Gary Reynolds and Oscar Nelson are helping craft the Oregon cannabis landscape
Gary Reynolds and Oscar Nelson are two craft cannabis connoisseurs who found a passion for retail before entering the cannabis market. As the Co-Founders of Sweet Relief, they’ve grown a retail chain currently consisting of 5 dispensaries, a grow facility, as well as a hydroponics store all located in northwest Oregon. They’ve worked tirelessly towards building a craft cannabis brand that is solidified within the Oregon market that they actually help mold as sitting board members of the Oregon Cannabis Association. MRR sat down with the two ganjapreneurs to talk about craft cannabis, the Oregon market, and what it takes to make it in the retail cannabis industry.
Marijuana Retail Report: Guys thanks for much for joining us, first off, what drew you to the cannabis space and starting Sweet Relief originally?
Gary Reynolds – President / Co-Founder of Sweet Relief: Me and Oscar started a garden (hydroponics) store around 8 years ago and we just enjoyed helping people who were on the medical side of things. We saw a lot of people get better from treatments including a few cancer patients that really benefited from it. I know that there is no established science due to its scheduling, but when we saw a lot of people get better from its usage we developed a passion for cannabis. Then once the Governor signed the bill, we said ‘We can do this’, and now we have 5 dispensaries along with the garden store, and we are working on the grow facility as we speak.
Marijuana Retail Report: What made you want to be more vertically integrated?
Oscar Nelson – CEO / Co-Founder of Sweet Relief: In any industry, the person that touches the customer last holds the keys to the kingdom. So we went and we got the retail outlets while the green rush was going on. We knew it was going to be a dogfight, and that’s what we are seeing right now to this day. It was also always in the plans for us to have our own supply. Thankfully things just happened organically where we had someone from my past who was willing to lease us land and got a building set. You know being able to have your own product brought out to the retail outlets is just a solid business plan for any industry. That’s always been the goal and the dream to be able to have great products for our customers as well as great strain varieties. Vertical integration is just… I mean from Starbucks to Dairy Queen… in any commodity the more of the supply chain that you control the better off you are.
Marijuana Retail Report: How do you guys decide which strains to go with? Do you have your own strains?
Gary Reynolds: We have our own strains as well as a pretty expensive seed bank built up. Honestly can’t wait to get to growing so we can try some of these genetics that we’ve been holding on to. It’s been a part of our passion for a few years. But we just want to get the best product to the consumer, to be honest. We are also going to work on integrating CBD into our retail strategy because it is an expanding part of the industry and so we want to implement that in some of the products we will be coming out with. It’s just our passion to try to grow the best cannabis for the consumer that we can.
Oscar Nelson: Sticky Bitch is a strain that kinda fell into Dawna and Gary’s lap and it’s been huge testing at over 32% THC. The market and the quality and the testing process drives sort of our choices, but our passion and what we like to do is bring back some of those old school strains that a lot of people were lost and gone. Like old school Colombian Sativa’s, the kind of hard to find strains that the Vietnam era guys loved and they thought were lost and honestly, not all of them are. There are some really good phenotypes out there can give kind of an old-school stone. Bringing back those old genetics are important to us and the consumer.
Marijuana Retail Report: What kind of sales trends have you noticed in Oregon State?
Gary Reynolds: Definitely CBD products and as we’ve mentioned we are integrating that but the flower is our foundation. Everyone loves good quality flowers to smoke. Aside from flower, the disposable pen tips are a big part of our market. Edibles are popular but can be a hassle. Finding the edibles people want is kind of a juggle because there are so many out there, and as soon as someone tries something and likes it the next thing comes out. So that’s always a juggle to find out what is actually going to sell for you in the end and in the long run.
Oscar Nelson: To us also having a variety of solutions is key. I mean, there are so many reasons why people use cannabis that ensuring you have a solution for each possible situation is what it’s all about. People knowing that they can walk into a Sweet Relief and leave with something that’s going to work for what they are needing is our mission. We need to be, and have always strived to be, a kind of mini-market of cannabis where you as a consumer know that if you are in our store for this or that or the other thing, that you can come in and use us as a one stop shop for everything you could possibly want.
Marijuana Retail Report: Can you tell me a little bit about your process into deciding which products make it on the floor?
Oscar Nelson: It’s pretty organic at the moment. We do have a product intake manager that tests samples but a lot of it is how the business behind the product operates. What I mean by that is how easy is the process to purchase and reorder from that company? If we can get a great product, that’s fantastic. But if we can’t reorder that product and have consistent availability for our customers, then even if its the best product in the world we might not be able to sell it because we couldn’t really put our name behind it. It’s fairly fluid, but it’s a balance between giving the customer the best possible product as well how easy is it to do business with that brand to make sure we can put our name behind it and unfortunately it’s a constantly changing environment.
