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April 2019 - The Gremlin Story

Posted by Rich on

The Gremlin Story

I guess this all started when I took a temp job with a major call center doing tech support for Microsoft Publisher. It was a big release for them in the 90’s and they brought in a room full of people to answer all the calls from customers. There were about 30 of us. After a week of training, the release date finally came, and we all showed up for work ready to answer all those calls. As it turns out there were only about 10 calls a day (for the room of 30 people to answer them) so within a few days they sent most of us to different software areas which was incredible on their part for not just letting everyone go!

I had played with Corel Draw for a year or two before this so I was familiar with a little bit of Graphic Design, but nothing official or “real” school education, and while we were all in the room bored, I happened to sit next to a guy that was using Photoshop to literally paint while he waited for his phone to ring. I was absolutely fascinated with what he was doing! So, when they started calling names (at random) I was called to join a group that was going to support “Adobe PageMaker”. It is (was?) a page layout software for creating newsletters, flyers, stories, etc. As I walked by the manager, I mentioned that I did have some experience with Corel… “Oh good, you join the Photoshop group please” YAY!

(What does this have to do with Gremlins? Patience, we'll get there soon)

  It was a bit scary because Photoshop was something I had never played with or even used. It wasn’t too bad because there were of course scripts to follow in a database. Just type in the problem and read the answer. Within a few months I had learned a LOT about the software and was fairly intimate with the details of how to use it. I should mention now that we are talking about Photoshop version 3.5, the first version that you had layers! LOL Still only one “undo” meaning if you did something wrong or erased something too far, you were probably screwed unless you knew what you were doing. There were a lot of calls on that issue. “I accidentally erased a layer and it is really important!!!” Ooooh, sorry to hear that. You’re screwed.

I have to admit, in the beginning it was a dream job. I was paid well to sit at a desk and play with photoshop all day. Most days I would open a blank canvas at the beginning of my shift and let the day take me to the finish adding a bit to the image with every call. "How do I do this?" and during the answer I would work along with them, so I knew I wasn't forgetting anything. Most days the end of the day I simply deleted the days "doodle" and not think twice, but every now and then something really cool would be on the screen that I just couldn't delete. (I still have them around somewhere) My favorite I think was a picture of the Taj Mahal with flying goldfish that had arms eyes and lips. Definitely out of someone’s nightmares!

I'm attaching a digital painting from that era of my life when I was working with Photoshop often enough to be able to paint with it (WACOM tablet was and is still used)

So, Photoshop was a wonderful experience, except… It was a tech support job. I was required to answer 34 calls per day and keep the times under 3 minutes. Do THAT math in your head and you will quickly realize that I wasn’t there to actually help anyone, I was there to answer the phone, give them something to try and tell them to call back if it doesn’t work. There was normally about 45 minutes to an hour of wait time on hold to talk to one of us (there were 16 of us) so when you answered a call they were pissed off, and then even more angry when you tell them to “try this and call back”. It was without a doubt, the worst experience of my life. I live to make people happy, and I spent a couple years answering the phone all day knowing that every time I pick up the phone, it was someone that hated me, blamed me for all their problems, yelled about how much I suck… it became almost impossible for me to answer the phone when it rang. This was well over 20 years ago and to this day it is still VERY hard for me to answer the phone when it rings. (Those of you who have tried to call me know this very well! LOL)

Next Email: OK, so what does this have to do with Gremlin Juice? You'll learn more on Friday morning!

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However, nightmare job aside, that job introduced me to an expert level usage of Photoshop, and the other guys in the queue were awesome and introduced me to a new software called “Poser” that was simply a software that had models of people and animals that you can pose however you like, and catalogs of clothing, hair, props, etc. Back then, the people were very plastic looking, but there was a character that was fun to play with, it was a simple Gremlin character that was easy to pose. Because of where I was, I HAD to play with Photoshop for a living, so I would take a photograph and use Poser to create the gremlin to put into the photo adding shadows and things to make it as real as possible.

