Robert Poole knows first-hand the challenges and successes that come with the growth of a business. He’s been at the top of the retail ladder with five flourishing smoke shops, and as the co-owner of Phresh Picks Distribution, with his father Robert Poole Sr., has expanded the catalog from what would fit in the back of his van to a warehouse filled with more than 5,000 products.
“I really like the fast-paced nature of the distribution side of the industry,” says Poole. “Our approach has been to go with the stream of the market and taking part in the trends such as kratom, disposables, and CBD. I was more of a glass guy and now we’re a one-stop distribution house.”
“I’ll never forget my retail foundations,” Poole adds. “Having the unique perspective as to how stores operate, how they mark things up, how they deal with employees and customers, and things like that, has really helped us understand what our customers need to run a thriving business.”
Phresh Picks began in 2010 with Poole and his cousin traveling door to door selling overstock from the family’s Albuquerque, New Mexico stores. Things really took off when Poole started exhibiting at trade shows, opened a cash-and-carry warehouse, and launched a website. Phresh Picks really hit its stride when it began representing exclusive products and major labels.
If a brand or a product is worth mentioning, you can be assured it’s offered by Phresh Picks. It’s all heavily based in smoke shop items — pipes, vapes, kratom, you name it. At the same time, Phresh Picks has expanded their house brand, Blown Glass Goods, to cover most everything related to the counterculture lifestyle.
“As the industry is just exploding, there’s a real advantage to having a strong brand identity that consumers can get behind,” Poole says.
“Understanding that most people are on a budget, we’ve positioned Blown Glass Goods as ‘every man’s glass.’ It’s not Mothership or Roor by any means, but it’s definitely good quality at a good price point,” Poole adds. “We’ve seen our numbers climb every year, and so we’re broadening outside of just glass to have bags, grinders and other accessories.”
The glass pieces themselves offered by Blown Glass Goods cover everything from high-end customs to rigs, tubes, and hand pipes, all crafted from top-quality German Schott glass.
“The pieces are consistent and tight and have their ‘wabi-sabi’ – or unique characteristics,” Pool says. “We’re very critical of the details.”
Quality and salability at excellent margins have made Blown Glass Goods popular with retailers. In a competitive market, brand recognition is crucial in buying decisions — that’s one of the reasons that BLOWN provides retailers with attention-getting shelf displays, tube talkers and other point-of-sale materials. BLOWN also promotes its brand and retail locations through innovative social media campaigns. A recent contest gave lucky customers the chance to win an all-expenses paid trip to Vegas with their purchase!
“We have a lot of fun with the brand and do what we can to take care of people,” Poole says. “We’re trying to be professional without losing the soul.”
That goes for everything Phresh Picks offers. “Our procurement process used to be if we saw something we liked we’d give ’em a shot. Nowadays, we research products more heavily before bringing them in,” Pool says. “There is a very small number of brands that actually have a shot at making it to the next round and getting into our catalog,” Poole continues. “We don’t carry any of the Rick & Morty crap or any gray area stuff. With vapes, for example, we’re interested in brands that have applied for their Premarket Tobacco Product Application; if there isn’t at least an application, then it’s not something that we consider as a long term product.”
As members of the New Mexico Cannabis Coalition and American Kratom Association, Phresh Picks is actively involved in advocating for integrity, transparency, and even regulation (to a point) for the smoke shop and cannabis industries.
“Anytime there’s money to be made, it’s always rocky and turbulent in the beginning. I see this business going along a similar road as tobacco and alcohol where there’s a state licensed distributor who sells to state licensed stores,” Poole says. “It’s going to all get very standardized, very licensed and more professional — that protects the businesses, the industry, and the consumer.”
In an effort to provide consistent and seamless service to retailers, Phresh Picks has sales offices in New Mexico and California. On their website is a Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking (PACT) Act registration form, the purpose of which is to ensure businesses are in compliance with regulations for selling smokeless tobacco products, so there are no interruptions in Phresh Picks being able to ship products to stores.
Having been in retailers’ shoes, Poole can help new businesses, whether smoke shops, dispensaries, or convenience stores, navigate industry issues and meet the needs of their individual customer demographics.
“As the market gets more aggressive, [dispensaries and c-stores) are looking more seriously at the revenue stream and margins that smoking accessories and pipes can bring in,” Poole says. “There’s a lot more competition, but there’s also a lot more opportunity — smoke shops will always be king because they sell the specialty items and offer the best product selection.”
“We should welcome these other types of competitors,” Poole adds, “because it gives our industry greater growth, greater exposure, and greater acceptance.”
“My passion is helping and supporting ALL the people in this industry,” Poole continues. “I want us all to grow together.”