Attend a smoke shop industry trade show and you’ll be inundated with products sporting likenesses of popular characters from Rick & Morty and the Simpsons to Spiderman and Superman. Make an inquiry about whether such items are officially licensed and there’s a good chance that’s where the conversation will end. This is unless you’re talking with Famous Brandz.
Through their relationship with major media partners, Famous Brandz focusses on branding smoking accessories with iconic characters and celebrities like Cheech & Chong: Up In Smoke, Trailer Park Boys, Jay and Silent Bob, Snoop Dogg, and most recently, Guns N’ Roses.
“Smoke shops have been around for a long time, but it’s only recently that they’ve begun the work of bringing in brands that you would find in a mainstream retail store in your community,” says Director of Sales, Andy Palalas.
In reality, you probably won’t find most the brands repped by Famous Brandz at the corner market. The ones they like to work with are those with a connection to the cannabis community.
“They’re automatically appealing to the consumers that are visiting the shops,” says President & Chief Executive Officer Raj Grover. “(Cannabis consumers) can relate to somebody like Snoop, and the work that he’s doing and designs he’s coming up with, better than, let’s say, The Avengers, which would be way off topic.”
Don’t expect Famous Brandz to simply slap different logos onto the same pipes, grinders, rolling trays and attachments. Their in-house designers work closely with their licensors to develop unique, one-of-a-kind branding from the style of product to its distinctive packaging. Rather than going all-out crazy, each line consists of a handful of different items, not only to put a focus on quality, but also to allow retailers to stock full lines without massive upfront investments.
“We’ve been in this industry a long time so we understand what moves in this world. We look to find not just the newest hottest trending products, but also the staples, and bring unique approach to branding those with our licenses,” Palalas says.
Take Snoop’s exclusive glass collection – SNOOP POUNDS. Famous Brandz worked directly with the Doggfather to develop the product design. “He’s very much in tune with the production schedules and when new things are coming online,” Palalas says. And, of course, he helped promote the products as well. So did Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith, aka Jay and Silent Bob, who showed up for an autograph session at CHAMPS.
Handblown glass pipes are the cornerstone for Famous Brandz. The bubblers, hand pipes and water pipes are made from premium Schott boro glass tubing from Germany and hand selected colors from North American suppliers. The pieces are made overseas, but before you go off on a rant about quality, take note that Famous Brandz sent five of the best glassblowers from Canada and the US to train the artists who are crafting the pieces.
“The quality control that we get out of this whole process is above and beyond industry standards,” states Grover.
That goes for packaging too. There are no plain Jane boxes. Famous Brandz products come in distinctive eye-catching packaging that even includes UPCs for inventory tracking.
“What we do best is we allow retailers to merchandise our products with in-store marketing materials, leveraging brands that people know and love, in literally the best packaging this industry has to offer,” Palalas says. “They’re the same high-quality level of consumer packaging that you see at major mainstream retailers like Walmart.”
One of the most important elements that Famous Brandz brings to the smoke shop and cannabis industry is much needed legitimacy. Not only with brand representation, but also with a professional approach towards utilizing copyrighted material.
As Grover points out, copyright infringement can have a backlash, particularly companies like Famous Brandz who are putting their time and resources into creating and promoting products utilizing the correct processes and agreements. Knock-offs also pose a danger to unsuspecting retailers — there have been stores that have been raided for selling products in violation.
“The law is pretty clear,” Grover says. “When something becomes for the purpose of sale, whether it’s a glass pipe, a poster or a T-shirt, if you’re selling a product that has a (copyrighted image) on it, even if you’ve gone ahead and represented it in your own artistic fashion, if you’re not paying royalties then you’re infringing on the copyright.”
“We love the artists that started this industry and are continuing to rock and roll with it,” he continues. “The reality is though that this is no longer a cottage industry — this industry legitimizes itself even more every day and we’re not just going to be able to fly under the radar. Part of the responsibility of becoming a legitimate business in the eyes of the government and mainstream society is that we also have to play by the rules.”
When consumers are spending their hard-earned cash on a product, they want the assurance that it’s the real deal. One of the reasons Famous Brandz has made an immediate impact in the smoke shop world, is that not only have they brought in the hottest names from entertainment and music, but they’ve also positioned their products at extremely affordable price points. The majority of Famous Brandz water pipes, for instance, have a suggested retail price of $80 to $120. They’ve even introduced a budget line called Famous X that retains the focus on quality and includes Cheech & Chong and Trailer Park Boys branding.
“We work on extremely tight margins because we’re a young company and we want to get our brands into the consumer’s hands,” Palalas points out. “We don’t want to send the wrong signal, that because of the licenses, our products are more expensive.
“We measure success by bringing the right product to market at the right price.”
“We absolutely love this industry — the people we work with are so easy going and we all have a common energy,” Grover adds. “The brands we work with all want to have fun in the same way that we do — every single one is excited to be part of the cannabis community.”