When you spend 8 hours a day playing with this, you get pretty good at it. I was setting up props and things on desks or anywhere really and started making 5 different Gremlins per photo. One was the leader, one was always doing something he wasn’t supposed to be doing, two worked together at something and the fifth was there to fill the image, much like a Baritone in a Barber shop Quartet group. (They sing all the notes that the other three parts don’t)

Next Email: Life after Adobe leads to teaching and more time to play with the Gremlins

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After leaving Adobe, I moved on in life and was lucky enough to find an opening for a Graphic Design teacher at an adult education facility. I was able to use the experience with tech support to get the job. It was a two-part course, one month was web design and HTML, and the second 30 days was Graphic Design using Pain Shop Pro (A free version of something similar to Photoshop). There was so little to the course I used Poser and Bryce as something for people to play with when they were done with assignments. It was a really fun class to teach, and the people were wonderful and are still friends today. But it again let me use Poser and photoshop and continue the Gremlin artwork. It was getting easier and easier to use Photoshop to combine the Poser models with actual places to the point that most people that see the pictures I was making thought I had Gremlin toys I was taking pictures of and thus thought it was a really stupid hobby. (I was the guy that took pictures of toys! LOL)

After teaching ended, I floated around a few jobs that don’t have anything to do with this particular story, but I ended up getting a job at a place that I will mention only as it was there that I discovered vaping completely by a planned accident. By this time, I had been smoking for 30 years and had tried everything from patches to pills. Nothing worked for long so unfortunately, I had pretty much given up trying to quit smoking. It was torture. A guy I worked with had been telling me about this vaping thing, but again, I had given up trying to quit so I wasn’t interested.

Next Email: Finally, something about vaping!

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As it turns out, I was Downtown (Olympia) at a graphics shop to get some artwork printed, and there was a vape shop a block away. I was walking over smoking the last cigarette of the pack, figuring I would get another pack on the drive home. I put out that cigarette on the sidewalk outside the vape shop (as was the custom back then) and went in. I do remember feeling like I was interrupting their conversation, but knowing nothing about what I was looking at, I had questions. Most of which went unanswered because it was generally met with a “sigh” and a dumbed down explanation to what I was asking. He finally just handed me a vape pen and showed me how to use it, filled it with a chocolate flavor and had me go sit at a table and try it for a while. It did taste REALLY good to me, and even though there was really no customer service to mention, I bought the vape pen and a bottle of chocolate, and a strawberry too and out the door I went.

I was now in my car, puffing on chocolate as I drove past the mini mart where I was planning to stop for smokes. I was thinking “Marlboro or chocolate… I’ll try the chocolate!” and I did. I’m not saying it was simple at all, for the next week it was REALLY hard a few times to not get in the car to get a pack of smokes, but I just puffed on my chocolate and strawberries until the craving went away and it just got a little easier every day. With vaping I could still go out and join the smokers for my normal breaks so I wasn't sitting at my desk suffering craving a smoke. Instead I was outside with my normal group every hour or two puffing on chocolate instead of Marlboro. After a few days or a week of this it got easier, especially if it happened to be cold or raining, I could stand at my window looking at them all huddled together for warmth while I was in my office puffing on my chocolate. Those days really made it easy to not want a cigarette!

Next Email: Where do you get YOUR juice from?

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Other than that one vape shop that I didn’t want to give my money to as they weren’t worth my personal time, I had to order juice online. This meant I would go online, find a flavor that looked good, pay too much, wait too long, and ultimately not like it so I would have to order something else and repeat the process. Within a month or two I was tired of it and looked up how THEY make it. It seemed too easy. I love to cook, so this sounded like fun!It was simply a flavor and some PG/VG (whatever THOSE were) and some liquid nicotine.So I placed an order with a place called High Dessert Vapes that sold flavors and had everything I needed to make my own. After getting all the supplies in the mail, I was instantly rewarded with a bottle of juice that was exactly the flavor I wanted, the perfect strength, and everything about it was, well, perfect!

Soon after, I also found Wizard Labs and TPA, and every week I placed orders with them and soon had an old camera case filled with small vials of flavors that I was playing with. I was the printer at the business where I worked, so I had the print room all to myself. This meant that I had a lot of room to bring in my camera case and on breaks I would play with flavors and make myself bottles of juice. It was bad, I would fill a tank with a new flavor I made, then I was on to another flavor I made. The nicotine was the most expensive part, so I went from 12mg to 6mg within the first month of vaping, then from 6mg to zero as I started to make my own simply because I was too cheap to worry about it and I was making so many every day it just wasn’t worth it. I did find there were a few other people at work that vaped so they started coming to the print room to get my extras.