Gary Reynolds: An example of the changing environment Oscar was talking about is i’ll have a vendor for 6 or 8 months and then all of the sudden the product changes its formula and we notice its not as consistent as it once was. Now we have to slowly stop doing business with them while at the same time find a viable replacement for our customers so there is a seamless transition. To be honest, that actually happens quite frequently. Another more extreme example is one day businesses are there, and the next they disappear. That seems to be happening more often now. People trying to be in the industry and they just can’t make it.
Marijuana Retail Report: How are you guys ensuring your own survival amongst a volatile market?
Gary Reynolds: It’s all about constant improvement and never becoming complacent. If you get complacent in this industry, you are going to get left behind.
Oscar Nelson: Gary is absolutely right. It’s also being in the shops. I remember back in college there was a Japanese saying “just go and see”. Seeing what’s going on, seeing the numbers, seeing whats moving, talking to the employees. Just see what’s working and make small adjustments where necessary. You know sometimes i’ve made big changes quickly and it’s brought the roof down on us. I’ve learned from that. Small, constant tweaks of improvement just like Gary said has definitely paid dividends for us.
Gary Reynolds: I mean thankfully we are a little bit ahead of everyone and we live a pretty frugal life we don’t live like a lot of cannabis ‘ballers’. We live simple because we know we have a long road ahead of us. We are trying to get ahead in this industry and anything can happen at any time. It’s also about having good people working for you that have the same dream and hopes that you do. But you still have to prepare for the unexpected. Every single hoop we’ve had to jump through, from medical until now, I mean Oscar and I have lost thousands of dollars just because of a change of labeling, or because we can’t sell some product anymore. It’s been a costly endeavor because of the changes, but thankfully a lot of those changes are slowing down and getting smaller. The regulations are settling and everyone knows what they have to do, so that’s gotten way better. There is definitely not as many hoops to jump through as there was when they were trying to get it right but you still have to be prepared for change.
Marijuana Retail Report: If there was one piece of advice you could give to fellow retailers, what would it be?
Oscar Nelson: Echoing what Gary just said I mean don’t assume anything is permanent. You have to be willing to ride the rapids in this industry. Something that has really stuck with us in the beginning when we started these shops was a phrase I heard over and over when I called around talking to all of the shops in Colorado asking their advice and they said “Those who played together, stayed together. The lone wolf dies off” and we believe in that. So we’re on the board of directors for the Oregon Cannabis Association trying to be a part of the community, but it’s the guys who think they got it all figured out, the ones who come in cocky and arrogant, those are the ones who get shunned. You never know when you may need someone or someone may need you and that’s the mindset you should have going in.
Marijuana Retail Report: Being on the board of the Oregon Cannabis Association, what are some changes you would like to see?
Oscar Nelson: We got a glut of inventory and we absolutely have to make it easier for people so they have better access to cannabis. We need social consumption first and foremost just like a bar. If someone wants to choose to use cannabis instead of alcohol, they need a safe place to do so and socialize. Like me? I’m an ex-alcoholic. If I wanted to go out and socialize at a bar, i’d have to drink to really be a part of that social scene. Now if I wanted to be social and smoke, I can’t do that in Oregon. The joke is that cannabis is legal, but there are only two stipulations, you cant use it inside and you can’t use it outside and that’s really how they are treating it here in Oregon. So social consumption is first and then second would be being able to deliver to hotels and motels. Having it so that we can only deliver a product to a private residence means is incredibly limiting and coupled with tourists not being able to smoke it destroys the tourism market. Oregon is the napa valley of weed. We are known worldwide for our fucking pot and the fact that we can only offer tourists edibles, because they can’t legally smoke anywhere, when we are known for our flower is a huge disadvantage for the tourism aspect and for our global brand of Oregon flower that our community is trying to build and maintain.
Marijuana Retail Report: So what’s next for you guys?
Gary Reynolds: Retirement hahaha.
Oscar Nelson: In the immediate future rolling out and maintaining a really well-executed delivery to all of our locations. We want to be the dominos of pot for the areas we service were we drive up, process the order after you chose your products from a couple buttons on your phone like we are amazon.
Gary Reynolds: People always ask me “why don’t you go to Vegas or why don’t you go to Cali?” Cause I don’t wanna be. I like where we live and work and we are an engaged part of our community. We want to focus on the Northwest corner of Oregon. If a shop pops up maybe somewhere else in Oregon and if it makes sense we will grab it but it’s not really on our agenda.