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Industry Innovators

Gav Lawson: How THTC Helped Make Hemp Hip

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Gav Lawson THTC
PHOTOS | Courtesy of THTC

The Hemp Trading Company, aka THTC, has revolutionized eco-friendly fashion.

The London-based company brought hemp to the high street two decades ago with the launch of the brand’s sustainable clothing line comprised of garments made from hemp, organic cotton, and other sustainable materials.

THTC merges music, art, and activism. The clothing line features T-shirts designed by artists such as Mau Mau, whose urban artwork is known for its cultural commentary.

The company grew from a college-run business to the award-winning global brand it is today. Musicians and celebrities like Woody Harrelson, Redman, Method Man, members of UB40, Ed Sheeran and world Beatbox champion Alexinho are just a few of the personalities known to have supported THTC.

Some of the THTC’s earliest and most popular prints include: “George Bush & Son Family Butchers (Est. 1989)” – originally released in 2001 – and “Weapon of Choice,” a T-shirt worn by artists and activists for over 16 years.

Not all designs are politically explicit; other prints showcase collaborations — like “King David” and “Born Free” — between THTC and organizations including the World Land Trust, Born Free Foundation, and The Refugee Community Kitchen.

THTC’s founder, Gav Lawson, talks exclusively to us about building the award-winning eco-fashion line, and the company’s newest collections.

The Beginnings of Something Sustainable

L-R: Woody Harreslon, THTC founders Gav and Drew Lawson.

Lawson founded the ethically driven streetwear brand alongside his brother, Drew, and friend Daniel Sodergren in 1999 while they attended universities in Hull and Bristol respectively. Together they formed the campus hemp awareness societies called Hempology, which became the basis for THTC.

“It took a few years for the brand to gain traction,” said Lawson, who is now the sole owner. “I didn’t know if the company would take off. We were so ahead of our time; ethical or organic clothing was not really a thing in the 90s.”

Almost four years ago, Lawson was joined by digital marketing expert Ashwin Bolar, who has vastly helped transform the company’s online strategy and boost their social media presence.

“Ashwin has been a great help to THTC,” said Lawson. “He is a very talented digital marketer and brings a lot to the table. Since he joined, our number of Facebook followers has more than doubled to almost 55,000. He also creates THTC’s graphics.”

THTC made its move into the mainstream when it became the first ethically minded clothing brand to be carried in Virgin Megastores.

“That was big for us,” Lawson said, “It had always been our aim to bring hemp to the high street and Richard Branson gave us that first opportunity.”

TK Maxx (the U.K. version of TJ Maxx) also started to carry THTC garments in more than 80 of its retail shops.

“THTC became one of their most popular t-shirt brands and we were the first hemp product to be stocked in their stores,” Lawson said.

“Ethical Consumer Magazine” ranks THTC as the U.K.’s most ethical independent menswear brand. British newspaper the Observer’s annual Ethical Awards also recognized the company as runner up for “Best Fashion Product” in 2004. In addition to its many accolades, Lawson earned a PEA award – the UK’s “biggest green awards” – for his achievements.

THTC recently paired up with Colorado-based Hoodlab Store, who is now the brand’s official U.S. distributor.

Finding THTC Brand Champions

Method Man and Redman wearing THTC tees.

When asked why THTC found success as an eco-fashion brand when others did not, Lawson credited it to years of networking, brand champions, and his small staff.

He spent more than a decade promoting his brand on the club scene, giving away T-shirts, and sharing his passion and vision for THTC. Through this experience, he said, he found champions of the brand, or people who wear THTC products “[…] because they are proud to.”

“People are often too busy in their own lives to worry about trying to save the world,” Lawson said. “They don’t know where to start, or that wearing one t-shirt made from organic hemp compared to conventionally grown cotton can save up to 2,500 liters of fresh water.”

THTC customers feel empowered just by wearing a T-shirt, a term he described as “armchair activism.”

“It becomes infectious,” Lawson said.

Making Sustainability Stylish

Josh Whitehouse (musician from ‘More Like Trees’ and actor from ‘Poldark’) in “Evil Mac” tee.

THTC revolutionized sustainable fashion by taking it from boring to trendy.