Next Email: What to do when you make too much juice to vape on your own

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Being the place I mixed the most was during breaks at work, this meant that I had a pretty good collection by Friday and it was actually too much for any one person to vape, and even the people at work couldn’t keep up with it all. I was on Reddit back then and saw a lot of people that were getting into vaping but for whatever reason couldn’t afford the juice, and here I was with an abundant supply. So, I made some labels (Remember, I have that design past, so label design wasn’t an issue) and put together 5 or 10 bottles and sent them to people that needed them. I would make the nic whatever they needed, and so it began. Every Friday I would use my lunch hour to find someone who needed juice and would chat with them and give away free juice.

A couple people made a post about me giving them free juice, and others joined in loving the idea, and sent me messages to make the give away public. It really didn’t make sense to me, I mean I saw it as this person needed some, I had some… it wasn’t a big deal. I thought that making it public was a bit silly and it felt like I was just looking for attention or something, but I caved and took the advise of the people and started “Free Friday” on Reddit. Every Friday I would give away free juice to “someone who needed it, deserved it, or I just felt like it” figuring that statement covered all the bases. It was not a drawing or a contest, it really was just a way for me to lean off my desk every week.

Next Email: “You should sell this stuff!”

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This went on for a I think a few months and gained popularity over that time when the unexpected (to me at least) happened. The people that were receiving the free juice would meet up on Reddit every week and tell everyone else how much they liked it, and how cool it was and I was constantly being told “Dude, you should sell this!” Ya, right. I’m just mixing during my break at work, this isn’t a “real job” or anything, but asking in the public forums, people were all wanting to know where they could buy this stuff. So… I had labels, I have 5 or 6 really good strong recipes, I knew what other shops did that I did NOT like, so I figured, what the hell, let’s try this.

I need to interject here for just a moment… I spent a LOT of years as a musician, most of that time was spent in my band Midnight Magic (which would have it’s own story about this same length!) but because I spent so many years with Midnight Magic, my new business was going to be Midnight Vapor. I loved the name, it fit who I was, and well, it just worked for me. OK, Back to the story…

I got the logo done, the labels finished, and it was all going great. I had it all done but the business license to make it all legit. Midnight Vapor was about to become a reality! I logged on to the state website and was filling out the for my new business license and Midnight Vapor was already taken. I just stared at the screen not sure what to do, everything I had created was Midnight Vapor, now it was all undone. I tried a few other names and they were ALL taken. After a few tries with names, and nothing working, I looked over and my laptop was open with Poser on the screen… I was working on a new Gremlin image. “Gremlin Juice” was put in to the company name box, and it took it. Well, OK then.

May 17th, 2013… Gremlin Juice is born.

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I set up the website, recreated all the artwork, and logo and labels, and, and, and… then the following Free Friday I was able to announce the opening of the website and it was a HUGE success. It started with just 5 flavors,

Blue Gremlin (Blueberry Waffles)
Red Gremlin (Red Hot Cinnamon)
Purple Gremlin (Grape Bubblegum)
White Gremlin (Cake with berry filling and white chocolate frosting)
Orange Gremlin (Orange of course)

Other flavors were added quickly and too many to keep using the Gremlin theme for all of them, but those original flavors are still around. Blue Gremlin was one of our top flavors for a LOT of years.

Like ALL other companies back then, this was all being run out of our house in a spare bedroom that was smaller than my current office is now. Flavors for making juice were purchased in 4oz bottles, and when business really picked up, I was thrilled to order 16oz bottles. Everything was so new and exciting then. It was all so competitive that there was no help from anyone anywhere so anything we did, we had to invent our own process for. This included inventory which I smile to think about. I was looking for a good system for tracking how much flavoring I was using and how much remained and all anyone ever told me was "When it's low, order more." Yes, but isn't there something to let me know? I mean, if I had 135ml of flavor, and each bottle uses 12 or 13ml, then how many bottles will remain after these orders?

