In the beginning, all Leonard Rodda really wanted was to be able to walk to work. Well, that and to have coworkers who were more than tolerable. And if he could bring his dog? Well, that would be just shy of perfection.
The thing about a dream, though, even one as simple and unassuming as Leonard’s, is that you can’t just sit and wait for someone else to hand it to you. Maybe four thousand years ago, you could wander the desert and receive your life’s plan from a thunderous voice in the sky, but in 2020, you have to figure it out for yourself. It’s a journey more than an epiphany.
For Leonard, that journey began in 2012 when he opened Wyzo’s Smoke Shop in the Grant Park District of Atlanta, Georgia. Eight years later, he’s no longer fixated on his original dream. He’s living it—and looking to what’s next.
“I live right around the corner from the shop,” he says. “So, now I bring my dog and we walk to work. We’re here for about four or five hours a day and then I get to go home and enjoy my life.” Mission. Accomplished.
It’s important to note, however, that Leonard didn’t just open a business one day and start living on easy street the next. It was a slow, steady build, requiring meticulous planning, careful decisions and a lot of hard work.
At the outset, a smoke shop wasn’t even in his lexicon. All he knew was that he wanted to start his own business.
“A friend of mine suggested we open a smoke shop,” he recalls. “I thought, ‘Well, that would be something different.’ So, I started looking into all the businesses that had been in the area . . . I knew I didn’t want to open anything that had already come and gone here, so I went for the smoke shop, all based on a friend’s suggestion. I didn’t know anything about the business at the time, but I’ve definitely learned a lot over the years since.”
He didn’t quit his day job immediately. Instead, he hired someone he trusted to run the store during the day, and he’d show up after work to take over for the night shift. When he finally did make the full transition, he worked 12-hour days.
Fast-forward to now. He has five active employees, a top rating on both Google and Yelp, and an avid, loyal customer base.
So how does a 420 neophyte build an overwhelmingly successful smoke shop in only 8 years?
His formula, in three words: staff, service, selection.
The first two are intertwined, but let’s try to break them down a little. Leonard knew he couldn’t find success hiring just any flunky who happened to know how to load a waterpipe or roll a cone. He went for quality. He began by hiring a server who worked at the sandwich shop next door to him.
“She really had a good personality, just always smiling and outgoing,” he says. From there it became a family affair. Each time he needed to add to his staff, his first hire just reached into her pool of relatives; sisters, cousins, even her son.
“I’m the only outsider,” Leonard laughs. “It works great.”
It works great, because they understand the importance of customer service. That includes not only an extensive product knowledge, but also making everyone who walks through the door feel welcome and giving them a reason to come back. It starts with warm smiles and friendly conversation, but it also includes reward programs for repeat customers, as well as a bowl of candy on the counter, which Leonard describes as a “big hit,” with his regulars.
“And if they spend a good amount of money,” he adds, “I always make it a point to throw in something for free too.” Simple, but effective. No need to reinvent the wheel.
Finally, there’s the selection, which Leonard insists should always be fresh and brimming to the point of excess. He doesn’t limit his possibilities. He carries just about anything and everything related to inhalation and/or the counter-cultural lifestyle; pipes, cigars, papers, RYO tobacco, and an insanely diverse line of both kratom and CBD products, available in almost any form imaginable.
“My employees are always yelling at me,” he laughs. “They’re like, ‘Don’t buy anymore stuff!!’ But I find when you always keep it fresh with new, interesting products, your customers will keep coming back. You have to try new things. Otherwise, your space will become dead.”
All in all, Leonard seems happy. Business is booming. Life is relaxed. And since he took the plunge into the wonderful world of 420, he’s been reacquainted with sacraments within. His life might not be an episode of MTV Cribs, but that was never his dream in the first place. His was simple and manageable, but perfect—and he’s living it. We should all be so lucky.
And if you happen to pass through the A-town, Leonard wants you to know you’re welcome.
“We have a friendly staff, we’re always here and we’d love for you to stop by!”