“Not that there’s anything wrong with dick pipes”
The other week a couple of us GRAVers got to take a little field trip to our fellow Austin based cannabis company, 420 Science. We got an awesome tour of their offices and warehouse space, including endless shelves of stash jars emblazoned with bright and beautiful decals, as well as the little room where two employees attach each one of those decals by hand. The best part of the trip, though, was getting to sit down for an interview with Gary Kanning, the co-founder of 420 Science, and Sarah Todd, the COO. We covered a lot of topics during our chat, but we started out with the inception of 420 Science.
Like many companies in this industry, 420 Science started out as an idea that was fostered in a living room rather than a board room. Back in 2003 Gary was working at a a company that did glassware decorating, and he had a customer who printed pint glasses with a logo that immediately caught Gary’s eye. He remembered, “It was a little bong house and he was a glass blower and I met him for the first time and I was like ‘oh hey your logo’s really cool we should put it on a jar.’” The glass blower wasn’t interested in jars for his own home brewing business, but he told Gary it was a good idea and the seed was planted.
Gary was living with 420 Science’s other co-founder, Matt LaPrairie, at the time, and they both wanted to start a design-based business. Gary explained, “Both of our families run small businesses so we were doing a lot of freelance design and web design at the time and we were like hey we should go around to headshops and try to convince them to print their logos on jars and use that as a promotional product.” They recognized that most headshops at the time didn’t have very many storage options available, so they designed a flyer, assembled a mailing list of stores, and got about 5 orders back. From that moment, it was on. Gary somehow convinced his old-school boss at the printing shop to print pot leaf designs on jars, Matt shipped packages from his desk at Ticketmaster, and they ran a company they dubbed “420 Jars” out of their spare bedroom for two years. By 2006 Gary was able to quit his job, and they got a warehouse and a kiln. Sarah and another employee came on in 2007 and the growth only continued from there. It was also around 2007 that Matt and Gary began to consider expanding their product offering beyond stash jars. They partnered with former GRAV president Tristan Blackett to sell his pioneering “Weed-O-Scope,” and both 420 Scope and 420 Science were born.
But GRAV’s collaboration with 420 Science started even earlier than that. In fact GRAV and 420 Science have been partnering and sharing the love since before either company went by that name. Gary explained, “420 Jars and Gravitron were pretty much started at the same time, but we would have met Dave in early 2005 at what was our second CHAMPS show and his first.” Matt and Gary noticed that Dave was using stickers to brand his Gravitrons and introduced themselves by saying, “Hey man we can show you how to bake that on.” That kind of outreach and support was typical of the cannabis industry in the early 2000s. Sarah described it as an “old school, friendly, collaborative, family vibe that has always existed around the plant because it’s been word of mouth for centuries.” This was a community where those who had already established themselves reached out to help newcomers start off on a successful foot. That’s what Matt and Gary did for Dave in 2005, and as a result, when it was time for 420 Science to leave Phoenix in 2009, they knew there were people in Austin who would have their back.
Matt, Gary, and Sarah had all lived in Phoenix for a long time, and in 2009 no form of cannabis legalization was looking likely for Arizona. They decided as a company that it was time for a fresh start in a new city. According to Sarah their shared sentiment was basically “yeah fuck it let’s go! Austin’s a cool city let’s check it out and see what’s going on over there. We have a friend there. Why not?” So they packed up one semi with their business and another with everyone’s personal possessions and caravaned to Austin together.
Since the move, the relationship between GRAV and 420 Science has only grown stronger. GRAV product developer Stephan Pierce helped design Kargo, 420 Science’s signature line of water pipes with built-in stash jars, and Gary himself produced the bulk of GRAV’s marketing material until 2013. More recently, when 420 Science pivoted to a more retail-focused business model, GRAV was of immense help. Gary said, “We really leveraged our relationship with GRAV. Like hey, these are scientific bongs and pipes and that really fits with our brand.” That strategy was a success, to say the least. In the past 5 years 420 Science has seen a huge surge in their direct to consumer revenue, and it shows no sign of slowing down.
Gary noted that Adam’s story is very similar to his own. Both journeys were made possible by cooperation and mentorship within the cannabis community. Sarah said that as she came up in the cannabis industry, she was taught “you put a hand out and you help someone new. Anybody who calls - be friendly to them, ask them what they need.” Sarah continued, “That’s just sort of what we’ve always done and that’s how we did it with Adam. He makes a royalty off of every single piece of RezBlock that’s sold and that supports his family.” Sarah and Gary still have a great relationship with Adam. They even attended his wedding last month, which was fittingly celebrated over the 4/20 weekend.
When I asked what first attracted 420 Science to RezBlock, Sarah summed it up well: “Just the fact that there was nothing like it and it works. It’s real it’s not a gimmick.” Sarah and Gary both use RezBlock themselves, and they even performed a test that involved smoking 50 bowls out of a water pipe without RezBlock and 50 bowls out of a water pipe with RezBlock so that they would have concrete proof of its effectiveness. And this process isn’t unique to RezBlock. 420 Science evaluates and stands behind every product they sell. “Anything that’s for sale on our website is something that we personally have used,” Sarah said. “Someone on our staff has tried it. And then we offered it for sale.” Rather than maximizing profits by any means, 420 Science has always focused on customer experience, and what the employees themselves would want to use. Gary explained, “A lot of times there are opportunities for a quick money grab or I look and see some of the things some of our competitors are doing but I’m always like ‘I’m never gonna sell a dick pipe.’ I don’t care how many of them are gonna sell. That’s great. But that’s never gonna be right for our brand.” He quickly added, “not that there’s anything wrong with dick pipes.”
The biggest takeaway from our day at 420 Science was the feeling that we were speaking with people who genuinely loved their jobs and also had a real passion for improving their industry and the lives of their customers. Gary enthusiastically offered us our choice of freebie out of their impressive stash jar collection, Sarah followed up with contact information for calling and emailing politicians about local cannabis reform, and the whole experience reminded us that even if it is just a couple of companies, Austin does have a community of cannabis industry professionals. And no matter how the industry changes, we’ll look after each other just like the old school stoners taught us to do.