“Most environmentally friendly brands lead with their environmental credentials,” Lawson said. “We wanted THTC to be design-led, so we focused on creating strong designs and a cool brand that people would be proud to wear, whether they are environmentally minded or not.

Men in the U.K. are one of the hardest demographics to sell ethical fashion to, said Lawson; “generally speaking, they couldn’t give a damn about saving the planet.”

That’s why the company focuses on marketing itself as a fashion label before being a political one, Lawson explained. “We try to be the first ethical purchase for people who otherwise wouldn’t necessarily think about sustainability.”

Rising From the Ashes

MC GQ.

One of the biggest struggles in the company’s history came shortly after the economic crisis in 2008. A few years later, in 2013, a fire occurred at THTC’s screen-printing facility that destroyed their screen-printing machine and 12 years worth of screens, costing them thousands. As a result, Lawson put on an event at South London-based venue, Electric Brixton called “Re-Grow.”

The event featured a very impressive line-up comprising of many of THTC’s supporting musicians who came along and performed for free, said Lawson.

“I was overwhelmed by the goodwill from the people,” he said.

Another challenge, and a point of pride for Lawson, is keeping THTC products affordable.

“I’ve always kept prices as low as I can — the cost of producing sustainable, truly ethical fashion is astronomical compared to cheap, throwaway cotton,” he said. While shops like Primark (equivalent to a Forever 21 in the U.S.) “pay peanuts for a t-shirt, we’re paying around £8 [more than $10],” Lawson explained. “We screen print all of our designs in London, usually with water-based and discharge printing processes.

The price of hemp, and other eco-friendly fabrics are already expensive enough, he said, “We try to make our products as affordable as possible.”

Transparency Through the Production Line

Lawson and the THTC factory workers.

Lawson recently visited China, documenting his visit to the two facilities that produce their hemp clothing. THTC is currently editing a mini-documentary about the experience which is being produced by THTC’s video creator Spelt Productions.

The moment people hear about production in China, “They assume you’re working with sweatshops,” said Lawson. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

The factories producing THTC garments are small, with between 12-20 staff. They are not exposed to harsh chemicals due to the nature of the products made, and a shared commitment to sustainability. They work from 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. and take regular holidays.

Lawson is quick to remind others that poor working environments occur everywhere. It is countries like China, he asserted, that need ethical production facilities more than anywhere.

“Plus,” he said, “hemp has been in Chinese culture for thousands of years. They’re way ahead of the game in terms of how the fabric is manufactured.”

For those reasons, he is proud of how and where THTC clothes are made.

Lawson is focused on transparency and sustainability throughout the entire production line. The company has produced ranges with upcycling businesses such as My Only One, and Good One, turning old garments into new styles.

Future THTC Fashions

THTC just released their spring collection this April, which includes new prints such as “System of a Mau,”  “The Missing Peace” and “Get Back to Your Own Country,” as well as reprinting 16 past favorite designs such as “Get Rich or Try Sharing”, “Just A Ride” and “Plastic Fish.”

THTC is preparing to launch a line of THTC accessories that includes socks, underwear, wallets, belts, flexible ball caps, and more.

In the near future, Lawson also hopes to expand into the white label market, and create prints for dispensaries or other companies who are seeking sustainable merchandise.

To keep up to date with THTC’s new drops and news, give them a follow on Facebook and Instagram.

Visit their website and enter CANNABIS-AFICIONADO-15 for a 15 percent discount on everything in the THTC range excluding charitable collaboration designs.

Industry Innovators

Jade Proudman: On a Mission to Break Down Barriers

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Jade Proudman

More than 1.3 million people use CBD on a regular basis in the U.K. Jade Proudman is working tirelessly to bring access, and education to those consumers in England and beyond.

CBD oil is sold legally in the U.K, according to the Centre for Medicinal Cannabis (CMC), a nonprofit organization dedicated to research, policy and education.

A study recently conducted by the CMC found that therapeutic use of the cannabinoid is growing rapidly; “The U.K. CBD market is currently growing at double digits and expected to be just short of £1B in 2025. This would be equivalent to the entire U.K. herbal supplement market in 2016.”

