Although 2023 still has a lot of meat on its bones, for the ambitious entrepreneur, it is never too early to start looking ahead. As a head shop owner there is a good chance you have come to realize the importance of living in the present. As legendary counterculture figure Ram Dass put it, “Be Here Now.” However, as a business owner sometimes you have to put your hard earned Zen on the backburner and focus on the future.
Examining current trends and market dynamics serves as a compass to steer your business plan, enabling you to surpass the evolving expectations of your valuable customer base. However, to understand where you are going in the coming years means anticipating impending marketplace and cultural inclinations. By drawing a line from the past to the present, and then following its path into the future, you gain priceless insights that will shape your path forward. In fact, these insights may even inspire you to set groundbreaking trends that will become industry standards in the years to come – the very standards we’ll be discussing here a year or two from now.
To assist you in compiling an effective game plan that stretches from the here and now well into 2024 and beyond, we present to you five compelling currents that embody the essence of today’s countercultural marketplace. Consider these as a source of inspiration, propelling you to pioneer new paths for others to follow.
In a world where terms like ‘community’ and ‘network’ have become tiresome buzzwords through overuse, the important aspect of those concepts we should focus on is connection. Real connection goes beyond cross advertising and other superficial I’ll-scratch-your-back-if-you-scratch-mine schemes. It means developing real relationships from which sustainable symbiosis might emerge. It means getting and giving more than just a soap barrel or spotlight.
The form of collaboration that has experienced significant growth in recent years is with local artists. When you give creatives a space to use as galleries or for events, you not only attract potential first-time customers but also offer them a platform to showcase their talents. Whether that’s an art show, theatrical performance, film festival or musical event – both parties involved in the collaboration get tangible, measurable benefits. As visitors associate your business with the enjoyable experiences they had in that space, the likelihood of their return increases. This collaboration thus offers an invaluable perk, fostering positive experiences and associations that leave a lasting impact.
Collaborating with celebrities and renowned brands delivers the ultimate reward—making people associate your business with their cherished memories. Remember, experiences are something you pay for, not something you can simply buy. By facilitating these remarkable moments, you’re investing in a future that will yield substantial dividends for years to come.
The most potent way to collaborate with celebrities and established brands is through licensed merchandise, that is, products which display the names, logos and likenesses which belong to a popular individual or enterprise. When your products reflect iconic cultural figures who have established a loyal and supportive audience, you can transfer those positive associations to your business. There is a lot of potential in existing fanbases, whose decisions are often guided by reinforcing the identity they have nurtured through their relationship with the licensed entity. Identity is a strong motivator, and licensing is a way to connect it with your business.
Lucky for you, there are numerous products out there with a wide variety of celebrity endorsers. J Brands has partnered with Mike Tyson on a disposable vape. AFG distribution markets wooden pipes in conjunction with the Lord of the Rings franchise. Jay & Silent Bob, Trailer Park Boys, Snoop Dog and Cheech & Chong all have product lines with Famous Brandz. There are licensed products to suit all ages and personal tastes, so you really can’t go wrong with licensed merchandise.
Over 400 million years ago giant mushrooms standing 24 feet tall covered the Earth, before the evolution of trees, while plants were just beginning to cover the ground. Today mushrooms are back in a big way, but instead of towering over primitive grasses, they come in brightly colored packages offering consumers a door into a strange, fungtastic world.
In recent years we have seen the emergence of CBD, Delta 8 & 9 and HHC rise in popularity and availability. People have asked for legal alternatives to traditional cannabis products and the market has responded. However CBD has reached a point of retail saturation, while those other substances are walking a tightrope of legality as overzealous legislators work to put the kibosh on anything that triggers their puritanical hysteria. Enter the newest addition to the plant based product line – mushrooms.
Functional fungus products derived from Cordyceps, Turkey Tail, Lion’s Mane, Reishi and other fungus species are making a splash even outside the world of headshops and their customers. These products aid relaxation, reduce stress, provide energy and enhance focus. To potential customers, they do so with an unspoken insinuation that they are powerful and elicit, like psilocybin. But even though they are safe and legal, some of them do work in conjunction with magic mushrooms to enhance that experience. You may have heard of Stamet’s Stack, a microdosing combination of psilocybin and Lion’s Mane, which has been celebrated for its alleged ability to regulate the psilocybin experience and increase cognitive benefits.
In two states, psilocybin has become legal, and several product lines have emerged to meet the demand. This has caused curiosity to arise everywhere else, and so where Psilocybin sales are illegal, Amanita Muscaria products are making a comeback to fill the demand. Amanita Muscaria is another mushroom with psychedelic properties, although milder and often lamented for wreaking havoc on the digestive system. At least one of the new products has addressed that through a distillation process that removes the toxicity, thereby lessening or eradicating the uncomfortable side effects. Expect a big splash in the coming year on that front.
Regardless of which mushroom products you decide are right for your store and customer base, the key to achieving sales will be having a lot of good information to share with customers. Capitalizing on the fungus fervor ahead will be all about customer service agents establishing and sharing a wide base of knowledge on their properties, effects, potentials and pitfalls – and using that knowledge to match patrons with the mushroom products that provide the new experiences they seek.
4. The Rise of Women Entrepreneurs
In the dynamic world we live, women are at long last making remarkable strides in business ownership, and nowhere is this more evident than in the flourishing counter-culture industry. This emerging trend demands our attention and holds immense potential for retailers to seize upon.
Let’s revisit the connection we explored earlier—the profound relationship between your audience and the identity of your customers. In this industry, embracing progressive ideas that celebrate inclusivity for those who were once marginalized is a transformative force. Here’s the secret sauce: Merely communicating that your business is woman-owned becomes a compelling selling point, amplifying your appeal and forging powerful connections.
Moreover, being a woman-owned company unlocks extraordinary opportunities for collaboration and licensing with like-minded artists, activists, celebrities, and brands that share your empowering narrative. By proudly displaying your relationship with women-owned companies, you become a magnet for partnerships that drive growth and solidify your position in the industry.
Now, let’s consider the flip side. Aligning your business with ideas or values that contradict the identity of your customers can prove detrimental. This may be a concern in certain rural areas. For women who own and operate smoke shops in these regions, fostering strong customer relationships requires highlighting shared values and common ground with the local community. By establishing a thriving business, you become a beacon of inspiration, leading by example and, with a stroke of fortune, transforming perceptions along the way.
5. Head Shop/Dispensary Mergers
What was only recently entirely unthinkable from a legal standpoint, the combination of smoke shops with cannabis sellers, is now becoming a completely normal thing. For decades head shops were encouraged to sell any smokable product except for cannabis to give their products an appearance of legality. As new laws made medical cannabis a reality, medical dispensaries sold a modest selection of devices in which their products could be used. As recreational sales emerged, cannabis sellers saw little value in stocking smoking gear that was already sold elsewhere. Now all parties are starting to see that they are inseparable.
This development opens the door to an entirely new realm of possibilities. If legalization is on its way to your state, you’re likely better set up than anyone to stake your claim in the new market. You’ve already demonstrated your expertise in the hardware, and chances are, you have a pretty good handle on the software as well. If you have your ducks in a row, you could possibly go it alone, but another option is partnering with a new licensee. Hypothetically, it could be an incredibly symbiotic arrangement. You have the expertise, the location, the history and the brand. They have the license, and quite likely a set of skills that complement your own. Yet again, we see the benefits of collaboration.
The downside here is that head shops that do not merge where it becomes possible face a disadvantage, which means you need to work harder in all of the other areas to remain healthy and competitive.