We sat down with Greg to discuss the industry in the Pacific Northwest
Greg James founded TOPICS Entertainment in 1990 and maintains an active role as the company’s chief executive and prime motivator. With nearly two decades of experience in the publishing industry, Greg has built TOPICS into a formidable multi-million dollar enterprise by establishing strong partnerships with top-tier global brands such as National Geographic, Kaplan, Rand McNally and World Book. In March of 2014, Greg launched Marijuana Venture as an information source for cannabis entrepreneurs, as well as runs several small industry events in the Seattle area. Most recently last year, Greg launched the B2B only RAD Expo in Portland as an answer for the industry in the Pacific North West. We sat down with Greg to discuss what brought him to the industry and what it takes to put on a convention in the cannabis space.
Marijuana Retail Report: Thanks for taking the time with us today Greg. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and what brought you to the industry?
Greg James: Yeah, so I spent about 20 years in the CD-ROM / DVD distribution business. I had a company called TOPICS Entertainment, grew it to about 60 million a year in sales. We used to sell to all the big retailers like Costco, Best Buy, Amazon, Target, Walmart and unfortunately the biz kind of went away over the last few years. So I had a big warehouse office building for rent in Washington that was 120,000 square feet and I own a pretty good sized ranch in north-central Washington, and so when marijuana got legalized I started to get calls from long lost buddies who were interested in either renting some of my warehouse space for grows or leasing land in eastern Washington to grow outdoor weed.
Well I didn’t do either but the net result of that got me thinking god, there’s probably some good opportunities in this industry, and I just sort of looked around and one of the ideas I came up with was to do a business magazine on the marijuana industry. All of the magazines that I saw like High Times, Weed World, Skunk, were all consumer magazines and I didn’t think you know, any of the articles in them were really worth a shit as far as being any good for business and to this day I don’t think most of the… I mean for instance the cultivation writers, you know, they’re sort of writing about hobbyist grows, right, and growing in your backyard or in your closet or in your garage. Knowing how to run a commercial 40 or 50 thousand square foot greenhouse or even outdoor grow takes real farming and entrepreneurial skills.
Marijuana Retail Report: With conventions popping up around the country, what made you want to jump in and create a show specific to the retail side of the industry?
Greg James: When it came this show that we’re doing now, the Retail and Dispensary Expo, a lot of the same kind of thinking carried over from why I launched the business magazine. The shows that I have gone to tend to be a hodgepodge. Very few of the retailers that I knew in Washington and Oregon were going to places like Vegas because they were saying it was either way too expensive and they felt like it was a giant rip off or they said there was just nothing there for them. In my view, this industry has two completely different parts, so there’s the grow part and then there’s the retail part and they are really two different industries. They don’t mix, you know, there are some really good grow shows out there but nobody was really doing a retail show so I figured it was time to do an event that was strictly business so we don’t let consumers in and then really geared for the retailers and all the needs that they would have, you know, store design, shelving, merchandising, and then the items they can sell in the stores.
Marijuana Retail Report: What made you choose Portland to set up shop for RAD?
Greg James: We think Portland was a great place to do it because you know, Oregon is still two years behind Washington and so they’re still opening a lot of stores here and it’s on the way to California where obviously they’re going to be opening a lot of stores. There are also growers here from Oregon that are in a section that we call the farmers market and we give them a table at a reduced rate and then they can meet the retailers who are coming into the show, and actually, all the farmers market guys have really loved it. Now they’re not allowed to bring live marijuana here but it doesn’t really matter because they can show off their packaging and photos of their grows and everything, so that’s been quite effective. But we actually have a lot of retailers from Washington who have come down here because they’re you know, seeing the lighting companies that do accent lighting, the store design guys, the architects, and all the type of people that we think work for all retailers everywhere.
Marijuana Retail Report: Now you also have a different show up in Seattle, is that correct?
Greg James: Yeah, we do regional shows in Washington called Interchange, which are two-day events where growers meet with retailers and they’re one on one. It’s a series of 25-minute meetings with a 5-minute break and they get to pitch all these retailers, and that’s kind of a closed business only show also.
Marijuana Retail Report: What are the differences in terms of organization and structuring for creating a trade event like that versus creating a trade event like this?
Greg James: Yeah, this was a lot more work because we’ve done four Interchange events now, so we’ve got that down to a science and we keep it small. We limit it to 45 growers or vendors and 45 retailers, so yes this was a lot more work. We had a really great person here in Portland who helped us who has a lot of trade show experience, he did a great job and we pulled it off. I was a little nervous at first but then I heard we had 1,700 people come through the door on our first day and my guess is 90 percent of them are retail stores or are planning to open retail stores.
Marijuana Retail Report: Obviously retailers are on edge with this administration, do you see Congress or states stepping up to protect their interests?
Greg James: Yeah, I don’t know, you know we talk about it all the time and I hear stuff from lawyers. I do know that I just spent some time with our Governor and he’s like the Governors of Oregon and California and Colorado and Nevada basically saying stay the hell away from us and our states, we’ve got a legitimate business here, it’s paying a lot of tax dollars to the state, and they’re going to fight it. I personally think, I mean it’s hard to predict, but I just believe that the numbers are in favor of the cannabis industry and I don’t think Jeff Sessions is going to be able to do much about a business that’s grown this fast this quickly. It’s closely regulated, and adults 21 and over who should be able to make up their own mind on these things, and by the way it’s always the Republicans who talk about states rights, right, so this is a states rights thing. I know Washington states got 350 million now, per year, in taxes, and doing a billion dollars a year in sales, so I just think, you know, it would be completely idiotic and stupid for the Federal government to try and do any kind of real crackdown.
Marijuana Retail Report: What would be one good tip that you could give to some of these retailers, especially people that are just starting out in the industry?
Greg James: Well I’ve written about this in the magazine before and that is don’t hire people from the pot business, hire somebody with retail experience. Like if you had the choice between somebody who worked in a medical dispensary or someone who has run a 7/11 store, take the guy at the 7/11 store, because you know, that’s somebody who’s actually run a real retail operation and knows about taxes and employees and payroll and all that kind of stuff. I know it sounds kind of … I don’t know, I might upset some people when I say this but I tell people all the time, and the growers too, don’t hire people from the pot industry, they don’t know how to run commercial cannabis operations, hire someone who worked on a farm or worked in a tomato house or some other commercial agricultural endeavor. They know how to run a commercial farming operation, you can teach them about pot later, and it’s the same with retail.
Marijuana Retail Report: That’s everything that I had, I really appreciate everything.
Greg James: My pleasure.