But, many of the cannabis-based products on the market aren’t all they are cracked up to be.

In the same CMC report, researchers tested 30 different CBD products available on the market. They found only 11/29 had within 10% of the advertised CBD content. Another 11 products (38%) “actually had less than 50% of the advertised CBD content. One product had 0% CBD,” the CMC concludes.

The results expose regulatory gaps in the CBD market. Jade Proudman, a champion for premium products, transparent brands, and educating the European marketplace about cannabinoids, is an advocate of the work being carried out by the CMC.

Proudman and her husband, Leslie, founded Savage Cabbage in 2016. The storefront in North Yorkshire draws visitors from all over the U.K. to sit on the L-shaped couch for a cuppa and cannabinoid-chat.

 

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Savage cabbage HQ 🌴🌴

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“As you walk in, the first thing you see is our beautiful seating area which does encourage people to take a seat and enter into conversation with us, enabling questions to be asked and answered,” says Proudman. The shop often hosts discussion panels or events like cannabinoid awareness sessions and open house coffee mornings.

Savage Cabbage has become well known for such services, which are free.

“I’m proud of that element that we achieved,” she says. “This is not about a sales transaction – it’s about people improving their own wellness through natural means and education.”

This is Proudman’s ethos; she’s a problem solver who is not driven by the bottom dollar, but by the need to share her story in order to help others.

Savage Cabbage is an official U.K./E.U. retailer of Myriam’s Hope, and Charlotte’s Web whole-plant hemp extracts — the same product that changed Proudman’s life.

In 2012, Proudman fell “very sick, very quickly,” she says. “My entire life changed in a very few short space of time. I ended up in a hospital fighting for my life.”

Proudman suffers from fibromyalgia and spinal myoclonus epilepsy, bowel disease, in addition to a host of other conditions, which once left her bedridden, and reliant on medications including morphine.

“I was very much dependent on pharmaceutical options to exist because I couldn’t manage,” she explains. “I spent a year in and out of hospitals. I had 10 very big surgeries, and had some internal organs removed.”

Proudman’s health struggles left her housebound and with permanent disabilities — it also cost her her job with Children and Young People’s services in North Yorkshire.

She became depressed. “I just didn’t want to be here anymore.”

Little did Proudman know, her life was about to take another drastic change.

One night, Proudman and her husband — who she credits for keeping her going — watched the CNN documentary, Weed, with Sunjay Gupta. That was Proudman’s first introduction to Charlotte’s Web.

The film follows the stories of patients including Charlotte Figi. “Charlotte suffered from a severe form of epilepsy called Dravet’s Syndrome. She suffered over 300 grand mal seizures a day and by the age of five had failed all pharmaceutical options,” according to CW Hemp, and the Stanely Brothers, who developed the now globally sought-after strain.

“The Charlotte’s Web products were created for her, her seizures have since drastically reduced, quality of life has improved, and the rest is documented history,” adds the Stanely Brothers’ site.

Because Proudman also suffers seizures, she wondered whether CBD oil “could help me in any shape or form.” Although it wasn’t easy — they managed to acquire some CW Hemp Oil. Within 48 hours of using it for the first time, Proudman was morphine free.

“At the time, I didn’t know how it worked or why it worked, or what the endocannabinoid system (ECS) was… any of those things.” she says, “I took a very steep learning journey.”

Today, Proudman is a prominent advocate for CBD in the U.K. Her company reaches customers in approximately 60 different countries.

Proudman no longer takes any pharmaceutical medications. “I stopped 14 different medications — I just use my CBD and a host of other vitamins and minerals.”

“That’s how Savage Cabbage came to be,” Proudman says, “I knew there were other people like me who felt lost, who felt really kind of is this it? Is this my only option?”

“When I started this, I had no idea really what I’d be doing… I just knew I needed to speak to people and help people get ahold of something that was difficult to get ahold of,” she explains. “That brought its own challenges which I worked through,” by building a strong relationship with CW Hemp, and eventually, Myriams’s Hope — the two products she uses.

