In Hawaiian, if something is “Pono,” it means it’s righteous.
Which is exactly how Richard Present describes Pono Cannabis Lifestyle‘s products. Present opened the Cheney-based cannabis company with co-owners Mike and Sheri Tullis to grow a “righteous” product while making a difference in the industry.
“We’re building a lifestyle brand,” he said. “It’s an experience.”
Specifically, a Hawaiian experience.
“I love the culture; the chill atmosphere,” he said of the state he’s been visiting several times a year since he was a child.
Present also loves the similarly chill atmosphere of the cannabis industry but says it has changed since Washington’s unregulated medical marijuana market merged with the i502 industry in 2015, losing some of its “deli-style” feeling.
“For years, if you met the neighborhood drug dealer in the alley, you were able to smell the product and feel it,” Present said.
With adult-use retailers selling products wrapped in state-required air-tight packages, he feels the process of purchasing pot has become impersonal.
Pono is trying to bring back old-school customer interaction that lets buyers smell before they buy. Their customers get a Mylar bag filled with nitrogen. A “peel and pull” sticker covers a small hole in the bag that allows you to squeeze it and get a good sniff of what is inside.
“You wouldn’t put crap pot in a bag you can smell,” Present explained.
The nitrogen keeps the marijuana fresh for 60 to 90 days, although Present says their product is usually long gone by then. Since introducing the new packaging about three months ago, the company has seen sales increase 30%.
Along with the new bag comes a “live” label that allows customers to scan a QR code.
“Once you sign up for free to create a profile, you can do a review on any product you buy,” said Present. “The next person who clicks on that QR code in the store can read the review and make decisions on what to buy with that help. We use that feedback to adjust and respond to make our product better.”
Scanning the QR code also reveals strain and product history, which Present believes young people in particular will appreciate.
“Millenials are all about their phones. They use them to interact and on social media, so we’re giving them something to talk about.”
While Pono has a primary lineup of pesticide-free strains, the company also sells two or three limited edition flavors annually, such as Tropic OG and Puna Budder.
In addition to knowing his way around a grow and being a savvy marketer, Present is also a proponent for hemp and an activist for the cannabis industry. His current passion is starting a union, which he hopes will provide a steady supply of industry workers who will earn living wages with health benefits.
A union could also offer consultants and attorneys to help new businesses and Liquor and Cannabis Board issues. Present believes that the cannabis industry will have the largest workforce in the state.
“There’s strength in numbers. (Formation of a union) is going to happen in the next five years.”
On a smaller scale, Present has a lot of other ideas he’s working on for Pono.
“Everything is about ‘how can we be a company that’s going to last for generations?’”
One idea he is considering is offering discounts for veterans to support those who have risked their lives in service and are dealing with the after-effects while building brand loyalty.
The company also supports the immediate community. The Pono building is a stone’s throw from Marshall, which has struggled recently with water quality issues and water shortages. Following the interview for this article, Present planned to drop off drinking water there.
Present encourages retailers to tour Pono’s facility to learn about its products and back story.
The company is also planning “experiences” for the public that could include sampling Pono’s products, touring the facility, or even a night out on the town sponsored by Pono. While those ideas are being developed, Present recommends a stay-cation featuring Pono products.
“I want people to take it out of the package and feel like they’re on vacation.”
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