OK, Now I not only get it, but I'm laughing at myself. I agree with all those people. Just look at the bottle. Is it low? OK, order more. Stop making simple things difficult. (I still have a bad habit of making things harder than they need)

I was still working my day job, so I was filling juice orders at night and dropping them off at the post office the next morning on the way to work. By August of the same year, I was making more running Gremlin Juice than I was at my day job, so we took the plunge, I quit my job and ran the juice business full time now. Josh joined me in the mix room because I was getting too many orders to fill myself and hadn't quite come up with a good system for mass producing anything.

Free Fridays were still going strong and it was popular enough that a few other start up companies joined me with guest appearances and gave away some of their own E-juice and things.

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After only a month or two it outgrew the spare room and took over another room in the house that is around 500 square feet. 2 filling stations and an area for packing and shipping. We now had scheduled pickups from USPS as well as regular deliveries from the UPS guy. The house was filling up with all things business (Printers and work stations, boxes and packing materials etc) and there were now 4 of us filling orders. It just kept growing and wasn’t long before we needed to find a large enough place to hold it all and do it right. It was exciting and more than just a bit scary. I never thought about owning a home business, but here we were, and it out grew the home.

We found a place near by that had a closed off area that was easily turned into a clean room, plus an area for packing, shipping, storage, it had it all. We moved in to Clearbrook Business Park back in June of 2014 and are still there as of the writing of this bio.

It was also around that time I gave in to the peer pressure from people that were not shy about voicing their opinions. “I won’t buy from them, their mascot freaks me out”. Really. This was a comment that I saw more than once. So, I sent Abe to the background and found Eepo. She was a Gremlin, but I thought was a cute Gremlin. I let her take over the show for all the ads and promotions. Eepo is still our official mascot alongside Abe and the boys. I try not to use the Gremlins too often for ads and promotions, not because of comments any longer, but with the industry pointing fingers at businesses "marketing to children", I didn't want anyone to think that about us. I like my Gremlins, other people like my Gremlins, they are not a ploy to get children to buy nicotine. But as long as the majority believe that adults don't like chocolate, we have to be careful of anything fun or playful about our company, even though I myself am simply an overgrown child myself. I like chocolate, I like Gremlins.

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This was and is still a family owned and run business. For a long time (and even still now I’m dubious of how much to share with the world), I liked to try to keep the appearance of being a large company. I mean we ARE a large company and have for many years sold our product around the world but the competition and the FDA were not my friends. A few years back everyone that learned how to make juice decided to become a business and were making and selling out of their homes, just like we did in the beginning. The problem is, now we had salaries for a large and growing staff, rent on a facility, all the packing and shipping supplies, bottles, boxes, insurance, business licenses, and of course all the government fees that they invent… it costs a LOT to run the place, and we found it harder and harder to compete with the 50 new “shops” that were appearing on a daily basis. Sales started to decline, and in 2015, it was looking like the government was going to shut it all down so I scrambled to find a new business to get in to. We had the warehouse, the staff, and everything in place to start carrying all the flavors to open the DIY shop. We invested tens of thousands of dollars into filling racks upon racks with flavors from a lot of popular brands and added more as people requested them.

A lot of brands have come in and gone out, we are always trying to keep up with the latest fads, recipes and hot flavors and brands. Taking a chance on new brands has both paid off and cost us thousands. Inventory has become a daily chore and can easily consume an entire day now making sure we don’t sell out of anything, but at the same time not ordering too much of something that won’t sell.

August 1st, 2015 was our Grand Opening for Gremlin DIY. 

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My daily life is currently getting to work at 9am and sitting at my desk for the first hour doing paperwork, banking, ordering or other office related stuff. Maybe a good series of emails can be a daily journal of what my normal day is through a weeks work. Anyway, this gives Morgan time to print all the orders for the day and organize them, and around 10am we are ready to start filling the days orders, both Juice and DIY. On a “normal” day, meaning no sale or big weekend, we are able to fill all the orders in a single day. We try to do what we now call our “Noon Print” which simply put is any orders that come in before noon we try to get to today with Noon being the cutoff point. Anything after noon will wait for tomorrow morning. This is why if you order at 11:30, you may see a tracking number within a few minutes, but if you order a half hour later, you won’t see one until tomorrow.