure it does work...
…Grievances and Buyouts
The real secret to running a successful co-op lies in what to do when a member is disgruntled. When things are running well and everyone is happy the co-op is the best thing in the world. But as soon as someone feels screwed over then a poison can spread throughout the whole mini-society very quickly. Having in place hardwired solutions is the best way to keep a co-op healthy.
Say you started a co-op that has 50 members. At the formation of the co-op everyone kicked in fifty dollars. That $2500 needs to sit there, untouched, for the first year. This should be called “the buy-in” and have nothing at all to do with the co-op other than to settle disagreements by either buying out the disgruntled member or solving problems that might occur elsewhere.
A successful co-op doesn’t allow problems to linger, and they don’t allow disgruntled members to hang around long enough to poison the group. A Co-op is a “cooperative” and if someone isn’t feeling cooperative then what’s the point of having him or her there?
Like I said above, the economy isn’t going anywhere. I believe this is the “new normal”. Blind Inflation, which is inflation that no one acknowledges, Blind Joblessness, high unemployment that isn’t talked about, and slow growth that “new-speak” calls “growth”.
Finding novel ways to maintain a decent quality of life include forming co-ops, even underground co-ops. But the only way a co-op works long term is when the members have a healthy dose of altruism, a willingness and desire to live and let live, a philosophy of life that includes the enjoyment of seeing others benefit from their actions. Selfishness, greed, and the anger at seeing someone else succeed are traits in people you don’t need in your life, and you definitely don’t need them in your co-op.
Jason Little and Tom McBride