 

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#SpreadTheLoveTour #2018#WhyCW #betterthancbd

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“I never came into this space as an advocate for cannabis,” she explains, “I always thought drugs were bad. As soon as I discovered the health that I had so desperately missed for so many years, I was like… I get it now.”

That gave her the drive to tackle negatives and misconceptions head-on. “I come from a place of understanding. I can relate to people who are scared, who think this is a drug… I once felt the same way,” she says.

She is the first to admit that she isn’t a medical expert. This us why the Savage Cabbage team guides customers to organizations like the Realm of Caring, a nonprofit committed to research.

Proudman knows the industry is plagued with misinformation and questionable businesses that prey on patients in need for the sake of a sale.

“There have been a lot of times when I’ve been at a show, and someone will come to me and say, “I’ve got this problem, and I got this product off the internet. It makes me feel a little bit sick, but I’ve been told it’s good for me,” Proudman explains.

She keeps an “amnesty” bin handy for these instances. ”I just let people throw their stuff in if they don’t know exactly where it came from, what’s in it, or haven’t got a certificate of analysis.”

Proudman will, in turn, swap their product for a certified brand. “I say, let’s try something of quality, and If you feel a positive effect from that, then let’s have a conversation, and see how we can help you,” Proudman explains. “If somebody makes something rubbish in their bathtub, shoves it into a bottle and gives it to somebody,” it can cause a bad experience, and turn someone off from CBD altogether.

“It’s all about the source, origin, and quality,” Proudman adds, ”If you’re helping someone with the learning experience, they become a really big ambassador of their own.”

Her approach is holistic and based on a style of shared or joint learning — a topic in which Proudman earned a Master’s degree in.

Proudman works with legislative and regulatory bodies, including the CMC, to advocate for research and education for the millions of consumers in the U.K.

She is a representative member of the CMC, this membership allows her to discuss and create ideas with other industry leaders.

The CMC works with government and nongovernment agencies to build a regulatory framework for the medical cannabis and CBD industries. The organization recently joined forces with the award-winning consultancy group Global Regulatory Services (GRS) to develop the framework needed for the U.K. government, and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

The EFSA recently classified cannabinoids as “novel foods,” or foods “that had not been consumed to a significant degree by humans in the EU before 15 May 1997.” The classification requires foods containing CBD to meet certain standards to be fully legal.

Although reactions to the classification of cannabinoids as novel foods are mixed, Proudman believes it’s a positive step toward ensuring quality access.

There are millions of registered daily users of CBD in this country, Proudman explains. “That’s a significant portion of our population. It will only get bigger. It would be nice to see a regulated, accessible, professional industry that can spend money on [awareness] so we can start educating the populous.”

Proudman has made major strides in access to CBD for U.K. residents. As she moves forward, she will pass the torch to her team at Savage Cabbage, and resign her role as CEO of the company by year’s end.

She’ll transition into her new role ‘Brand Advisor and Consultancy’. The position will allow her to expand her reach and continue to advocate for the same products that changed her life.

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Industry Innovators

Mathew Gerson: Bringing Women Pleasure & Pain Relief with Cannabinoids

Mathew Gerson is the founder and CEO of Foria, a company that produces non-psychoactive cannabis products for women’s sexual health and pleasure.

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Mathew Gerson
PHOTO | Courtesy Foria

Five years ago, Mathew Gerson launched Foria, a new category of non-psychoactive cannabis products for women’s sexual health and pleasure. In the few years since, the company’s formulations have won numerous awards and earned global notoriety, all while innovating solutions for women’s wellness and inspiring a Harvard researcher-led study on the efficacy of cannabinoids for menstrual pain relief.

The company develops THC and CBD-infused products, which include suppositories, vape pens, and sensual oils. By re-introducing cannabis into the sex lives of many, he found that he had stumbled upon an age-old therapy, one that proved beneficial to millions in modern society.

Prior to becoming a social entrepreneur, Gerson spent 10 years studying Buddhist meditation in Asia and throughout North America. His first venture after leaving the contemplative life was a project dedicated to responsible, pleasurable sex, founding Sir Richard’s Condom Company, which produced all-natural, vegan-certified condoms and more. Gerson describes the enterprise as a “conscious condom company, sort of like Tom’s shoes for condoms.” Sir Richard’s helps to address the unmet need for condoms globally with a “buy one, give one” business model.

