The author teaches marketing at the University of Toronto. His daughter Rachael is one of the one billion.
By Don Fenton
According to the World Health Organization http://www.who.int/en/ about a billion people on the planet smoke. In the west, at least, many of them are trying to quit with e-cigarettes or other vaporizing devices in search of a safer way to continue their nicotine habit.
Since 2004, when the products were first introduced to the market by Chinese entrepreneurs, use has skyrocketed. Today they represent a booming industry estimated at US$3.5 billion in 2015 by Reuters/Ipsos. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-ecigarette-poll-analysis-idUSKBN0OQ0CA20150610
As smokers try to quit or make the switch, they chip away at worldwide annual tobacco revenues estimated at $315 billion. And, at the eye-popping yearly profits of the industry’s market leaders which the Tobacco Atlas pegs at around US$45 billion, equivalent to the combined annual profits of Coke, Disney, General Mills, FedEx, AT&T, Google, McDonald’s and Starbucks.
So, it’s probably safe to say that the fast growth of the alternative industry of vaping, as proponents call it, is not going to slow down any time soon despite legislation in predominantly Western countries to control and tax its use.
In fact, calling e-cigarettes and vaping 95% safer than smoking, Public Health England https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/e-cigarettes-an-evidence-update recently endorsed their use to reduce harm and save on health costs related to the one in five adults in the UK or about ten million people who smoke.
It is well known that many people vow to give up smoking as a New Year’s resolution.
David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, in response to a question from Mike Pawsey, Conservative MP for Rugby and Bulkington about the Public Health England announcement and the misfortune that half of Britons are unaware of the benefits of e-cigarettes, said in the House of Commons “Certainly, as someone who has been through this battle a number of times…we should look at the report from Public Health England…it is promising to see that over all, one million people are estimated to have used e-cigarettes to help them quit or have replaced smoking with e-cigarettes completely.”
Other governments, especially those with a public health system, must have taken notice.
And one visionary entrepreneur with a first-of-its-kind public company now operating in the United States, Europe, Africa and Asia has seized the opportunity to be the global leader in this entirely new business space.
Graham Simmonds, CEO of Gilla Inc. (OTCQB:GLLA) http://gilla.com/ a designer, marketer and distributor of electronic cigarettes, vaporizers, e-liquids and related accessories thinks that vaping will surpass that of e-cigs (he calls them cig-a-likes) and overtake the sales of traditional cigarettes in about a decade.
Gilla Chairman & CEO J. Graham Simmonds
“There are three really good reasons for the success of our business beyond our strengths in innovation, management and being first past the post,” says Simmonds. “The pace of innovation in the vaping business, growing demand from consumers and an unrelenting trend toward safer products.”
Simmonds puts his money where his mouth is. He has served as a Director and as Chief Executive Officer of Gilla since 2012 and as Chairman of the Board since May 2015.
In an industry that is only ten years old, Gilla has expanded apace. The company white labels for established cigarette and tobacco manufacturers with thousands of distribution points across North America and the world.
In a series of bold steps, Gilla recently acquired an e-liquid manufacturing facility in Florida, an e-liquid subscription based online retailer, the Craft Vapes e-liquid brand with retail operations in the United States, the United Kingdom and France and formed Gilla Europe serving 25 European countries with a sales and distribution team, offices, logistics and warehousing.
“We absolutely plan to be the global leader in the manufacturing and distribution of e-liquid brands and proprietary recipes for the vapor industry” says Simmonds. “I firmly believe our business will acquire an increasing portion of the tobacco market, year over year.”
At forty-four, that’s a nice big playing field for Simmonds, an aggressive ski enthusiast with seventeen years of experience in public company management and business development in the gaming and technology sectors.
Gilla first got into the electronic cig-a-like business several years ago as an OEM customizing solutions for big tobacco companies. Simmonds recognized fairly quickly that the product was limited in its capabilities. He saw a huge shift to liquid products and fill-your-own tank systems.
At that juncture Gilla made an adjustment to its business plan to capitalize on the shift.
“It’s a shift from hardware to software,” says Simmonds. “Software being the liquid, hardware the piece that’s coming in from Asia. Obviously we’re not going to compete with the Koreans and the Chinese in making small electronic systems.”
A lot of mom and pop businesses have started up across the US and Europe. Bottling product, mixing and creating. A high number of these small shops moved onto the market very aggressively in the last few years. Gilla saw the opportunity for acquisitions and began to build a consolidated portfolio of brands for the liquid space.
