Meet the founder

12 Jul 2023

Zachary Oh of Vape Empire

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What is your company’s story; how were you founded and what has been your journey over the years? What products/services do you provide and in which market(s) do you operate?

 

We are based in Puchong, close to the city centre of Kuala Lumpur, and we opened our first vape shop in November 2013. In 2014, I started my own e-liquid brand, and since then my business has always been retail stores and e-liquid exports.

 

Our first success was in Indonesia, where the brand exploded in 2014. From there, we started opening multi retail stores in Malaysia, and then ventured into the UK and European market through our e-liquid brand, Empire Brew. At one point, Empire Brew was among the top three “made in Malaysia” products in France; it was number one in Korea; and available in up to 13 countries in Europe. 

 

I owe the success of the company to the strong support  have from our team; we are a company with very low staff turnover. Even as large team of 250 people, we are very close-knit – we have great relationships and a great connection. Every month we have a fun company-wide activity, like go-karting, mountain climbing, or fine dining. Vape Empire is where it is today thanks to the team behind it – past and present. Without our amazing team, I don’t think Vape Empire could have achieved so much growth and momentum.

 

Can you describe your customer demographic? 

 

Vaping in Malaysia is more common among the younger generation, aged from young 20s to 35.  Malaysia has a multicultural population consisting of Malay, Chinese, Indian and a mix of local indigenous people, so there is a huge variety in taste preferences.

 

What are your biggest priorities at the moment?

 

This is a very exciting year for the vaping industry in Malaysia, as the newly elected government is working on a set of laws that will further regulate the market. There is still a lot of uncertainty around the new laws, but we have been working closely with respective government agencies on how to best structure this regulation package.

 

As a major player in the industry, we are providing input and sharing ideas on how the industry can be more effectively regulated. 

 

Business wise, we are solid in terms of sales and operations, everything is going well. We are currently focusing all our efforts in preparing for the new set of regulations, ensuring Vape Empire remains 100% compliant.

 

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the vaping category today, and how does Vape Empire plan to address it?

 

Consistency in the law is our biggest challenge at the moment, because whenever we have set a two-year plan, things change because of how the law changes.

 

Where do people buy vapes mostly – is it online, is it in physical shops, or a mix of both?

 

Online sales are banned in Malaysia, because it is not possible to effectively evaluate whether a user is over 18. Because of this, people buy their products in vape shops, mobile phone/gadget shops or convenience stores. 

 

Vape Empire products are widely available, in around 20-25 big convenience chain-stores.

 

What would you say are the USPs supporting your dominant position in your market?

 

Right now, the Malaysian market is 80% disposables or closed system, and 20% open system. As such, because that 80% is dominating the market, the most important thing is how you develop flavours. And our flavours are our USP.

 

The team works really well together and we have a very deep understanding of the Malaysian market. We understand what the demand is like, what are the favourite flavours, and what are consumers’ particular likes and dislikes – we have been in the space for a decade, and we understand what people want. I believe this is our biggest strength.

 

The majority of disposable products in the market depend on Chinese manufacturers to brew the flavours for them. The difference with us, is that we have a team right here in Malaysia. We source the raw materials from China, and we work to fit the product to Malaysian tastes – that is what makes us different.

 

For example, everyone else’s mango flavour tastes the same, but our mango flavour is a little bit different and we are confident our flavours suit Malaysian market better.

 

This was a strategy we developed a few years back – as I quickly recognised that customers in my region like sweeter flavours. If I were to sell the same formula to Europe or the US, it would be too sweet for them. But for us, it tastes good. Brewers from China don’t have the tools to understand what we want, and that is why we started to develop flavours in our own way as time went by, because we knew it would be better for our market.

 

What are your thoughts on disposables vs. rechargeables? 

 

I am very pro adopting more sustainable practices; less batteries, more rechargeables. In the last year I launched five products that are rechargeable, but the demand for this in the Malaysian market is not encouraging. I don’t understand why this is the case, but in Malaysia people tend to still stick to disposables (perhaps because they have a bigger capacity – one disposable will last you 2-3 weeks, unlike in Europe where you use a disposable every 2 days) – so rechargeables are a longer-term vision product.

 

Why did you decide to join Plxsur?

 

One fine day I received a love letter from London to one of my shops from Plxsur and I was very quickly sold on the idea. I’m lucky enough to be chosen by Plxsur. Joining Plxsur has allowed me to bring my company to the world stage – and that’s a very different business environment, which really interests me.

 

I’m looking forward to meeting new people in the industry, and to exploring opportunities to further develop the brand, and to bringing a diversity of brands to our shops in Malaysia. Working with Plxsur, we also have the opportunity to shape ideas on an international level.

 

What are the top priorities or changes that you think are needed to advance the vaping industry? 

 

For me, there is a pressing need for the world health body to be clear and decisive, because at the moment the industry is relying on Public Health England, who say that vaping is 95% safer than smoking – they have done their research and studies, however the WHO have yet to take a concrete stand. Because of this, every country has a different policy, as there is no international policy. My hope is to see a definitive stance – because for those in business like me, I know that once I can see what the future looks like, I know what I can achieve. I personally feel that this is a priority that needs to be addressed at the soonest.

 

If a global health body like WHO can set definitive guidelines for vaping, then every country will be on the same page. It will make it a lot easier to conduct business, as there will be a standardised set of laws to follow.

 

Have you ever been a smoker?

 

Yes, before vaping I was a smoker for 16 years. And after I started vaping, it took me a year to stop smoking traditional cigarettes. Now I only vape – Apple and Prune is definitely my favourite flavour. Not many people will understand what this flavour tastes like, but it’s very famous in Malaysia! I mostly use a brand called AKSO, because we collaborate very closely with the factory, and they help us develop products that are suitable for the Malaysian market.

 

What are your interests / hobbies / activities outside of work?

 

I’m a scuba-diver, I’m crazy about it, and whenever I can, I go diving around here. I’m also into photography, specifically underwater photography. I’m always trying to get the best photo of a shark or whale – when I dive, I’m the one chasing a shark, not the shark chasing me!

 

 

Visit the Vape Empire website here

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