THC for TLC

After that, Gerson continued his dedication to positive change by addressing another unmet need: women’s pain and pleasure. He founded Foria in Venice Beach, CA in 2014, and the brand is credited with bringing the first cannabis-infused intimacy oil to market — a process which, he explained, started in 2011 as a kitchen experiment.

After learning about the medicinal properties of cannabis, Gerson realized, “There was so much more to (cannabis) than THC. Turns out there’s actually a long history of cannabis use in birth and gynecology, from the Victorian era to the ancient Egyptians, from the oracle at Delphi to ‘broom-riding witches’ (medicine women who applied herbals salves via a wooden dildo to achieve euphoric visionary states, a.k.a. ‘flight’).”

Inspired by the historical celebration of cannabis as an aid for intimacy, Gerson cooked up a blend of coconut oil and THC and shared it with a number of female friends. “All reported amazing results,” he says.

Those results, combined with a lack of products for women on the market, were the impetus for Foria. In 2014, the company officially released Pleasure, a first-of-its-kind sensual enhancement oil.

The product was formulated with a specific focus on female arousal. “The oil is ideally suited to the unique anatomy of women or anyone with a vulva,” said Gerson.

At the time of its release, “there were over 20 FDA-approved drugs for male sexual challenges and a total of zero for women,” Gerson noted.

Pleasure was created to address the “orgasm gap” between men and women. “The pleasure gap is an issue with wide-ranging causes,” says Gerson.  “Our culture and media view sexuality from an almost exclusively male perspective.” While Big Pharma offers countless Viagra-style drugs for men, there’s next to nothing for women’s arousal challenges—let alone menstrual or sexual pain, he notes.

Each ingredient in Pleasure — and all Foria products — is organic or grown to organic standards, and rigorously tested for purity, which is especially important due to the intimate nature of the products. Also due to the product’s nature (a topical), effects are non-psychoactive. But as some users report, the application might cause a mild, euphoric body high.

Foria clients experience heightened or renewed pleasure and orgasm with Pleasure. But many of them also experience profound relief from conditions like endometriosis and vaginismus, says Gerson.

While Foria initially set out to harness the power of cannabinoids for intimate pleasure, customer reviews quickly revealed the oil to host therapeutic benefits for pelvic pain and discomfort. Foria listened and in response, invented a separate product, Relief, the first cannabis-infused vaginal-suppository for menstrual cramps and discomfort.

The CBD-only version of Relief will soon be the focus of a first-of-its-kind observational study at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital, says Gerson.

In the meantime, Foria continues to push the boundaries of health and wellness for its customers — thanks to user feedback, an integral part of their business model.

“All of our research and development comes as a result of a dialog with our community of clients to better understand both their experiences and their needs,” Gerson explained.

Going Global

So, when people from around the world inquired about shipping Foria’s products overseas, the company developed THC-free versions of their dispensary-only products, made with broad-spectrum CBD from organic, U.S.-grown hemp.

Included in Foria’s line of CBD products is a THC-free version of Relief and an arousal oil named Awaken. Awaken combines CBD with eight other plants for what Gerson calls “the ultimate, multi-botanical entourage effect.”

The primary ingredient in Awaken is a proprietary kava kava extract, which Gerson says stimulates the same receptors as THC. The formula also incorporates cardamom (an anti-inflammatory); ginger (antispasmodic and warming), peppermint (cooling), vanilla (soothing) and cacao (which also affects the endocannabinoid system).

Close communication with their consumer base also motivated Foria to create Explore, anal suppositories (which come with both THC and CBD). “We’d heard from clients who were freezing Pleasure in ice-cube trays to make rectal suppositories,” Gerson explained. “Now, there are a lot of different reasons people take cannabis rectally, but their goal was to enhance anal play.”

Both THC and CBD influence nerves and blood vessels, says Gerson, and they really work well together for pleasure and pain relief. “But we formulated Explore with a lot of CBD because that really helps to relax smooth muscle tissue,” he adds.

