The Tao of Honest Bob
Inspiring Words from Watch Your Head’s Legendary Carnival Barker
The Honest Bob needs no introduction. That’s because The Honest Bob is a fixture of our world; a walking institution of counter-cultural retail so predictably awesome, you could practically set your watch by his appearance at a CHAMPS event. As the owner and operator of Watch Your Head, Rhode Island’s premiere destination for all things inhalation since 1994, The Honest Bob has been slinging pipes and hawking bongs longer than some of us have been walking upright. He’s a pioneer of our world and he deserves your respect, as well as your proverbial ear. It is for this reason that instead of our typical rambling, we’re just going to give him the floor. Why? Because he’s Honest Bob Christie and he deserves it, dammit.
On his introduction to color changing glass in 1994:
I ordered two. Wholesale, they were about $25 then. Now, they’d be about $10. They showed up and they were the most beautiful things I’d ever seen. But . . . I didn’t think I’d ever get $65 for those things. But a week or two later, a couple of guys walking by asked if I had color changing glass. I immediately puffed up my chest and was like, “Why, yes, I do! The finest from California.” And one of them was like, “We’re from California! I’ll take it!” Then the other guy was like, “I’ll take the other one!” and I was all, ‘Awesome!’ I wrapped them up, took $100 in my greedy little paw and they walked away. I was just like, ‘WOW.’ Monday, I called my rep and said, ‘I’ll take five more!‘ It’s been lather, rinse, repeat ever since.
On his early heretical approach to merchandising:
I didn’t price anything for the first six months. That forced me to learn my product, who made it, how much it cost me, how much I could sell it for. It would also force the customer to engage with me. It gave us a common talking point . . . It also gave me the opportunity to engage them, entertain them a little, and inform them, as well as learn from them; get the conversation started.
On his nickname and how he came by it . . . honestly:
In true format, the unwritten law of nicknames is you can’t give yourself a nickname. It was when I had my first business at 18, selling comic books . . . This kid gave me a $20 bill for a $2 comic. I turned around to grab the change and when I turned around, he was gone. I went and found him in the show and he was like, “Wow, you didn’t have to do that.” I was like, “Of course I did . . .” He said, “That’s really honest of you. I’m gonna call you ‘Honest Bob.’” That following week, I went to the Salvation Army and bought a pair of plaid pants and a polka dot tie and I just became Honest Bob at the next show with this preacher voice . . . It just carried on.
On why student discounts are dumb:
I never do a student discount. I don’t agree with that. I think it’s hokie because what happens if school’s not right for you at that time? What happens when you lose your ID? What happens when you graduate, and your student loans kick in? So what I do is buy one, get one half every day on most items. It helps generate volume. I hate Walmart, but one thing they got right was scale of volume.
On not always knowing everything:
If you would have told me twenty years ago or more, that there would be this thing called decriminalization, I would have asked you what the hell you were smoking . . . That just goes to show you that you don’t know what you don’t know.
On gender relations in the glass world:
When I started this business, it was a sausage fest and it stayed that way for many years. The recent proliferation of women in the glass industry has just been amazing. To see women—pardon the pun, but in this industry, you have to say it—shatter the glass ceiling, it’s just absolutely wonderful and empowering and thankfully, something that obviously isn’t going to go away.
On eschewing social norms:
I didn’t have any problems bringing in things that were pink, things that had rainbows or things that might have been “girly,” because women’s money spends just like men’s money. Let’s get them through the door . . . Because I’m openly gay—I was the only openly gay shop owner that I knew of for so many years at the show—I ended up making my store into a place of inclusion; what they now call a safe space. It was what it was before it became a word, you know what I mean? Everyone has always been welcome.
On his secret to success, both in business in life:
I think it comes down to honesty . . . honesty is the backbone of integrity . . . Honesty with your employees, honesty with your customers, and honesty with your vendors. You’ll never go wrong.
The best tool anybody can have besides integrity is a love for critical thinking . . . you have to ask yourself, ‘does this make sense?’ That allows your mind to always be open. But it also allows it not to just be an empty vessel to be filled. It keeps the gears turning so you’re always examining . . . you know, I think the lack of critical thinking is what has gotten us into this social media crap that unfortunately shows no signs of going away. The internet never should have been put out to the public in the form that it was. It’s just too much too soon.