A year ago Gilla bought an OEM manufacturing platform for bottling that keeps the lights on and has helped Gilla acquire a portfolio of brands, consolidate and realize efficiencies in operations, marketing and sales.
“Since last year we’ve bought four companies and added six brands and are adding brands organically with our own mixologists and the team on staff,” says Simmonds. “We’re approaching the market on an international basis as opposed to any limited jurisdiction like the US. It’s a global play that includes the US, Europe, South Africa and Asia Pacific.”
Retail Supply Chain
Big tobacco has seen its largest declines over the last few years and there are several reasons. Smoking out of doors. Tougher new rules and regulations around smoking. And some of the significant declines are due to e-cigarette use.
Wells Fargo analysts have projected that by 2025 e-cigarette sales will be equal to combustible cigarettes.
“That’s not necessarily to say that e-cigarette sales will get to the US$90B figure in revenue a year in America,” says Simmonds. “Rather, that combustible cigarette sales are going to decline even sharper over the next ten years.”
The retail vaping industry, on the other hand, has been growing rapidly and is fast approaching 12,000 vape shops in the US and 20,000 worldwide.
The result is a supply chain that is a unique and an entirely new retail network.
Gilla saw the opportunity to go into the industry and make the supply chain more professional, efficient and well-managed. In the process, the retailers have become part of the Gilla phenomenon.
A partnership with Gilla’s customers includes providing cost-effective marketing, displays and branding on a mass scale.
“The margins are high enough that we are able to make the marketing and branding complementary,” says Simmonds. “It’s a little bit like buying enough of a brand name beer and they throw in marketing and umbrellas. Gilla helps with infrastructure needs, supply chain needs and we make sure they are getting product to the ultimate consumer on time.”
The tobacco industry is about brands and distribution with millions of retail locations. Convenience stores sell more basic products including cig-a-likes. That’s where the investment is and products are needed that can be pushed through the existing distribution system.
Distribution & Market Development
In the e-liquid business, where brands sell at a higher price and premium products call for direct sales acumen, vape shops are opening new doors with custom solutions that meet the wants of a whole new breed of clientele.
Gilla plans to continue to penetrate these new markets, while managing the growth of its more mature US customer base.
As for branding, Gilla products are mostly made in the good old US of A. The cache that comes with the allure of made in America certainly helps with branding, exposure and getting established in world markets.
Simmonds’ long term strategy involves continued market development and careful compliance with regulations, working with local companies to make sure new products comply.
“Gilla is starting to see a shift to our products in new markets,” says Simmonds.
The company sees security in having a multi-jurisdictional approach to marketing its products. And from a consolidation standpoint wants to acquire brands with a unique market penetration.
“This is a totally unique opportunity to participate with us in a global venture in a completely new, fast growing industry,” says Simmonds. “It’s a consumer product with a big upside. Our user base is being provided the opportunity to invest in the business as well, so we think Gilla can be a flagship company for the entire industry.”
Battling Covid collateral damage, Renault says 2021 will be volatile
By Gilles Guillaume
PARIS (Reuters) – Renault said on Friday it is still fighting the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, including a shortage of semiconductor chips, that could make for another rough year for the French carmaker.
Renault reported an 8 billion euro ($9.7 billion) loss for 2020 which, combined with gloomy take on the market, sent its shares down more than 5% in late morning trading.
“We are in the midst of a battle to try to manage a difficult year in terms of supply chains, of components,” Chief Executive Luca de Meo told reporters. “This is all the collateral damage of the Covid pandemic… we will have a fairly volatile year.”
De Meo, who took over last July, is looking at ways to boost profitability and sales at Renault while pushing ahead with cost cuts. There were early signs of improving momentum as margins inched up in the second half of 2020.
The group gave no financial guidance for this year, although it said it might reach a target of achieving 2 billion euros in costs cuts by 2023 ahead of time, possibly by December.
Executives said they were confident the carmaker could be profitable in the second half of 2021, but that they lacked sufficient market visibility to provide a forecast.
Renault struck a cautious note, saying it was focused on its recovery but warned orders had faltered in early 2021 as pandemic restrictions continued in some countries.
The group is facing new challenges as the European Union tightens emissions regulations and after rivals PSA and Fiat Chrysler joined forces to create Stellantis, the world’s fourth-biggest automaker.
The auto industry endured a tough 2020 but a swift rebound in premium car sales in China helped companies such as Volkswagen and Daimler to weather the storm.
Auto companies globally have since been hit by a shortage of semiconductors that has forced production cuts worldwide.
