Exceptional Retailer Vol 61: Hot Wax Glass Co.



Hot Wax Glass Co. started as a music store and underwent a big transformation into a forward-thinking smoke shop that’s all about the customer shopping experience

The world is full of smoke shops that will tell you they’re all about glass. But when the owners of Hot Wax Glass Co. say it, they mean it in an entirely different way.

Glass-blowing, live and right in peoples’ faces, is their calling card. It’s what’s made them different, made them successful and has them growing at an exponential rate in the Tampa area and beyond.

“What really sets us apart was the glass blowing,” says co-owner Kevin. “When we put the glass blowing in the window about five years ago or so, that’s really what set us apart. That’s what made us an experience — more of a shopping experience. We hear more about that nowadays. People spend more money when they’re having an experience.”

“We try,” says fellow co-owner Justin, “to make our stores a cultural experience. We try to set ourselves apart. We hear it every day when people walk into our stores, how different we are from the smoke shop around the corner.”

Their flagship location is in the Ybor City area, a party district in Tampa where their store stays open until 3 a.m. They’re near the bars and clubs and on the weekends, they have local artists blowing glass live in their store window from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. They even livestream the sessions on Facebook.

“A lot of it,” Kevin says, “is about the foot traffic. Seeing the glass blowing in the window. It’s a great draw.”

Indeed it is. And for a shop that is all about branding, this is one of their pillars. They nailed the branding part right from the beginning even though it wasn’t exactly intentional. When they started Hot Wax, it was primarily a music store. By 2010, the store had started to lean so heavily toward smoking accessories that they ditched the music altogether. They actually donated 13,000 records so they had space for more smoking goods.

The great thing about naming your store Hot Wax is that it works as a music store and as a smoke shop. So Hot Wax chugged on as this reimagined store. And that’s when it started to take off.

By 2012, they had opened a second location in South Tampa. Earlier this year, they opened a third location in St. Petersburg. That location takes cues from the Ybor City store — it’s in the party district and has live glass blowing in the window. On Nov. 1, they’re opening a fourth location in Vero Beach, which is on the other side of the state, but that won’t impede their growth. They also have a franchise group in New York that’s opening another Hot Wax store and is interested in opening more.

Justin and Kevin have come a long way since they became friends in the New York area almost 20 years ago. They both ended up moving to Florida and reinventing themselves in the smoke-shop industry. Kevin was in the mortgage industry before this. Justin was in furniture retail.

“I won’t do anything else anymore,” Justin says. “This is my life. I still like the retail end of it. When I got into it, it was really nice to work with all the people. I woke up every day and I realized I liked going to work.”

“Being in furniture and mortgages,” Kevin says, “customers aren’t really excited. In this industry, everybody is just so happy.”

That includes the guys behind Hot Wax. Their big thing is making customers happy. They decided long ago to sell their own branded products — everything from bangers and super slim batteries to silicon jars and dab mats. They’ll put the Hot Wax name and logo on anything they can. They’re sold wholesale too, but they serve two more purposes in the retail store.

First, they can sell their own products for cheaper.

“I can take the same hand-blown pipe from our store and resell it for the same price as a foreign pipe,” Justin says. “It’s $45 for a pipe instead of $65 or $85. We make money on it and we don’t go in for the kill because we want customers coming back.”

They also love to hand out stickers and small accessories to their customers when they make a purchase, because they know that branded silicone jar or branded mat might be worth more to them in brand loyalty than just another sale.

“It’s all about everyone knowing about our shop,” Kevin says. “It’s brand awareness and trying to expand. We’re always trying to do things different to always keep people coming in. We have what’s called a Birthday Wheel. You spin it on your birthday and whatever it lands on, you get for free.”

It goes back to that thing they said earlier: They want to create a shopping experience. They want it to be fun and not a pressure-filled trip to a store.

“We’re not out to push people to buy stuff,” Justin says. “We don’t go for the gusto. We’d rather see them back in the store next week.”


• hotwaxglass.com







Advertise with ERB

Connect with ERB

Subscribe to ERB

Receive a 12 Month Subscription of ERB Magazine right to your doorstep, FREE of cost!!. Subscribe today.