Smokin J’s: Committed to Culture

With all the excitement surrounding the legalization of cannabis, it isn’t often that we stop and examine the post-legalization effects on local businesses. I know what you’re thinking…and no, I’m not talking about your ex-weed dealer, for whom business has been slow.

In a time when legal cannabis retailers can sell the same merchandise found in head shops, these businesses must take a unique approach to remain competitive. In speaking with Jay Fratt, owner and founder of Smokin Js, DOPE Magazine wanted to know the secret to his company’s continued success. How has he managed to not only stay in business, but thrive in a competitive industry?

Jay has been in the business for quite some time—specifically, Smokin Js is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and the company has come a long way since its inception in 1997. Originally, Smokin Js was called Northwest Hemp Bizarre, and only sold apparel and other hemp-themed fabrics. However, he realized that his business model needed to change when customers came in looking for pipes, glassware or papers, only to leave his store empty-handed. While Jay’s true passion is the culture, independent thought and freedom associated with cannabis, he knew he had to listen to his customers. Smokin Js was born.

1997 was a very different political climate, as Jay reminded me, particularly in regards to what was then considered cannabis-related paraphernalia; adjusting his business strategy was not as simple as ordering pipes and bongs. “Smokin Js is sort of a bridge from old head shops to the new” Jay remarked, “some people in the business don’t even remember how things were back then.”

“If I couldn’t sell cannabis, I knew I had to sell the culture better than anyone else.”

Jay is referring to Operation Pipe Dreams, a government-sanctioned program that hit many retailers with a paraphernalia ordinance, forcing them to close down their shops. Common items at head shops and cannabis retailers alike, such as bongs, were federally defined as being related to the consumption of cannabis. Selling these items was made illegal, as they constituted drug paraphernalia, and this phenomenon resulted in Smokin Js’ label as an alternative smoke shop. Any product that can be used for cannabis can also technically be used for tobacco, thus Jay was able to weather the storm by crafting product and advertisement descriptions to reflect intent within the law.

Jay's First Store
Jay’s First Store

After reorienting himself amidst the legal turmoil, Jay began tirelessly diversifying his inventory, and continued to do so throughout the years. The result? A robust online store that sells over 3,000 products. While he remarked that it is difficult to keep such a large stock on-hand, he also knows that product variety is one of the biggest reasons Smokin Js has maintained success. Their variety is unquestionable; there is something for everyone, and there is plenty to go around. You’ll find cannabis-related fashion, lifestyle products, pipes, glass rigs, bangers and nails for the oil aficionados, vape pens, detox kits, miscellaneous smoking supplies, Smokin Js-themed swag and even hookah-related items. With a strong product base and long history of high-quality products that inspire customer loyalty, it seems that legalization is not a threat to this northwest-grown head shop.

Commenting on his continued success in the face of cannabis legalization, Jay succinctly says: “I knew that if I couldn’t sell cannabis, I needed to sell the culture better than anyone else.”

Smokin Js has three locations in Washington state: Olympia, Longview and Vancouver, as well as one location in Grand Rapids, MI.

Alex Juliano

Born and raised in Seattle, WA, Alex Juliano is a writer, instructional designer, educational consultant, teacher, web developer, and professional breakdancer. Aside from his endeavors in writing, Alex has innovated training solutions for a variety of industries, including performing arts, telecommunications, technology, public education, retail, aerospace manufacturing, and CAD/CAM software. 

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