“The beginning of the year has shown some signs of weakness,” De Meo told analysts, but added the chip shortage should be resolved by the second half of 2021. “We have taken the necessary measures to anticipate and overcome challenges.”
Renault estimated the chip shortage could reduce its production by about 100,000 vehicles this year.
The group was already loss-making in 2019, but took a sharp hit in 2020 during lockdowns to fight the pandemic, which also hurt its Japanese partner Nissan.
Analysts polled by Refinitiv had expected a 7.4 billion euro loss for 2020. The group posted negative free cash flow for 2020.
The 2018 arrest of Carlos Ghosn, who formerly lead the alliance between Renault and Nissan, plunged the automakers into turmoil.
In a further sign that the companies have been working to repair the alliance, De Meo told journalists that Renault and Nissan will announce new joint products together in the coming weeks or months.
Renault has begun to raise prices on some car models, and group operating profit, which was negative for 2020 as a whole, improved in the last six months of the year, reaching 866 million euros or 3.5% of revenue.
Analysts at Jefferies said the operating performance was better than expected. Sales were still falling in the second half, but less sharply.
Renault is slashing jobs and trimming its range of cars, allowing it to slice spending in areas like research and development as it focuses on redressing its finances. It is also pivoting more towards electric cars as part of its revamp.
It was already struggling more than some rivals with sliding sales before the pandemic, after years of a vast expansion drive it is now trying to rein in, focusing on profitable markets.
De Meo told journalists on Friday that the French carmaker will make three new higher-margin models at its Palencia plant in Spain, where manufacturing costs are lower, between 2022 and 2024.
($1 = 0.8269 euros)
(Reporting by Gilles Guillaume and Sarah White in Paris, Nick Carey in London; Editing by Christopher Cushing, David Evans and Jan Harvey)
UK delays review of business rates tax until autumn
LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s finance ministry said it would delay publication of its review of business rates – a tax paid by companies based on the value of the property they occupy – until the autumn when the economic outlook should be clearer.
Many companies are demanding reductions in their business rates to help them compete with online retailers.
“Due to the ongoing and wide-ranging impacts of the pandemic and economic uncertainty, the government said the review’s final report would be released later in the year when there is more clarity on the long-term state of the economy and the public finances,” the ministry said.
Finance minister Rishi Sunak has granted a temporary business rates exemption to companies in the retail, hospitality, and leisure sectors, costing over 10 billion pounds ($14 billion). Sunak is due to announce his next round of support measures for the economy on March 3.
($1 = 0.7152 pounds)
(Writing by William Schomberg, editing by David Milliken)
Discounter Pepco has all of Europe in its sights
By James Davey
LONDON (Reuters) – Pepco Group, which owns British discount retailer Poundland, has targeted 400 store openings across Europe in its 2020-21 financial year as it expands its PEPCO brand beyond central and eastern Europe, its boss said on Friday.
The group opened a net 327 new stores in its 2019-20 year, taking the total to 3,021 in 15 countries. The PEPCO brand entered western Europe for the first time with openings in Italy and it plans its first foray into Spain in April or May.
Chief Executive Andy Bond said its five stores in Italy have traded “super well” so far.
“That’s given us a lot of confidence that we can now start building PEPCO into western Europe and that expands our market opportunity from roughly 100 million people (in central and eastern Europe) to roughly 500 million people,” he told Reuters.
To further illustrate the brand’s potential he noted that the group has more than 1,000 PEPCO shops in Poland, which has a significantly smaller population and gross domestic product than Italy or Spain.
The company, which also owns the Dealz brand in Europe but does not trade online, has already opened more than 100 of the targeted 400 new stores this financial year.
Pepco Group is part of South African conglomerate Steinhoff, which is still battling the fallout of a 2017 accounting scandal.
Since 2019 Steinhoff and its creditors have been evaluating a range of strategic options for Pepco Group, including a potential public listing, private equity sale or trade sale.
That process was delayed by the pandemic, but Steinhoff said last month that it had resumed.
“The business will be up for sale at the right time. It’s a case of when, rather than if,” said Bond, a former boss of British supermarket chain Asda.
Pepco Group on Friday reported a 31% drop in full-year core earnings, citing temporary coronavirus-related store closures.
Underlying earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) were 229 million euros ($277 million) for the year to Sept. 30, against 331 million euros the previous year.
Sales rose 3% to 3.5 billion euros, reflecting new store openings.
($1 = 0.8279 euros)
(Reporting by James Davey; Editing by David Goodman)
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