Evolution Wholesale, a Texas-based wholesale distributor of smoking accessories, has an interesting history that dates back to the late 1960s. The company was founded by Phil Roberts, one of the first glassblowers to create pipes for cannabis smokers. Over the years, Evolution Wholesale has broadened its product range to encompass a comprehensive selection of smoke shop and alternative culture merchandise.
Fast forward to today, and the business is run by Phil’s wife, Candice and daughter, Rachel. Evolution Wholesale is unique in the male-dominated cannabis industry, in that it is one of the few female-owned wholesale distributors.
Rachel grew up in this industry, working for her dad as a teenager. After taking time off to raise her family, she decided to come back to the business full-time. Candice was a newcomer to the smoke shop world when she joined the family business. Living in a conservative state made her even more shocked by the size of the industry.
“There were plenty of head shops around, but it was on the fringe,” Candice says. “Things are shifting, but even here in Austin – a tiny blue spot in a huge red state – we still sometimes get delivery people who are taken aback by our products and ask us to explain what we’re all about.”
Candice was spot on when she noticed that most smoke shop products were marketed towards guys.
“You’d go to the shows and there’d be all these girls walking around in little Hooters outfits,” she says. “With so many women now being shop owners and buyers, brands oftentimes really miss the mark.”
Rachel and Candice, 49 and 51 respectively, feel that their presence at Evolution, creates a friendly and inviting atmosphere, particularly for women in management roles, to source products. They’ve also noticed more women from their generation becoming increasingly interested in learning about and using cannabis. Some are exploring smoke shops for the very first time, and this is where the presence of a “feminine touch” can make a significant difference.
“We’re competing against products that have a very masculine vibe,” Rachel explains. “That’s why we emphasize the use of gender-neutral elements in our color schemes, designs, and packaging.”
Evolution Wholesale has a variety of in-house brands. One of their first moves in the early 2000s was to trademark the name Diamond Grind (diamonds are a girl’s best friend, after all) and establish a reputation for high quality herb grinders. They’ve since added more styles under the brands Easy Grind, Ergo Grind, and Quick Grind, plus cool limited edition graphics, custom engraving for smoke shop promotions, and matching stash jars and shakers to make it a complete package.
“We’re always about the newest thing,” Rachel says. “Because we have a really good relationship with an overseas manufacturer, we can focus on innovation and quality.”
The Evolution catalog offers a wide range of products beyond just grinders. For instance, buyers can find a large selection of hand pipes and pendants made from luxurious materials such as onyx, crystal, and exotic wood, as well as glass and metal pipes. Additionally, Evolution offers their own take on the classic brass proto pipe, called the Neo.
“A lot of smoke shops come to us because we have classic things other distributors don’t carry,” Rachel says.
But while old school products may still be in demand, Rachel and Candice have noticed that the old school mindset about the cannabis plant is quickly fading away. This includes a change in attitudes towards cannabis use, as well as women actively participating in the business and feeling empowered to say, “Hey, I can do this too!”
To break the proverbial glass ceiling in the smoke shop industry, Candice advises having thick skin and not letting anyone push you around. She emphasizes the importance of having a deep understanding of the business, getting hands-on experience with the products, and being willing to ask for help when needed since there is always someone ready to lend a hand.
“These are my roots,” Rachel says. “It’s absolutely 100 percent something I love.”
“I like the gray area of it and that it’s not exactly mainstream,” Candice says. “I love the quirky characters and the nuttiness of it all –- that’s what makes life interesting.”