What began as a two-man venture in Loxley has grown into one of the largest e-liquid manufacturing companies in the world. Cyclops Vapor now has 20 employees and occupies a 13,000-square-foot building in Daphne known as “Mount Olympus.”
Zack Carpenter, 35, was a commercial and residential painter before he became involved in the e-liquid industry. His business partner, Gary Lambert, 36, was a real estate broker. Both grew up in Mobile.
The two first became friends when they learned they were both married to women named Alana.
“That’s kind of how our friendship tied up,” Carpenter said. “We were sitting there talking one day and I was like, ‘I’m going to have to talk to Alana about that,’ and he looked at me all crazy … and said, ‘My wife’s named Alana.’”
Through his marriage, Carpenter has three girls.
“That was part of my reason for stopping smoking. I was tired of killing myself and I was tired of being a bad influence on my children,” Carpenter said.
The name Cyclops came about as a reference to Carpenter’s left-eye blindness, Lambert’s extraordinary height and their shared interest in Greek mythology.
When they first began producing e-liquid, the partners delivered their product to each individual vapor store in their truck. They now ship their product to 800 stores in the United States and to 14 other countries.
When Carpenter and Lambert got into the business in early 2013, the e-liquid manufacturing industry was still an open market. Now, as companies like Cyclops, Space Jam, Cosmic Fog and Suicide Bunny expand, it is harder for new companies to enter.
In order to set itself apart from its competitors, Cyclops strives to be the leader in clean and safe manufacturing even before the FDA finalizes industry regulations.
“[E-liquid] can be made in somebody’s garage and sold in a store,” Carpenter said. “We set standards for what we think it should be and where it should go whenever the regulations actually hit.”
When asked what exact standards Cyclops follows, Carpenter listed several.
“Making sure the nicotine is at the correct level. Making sure it’s a pure product when people get it. … We’re inhaling this. It goes into our lungs. We want to make sure there are no other contaminants in it.”
In order to accomplish this, Cyclops claims some of the best facilities in the business.
“We have an ISO-7 Cleanroom that everything is manufactured in,” Carpenter said. “We test everything when it comes in and we test it before it goes back out again. Everybody in those areas is properly trained to handle the nicotine, to test it properly and make sure everybody gets a consistent product whenever they buy it.”
“None of these things are required now,” Lambert emphasized. “The FDA is going to have regulations come down and we want to be doing it the way they require it to be done.”
Cyclops is also trying to focus on the energy efficiency of its manufacturing process.
“It’s actually one of the most energy-efficient buildings in Alabama,” Carpenter said. “Our power bill varies anywhere from four to six hundred bucks a month to run a 13,000-square-foot building. All LED lights … We keep it at 68 degrees year round.”
Child safety is also something the folks at Cyclops strive to achieve.
“We use child-resistant caps on everything we put out the door … We don’t market to children. Our stuff is adult-oriented. You have some companies that put candy flavors on the front of their products.”
As for the flavors Cyclops puts out, Lambert and Carpenter are purists. They started with two but expanded to six. By October they planned to introduce three more.
“Two and a half years later and we still only have six flavors,” Carpenter said. “Some companies will put out 30 or 40 flavors, 200 flavors. We don’t believe in that. If it’s not to its full potential, it doesn’t go to anybody.”
As for their favorite flavors, Lambert’s is Hades, the roasted coffee flavor. Carpenter’s is Colossus, the custard flavor, which he said he made especially to suit his tastes.
Although Cyclops is a rapidly growing enterprise, Lambert and Carpenter still keep the atmosphere at Mount Olympus fairly casual.
“We just have fun with it. We have an industry that needs a lot of professionalism in it but we don’t have to come here in a suit and tie. Everyone can enjoy what we do here as long as we’re producing and growing like we need to.”
As for the marketing side of the business, Cyclops likes to keep it casual as well. All of the graphics for their products and brand are created by the lead designer of the “God of War” video games.
One of the biggest problems Cyclops faces is avoiding increasingly heavy taxation.
“We fight every day,” Carpenter said. “They’re trying to tax us in Alabama right now. They’re trying to label us with tobacco when we’re not a tobacco product … That’s what I spend half of my time doing now — advocacy work.”
The campaign to regulate the vaping industry is occurring not only in Alabama but on a nationwide scale.
“Basically they have a campaign in California right now called ‘Still Blowing Smoke.’ They’ve spent $70 million on this campaign to smash vaping … It’s all got to do with tax dollars that tobacco is losing.”
A report recently published in the U.K. claimed vaping is 95 percent safer than smoking and could save 80,000 lives per year.
“[Customers] embraced it because it means health to them,” Carpenter said. “Here in the States, it all revolves around money.”
Health is one of the reasons Carpenter began vaping in the first place.
“I was a two-pack-a-day smoker and I haven’t touched a cigarette in well over six years now.”
Carpenter is not alone. Many people addicted to cigarettes have switched to vaping and have been successful in quitting.
“Those stories just keep adding up,” he said. “We enjoy what we do here. It’s not just about the profits. We have the ability to help people and it’s pretty awesome.”
When asked if they had anything they would like to tell the Mobile and Baldwin county communities, Carpenter had some advice.
“Quit smoking. Start vaping. It just works. I can sleep good at night knowing that what we’re doing is helping people.”
This article was updated to correct misspelling and clarify the company’s offering of flavors.