The feedback about Awaken and Foria’s new CBD suppositories is deeply moving, says Gerson. A week doesn’t go by where the company isn’t hearing from women, some “who no longer need to take massive doses of Ibuprofen every month,” and others who “are finally able to experience pain-free sex for the first time in their lives—and this inspires us to continue developing new formulas and delivery formats based on this feedback.”

Foria’s THC products have proven so effective that gynecologists and sex therapists in California and Colorado recommend them to patients. Gerson looks forward to a future where doctors nationwide can do the same — but in the meantime, Foria will continue to push the boundaries of modern medicine.

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Industry Innovators

Cody Alt: How to Gain an Edge in the Cannabis Industry

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Cody Alt
PHOTO | Cody Alt

The legal cannabis industry is becoming an increasingly competitive space for entrepreneurs these days.

Valued by experts at $66.3 billion by 2025, it can be daunting for someone looking to make their name in the cannabis industry and distinguish themselves from the competition.

As the founder of three successful cannabis companies, Cody Alt knows what it takes to build a successful brand from the bottom up. We spoke to the industry innovator to see what he thinks it takes to stand out in such a crowded space.

Cody Alt: An Innovator and Visionary in the Cannabis Space

Growing up in the tiny town of Maxville, Montana, a town of thirty people, ten houses and a single bar, Cody Alt has overcome the odds to reach his dreams at every turn.

Alt always had an aptitude for business. Alongside his father Paul, he started his very first company Mon-Dak Oilfield Services, a company that specializes in reclamation work for oil rigs and hauled crude oil from the rigs to the refineries.

That work helped establish and form his uncompromising work ethic, one that took him to eleven different cities in four years of “following where the oil was.”

In 2015, he switched gears away from Mon-Dak and onto his newest venture, BodyFuel.

Alt poured his blood, sweat and tears into the business, handing out flyers from his car and barely being able to afford rent. Just like his role model Mark Cuban, Alt kept his work ethic up and went on to found five companies so far who’s revenue combined exceeds $60 million.

One of those companies is Kushly. Originally thought of as a cannabis delivery platform, Kushly eventually evolved into what it is today — a one-stop-shop for consumers to pick up a massive range of cannabis-based products from CBD gummies to CBD oils to a CBD skincare line.

Alt founded Kushly after seeing the benefits of cannabis products for himself. Always dealing with insomnia and sleep issues, he exhausted his options when it came to over-the-counter sleep aids. A friend then gave him some THC syrup that opened his eyes to the potential of cannabis products.

“I slept like a baby and woke up feeling amazing,” said Alt. “So that was pretty much all she wrote for me.”

From there, he used his experience as a marketer and passion for cannabis-based products to build Kushly into something special — a company that would provide the same help to others as it did for him.

Alt took his experience from the oil business and applied it to the cannabis space, focusing on becoming the one-size-fits-all destination for anyone interested in cannabis-based products.

“If you can make yourself a one-stop-shop, you have the edge over the other guy,” he said.

Advice for a New Generation of Cannabis Entrepreneurs

It’s clear that Alt has what it takes to make it in the ultra-competitive legal cannabis space. And you might be wondering if you have that ‘X Factor’ as well.

Well, thankfully, he has shared some advice for all you up-and-coming cannabis entrepreneurs.

Authenticity is a driving force for Alt and his businesses. He believes the key to success in the cannabis industry lies in the decisions you make. If you’d use the product yourself, then there are potential customers out there who feel the same way.

“Be authentic,” said Alt. “There are too many fake people who are trying to jump into the marketplace. You have to be different from other people. You have to know branding, you have to hire the right marketing team that is aligned with what your vision is, with the company you want to build.”

At the end of the day, Alt says that while there are countless important factors to building a booming business, the key difference needs to be your passion for serving customers the best quality product.

“(Focus on) actually wanting to help customers instead of worrying all about the money,” said Alt. “I created these products to try and help people solve issues like me. That was my goal from the beginning.”

When asked for one piece of advice he’d give to anyone looking to create a successful business, Alt stressed the importance of focus, drive and dedication to one’s customers.

“Keep your eye on the prize, keep striving to try and help people day in and day out. That’s what it’s all about.”

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