In the culturally diverse RiNo Arts District of Denver, Colorado, amongst the murals, sculptors and street art exists The Nug Nation, a remarkably creative production company that has dedicated itself to bringing cannabis to life — literally.
The Nug Nation is utilizing high-quality stop-motion animation to transform cannabis into walking, talking characters, or “Nugs” as they refer to them. Each character is named after a popular strain of cannabis like Sour Diesel, aka “Diesel,” Grand Daddy Purple, aka “Daddy” and Girl Scout Cookie, aka “Cookie.”
What started as a humorous and creative way to allow cannabis businesses to showcase brands and sponsor content without violating strict marketing bans in the industry, the good folks at The Nug Nation have carved out a unique niche in an ever-expanding and growing market.
Mikey Peterson, a seasoned filmmaker and Denver native, came up with the idea shortly after cannabis was legalized in Colorado in 2014. And although Peterson is the CEO and founder, he is quick to give credit to his entire team for their dedication and work ethic.
“I recognized the opportunity to bring comedy and cannabis together while creating something completely distinctive that didn’t focus on stoner humor,” said Peterson. “Because the landscape of consumers has changed significantly, we sought a way to reach a broader audience while providing a marketing tool to cannabis brands.”
The initial episodes of The Nug Nation show were created as short-format programs easily consumed on social media platforms and which often reflected current events. In The Nug Nation Episode 2: The Debate, which aired in August of 2016, the team expertly parodied the presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton with hilarious results. This got the attention of BurnTV CEO Jason Santos, who quickly worked to bring The Nug Nation brand to their line up of programming.
“At BurnTV, we specialize in bringing a broad scope of cannabis and lifestyle entertainment to the masses and The Nug Nation show is the perfect fit for our brand,” said Santos. “Their uniqueness, quality and ability to bring the funny, without the obvious stoner humor, was a welcome addition to our line up. We look forward to partnering with them on future shows and building our brands together.”
As the show began to gain some traction, The Nug Nation expanded its offerings by creating “Potty Talk With Bong Burgundy,” a spin-off, interview-style show. One of the only non-cannabis strain inspired characters, Bong Burgundy became a fan favorite and since the team had access to some musical artists, the show was created. The first guest was the director, producer and MC legend Redman.
The interviews take place in a public restroom and can be, as the title suggests, somewhat offensive or incredibly funny, depending on your perspective. Since launching the initial episode in 2016, Bong Burgundy (voiced by Aaron Howell, a musician and vocalist in his own right as the frontman of MF Ruckus) has interviewed musical artists Nappy Roots, Scotty ATL, Jarren Benton and legendary Afroman for the series. Rittz was recently interviewed and his candid and amusing episode is scheduled to be released in 2020 on YouTube, social media and the company’s flagship site, thenugnation.com.
After enduring some funding obstacles in 2017, the team started pursuing sponsors and outside work with more enthusiasm, landing contracts with cannabis companies like General Cannabis, Dixie Brands, Chiefton and Salt Creek Hemp.
Startups are never easy, as the good folks at The Nug Nation certainly understand. But their luck would change in early 2019 when commissioned to create a music video for chart-topping artist Billy Ray Cyrus’ new song “Angel in my Pocket,” fittingly about smoking weed. With the assistance of mainstream producer Potsy Poncinelli, they were able to complete the project in spite of an almost impossible 10-day deadline. A job that should have taken two months was accomplished in just ten days by working around the clock shifts and securing additional staff.
In the first of its kind music video, BRC is literally turned into a character made of weed in the stop-motion animated video. In it, Billy Ray gets fired from his dead-end job at the local gas/convenience store before going on a Dukes of Hazzard inspired car jump into a hemp farm. Along with his trusty sidekick, a giant joint, the two battle in an old-west style brawl before they blast into space in a rocket before finding a peaceful place to land and smoke a joint.
With the momentum of the “Angel in my Pocket” music video, The Nug Nation has worked with several new brands to launch some new and exciting shows. Including Hempire, a smokers’ lifestyle brand who was one of the sponsors of the music video and eventually partnered with The Nug Nation to create the upcoming series Hemp 101.
“Hemp 101” is a stop-motion animated short-form social media series focusing on basic hemp education, with a comical twist. Topics range from the differences between hemp and cannabis to more traditional hemp applications. The host of the show will be an anamorphic “joint teacher” giving educational lessons in a classroom setting. Social media influencer and cannabis aficionado Izzy Blazee lends her voice as the teacher. The concept for the joint teacher was inspired by the Billy Ray music video in which his sidekick was a life-sized joint branded with the Hempire logo.
For their part, Hempire is optimistic about the shows’ potential. “Hempire is a sustainable smoke connoisseur lifestyle brand with the ambition of becoming the preferred hemp alternative in the dispensary and smoke shop channels,” said Nicolas Pettersson, Hempire Brand Manager at Swisher International. “The Nug Nation has been identified as a strategic partner to develop unique and engaging online content that speaks to our adult consumers. We are very excited to have The Nug Nation team on our side as we continue to grow our business nationwide.”
