This description is unfair, some may say. There’s the wonderful A14 A1-M1 link road, a Wetherspoons that has a loose approach to underage drinking, and its location means it’s easy to get somewhere interesting quickly.
But six vape stores? How can a provincial town possibly have enough vapers to support such a situation?
Walking through the centre on a Tuesday afternoon, the Vape Store greets you from the municipal car park. Two shops away lies Ecigwizard, which in turn is separated from the Socialites stand in the shopping centre by the time it takes to consume a lukewarm sausage roll from Greggs.
What is noticeable about all three is that they have no customers. A single employee mans each one with one of them expressing extreme surprise when I entered. People mill about outside, possibly on their way to Marks and Spencers before it completes its planned closure, but none of them are vaping.
It’s a different experience as you move slightly out of the town centre. Sitting near the site of a now derelict hotel, Audacious Vapes has a steady stream of people entering and leaving. In addition to the plethora of equipment under the glass-topped counter, there are shelves groaning under an extensive range of juices – and one wall contains a tasting section compromising of around forty mods and flavours.
“Many people saw vaping as an opportunity to make some quick money,” a member of staff told me. “The problem is, for them, that they didn’t understand how to run a business or what the market wanted.”
The comparison is real. While a couple of the other shops offered a limited selection, Audacious focussed on giving vapers what they were actually after. Setting up as an online only outlet, Audacious quickly outgrew its ability to operate from a bedroom.
Moving into the store removed from the main thoroughfare meant that Audacious avoids the window-shoppers who will talk for ages but buy little. People are making an effort to visit the highly rated shop with an intention to get something and it’s made the bricks & mortar side of the business as profitable as its original online counterpart.
“I think some of the trade is now waiting for their leases to expire,” the manager added. “They thought they could simply sell cheap imports from China and turn a profit but have discovered it’s harder than that. What we offer is quality in our range and competitive prices and good customer service.”
The BBC is reporting a similar situation across the country. They quote a vape business owner saying the market is now “saturated” with shops – and that the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) had a huge impact on profits as wholesalers discounted the price of old non-TPD compliant stocks.
“A lot of shops will be shutting," their interviewee said. This will definitely be the case but, in the town of Ketter's people, Audacious Vapes looks to be one of the businesses that will continue to thrive.