As The Nug Nation looks ahead, the future shines as brightly as terpenes on a nug. With several other shows in various stages of development, you can expect more collaborations with emerging and existing brands in the cannabis space and beyond.
5 Tips for Owning and Operating Successful Cannabis Dispensaries
The cannabis retail landscape has changed. Once regarded as somewhat of a novelty, legalization has allowed cannabis dispensaries to evolve into modern and innovative retail storefronts more akin to an Apple Store than the dark, secretive spaces they used to be. Some, like Shiny Bud, are proving to be leaders in the space, setting an exemplary standard of a contemporary cannabis retail experience.
Shiny Bud is one of Canada’s most successful dispensary chains. They pride themselves on offering customers a premium experience from the moment they enter, from a contemporary and inviting store design to highly trained staff, and of course, premium products.
Co-founder Alex Ledesma joined the cannabis industry when the Canadian government passed the Cannabis Act in 2018. She comes from a forward-thinking family of entrepreneurs, so the move to cannabis was an obvious next step.
“I saw an opportunity to be part of something big in Canada’s history, so we started following the industry, and applied for an application,” said Ledesma.
Shiny Bud opened its first dispensary in Toronto on February 14. Fast forward only a few months, and the company has opened the doors to its fifth location in a small town called Orleans, just outside of Ottawa.
“We have a pretty aggressive rollout,” said Ledesma. “Coming from a quick-service industry, we’re quite comfortable with builds and finding locations. We took our expertise from that and put it into cannabis. And it’s all completely within the family.”
Shiny Bud was awarded 75 dispensary licenses by the Canadian government. The company’s expansion plans include two more Ontario store openings this year, bringing the total number of store openings to seven. And they have no plans to slow down.
“We should be hitting 30 stores by the end of 2021. And we’re planning on maxing out to 75 stores allocated. When we stop to think about it, it can take our breath away.”
The constant march forward of legalization has created an ever-growing interest in dispensary ownership. Below, Ledesma offers up five pieces of advice for those looking to enter the cannabis game.
1. Have a Well-Trained Team That’s Focused on Customer Experience
As the industry is still so young, formal education in cannabis is still relatively scarce amongst prospective employees. For Shiny Bud, this presents an opportunity to reinforce one of their most important business objectives: provide cannabis education and training for their budtenders to pass on to their customers.
“Education is everything because the industry’s so new,” Ledesma said. “We truly believe that we’re an industry where we need to listen to our guests. This is one of the first things we teach our budtenders, along with providing a safe and educational experience for our customers in-store.”
For many customers, the biggest value in going to a dispensary is learning which products are best suited for a specific condition or effect, whether they’re seasoned cannabis consumers or newly curious.
“The goal for budtenders at Shiny Bud is to ensure customers are choosing the right product for them to provide a safe experience both in-store and at home,” Ledesma said.
2. Create a Guest Centric Environment
This goes without saying, but customer service is critical to the success of any retail operation. Ledesma attributes Shiny Bud’s success to the brand’s core vision of providing a “fast and friendly cannabis retail destination.”
“We strive to offer our customers a unique and memorable experience — this has stayed with us since day one,” Ledesma said. “When you walk into any of our Shiny Bud cannabis dispensaries, they’re bright, they’re big, and there’s a lot of education. The budtenders are dressed uniformly, and there’s personality — it’s not what people expect.”
Watching the change in customer demographic has been encouraging to Ledesma, who notes the increase in the 60+ demographic looking to add cannabis to their health and wellness, whether it be recreational, or to aid with a specific ailment.
“As a disclaimer, we always have to tell them that we’re not doctors and we can’t give them medical advice, so to start low and go slow,” Ledesma said. “It’s nice to see people like my mom, my dad, and grandparents come through the door, because you also know you’re helping break down the stigma.”
3. Stock the Best Inventory
With so many quality products now available, choosing which ones to bring to Shiny Bud is quite a lengthy process.
“We carry out a lot of research in terms of what’s new or trending, and what our customers are looking for in each location,” Ledesma said. “I wish I knew consumers’ buying preferences before our initial order was placed. We ended up buying too much!”
“We also use recommendations from our team members, our budtenders, and our customers. A lot of times we bring in representatives of the licensed producers to educate our budtenders about the products we’re selling.”
The three most popular purchases across three Shiny Bud locations are dried flower, vapes, and pre-rolls. “Our most frequently asked question is, ‘what is your highest THC or CBD?’” Ledesma said.
4. Have a Great Location
The age-old proverb of “location, location, location” rings true in the cannabis industry, too. Finding the right real estate is arguably the most important part of retail success. Plus, because of the industry’s prohibition history and the nature of the products being sold, it’s important to find understanding landlords.
“Initially, landlords have said to us, ‘absolutely not, we will not entertain the idea of having a cannabis retailer here,’ so I invite them to take a look at one of our dispensaries so they can see the vision of what and who we are as a company and as an industry.”
5. Ensure Your Cannabis Dispensaries Connect with the Community
Dispensaries are already major focal points in their communities. For Ledesma, giving back and helping break down old stigmas related to cannabis is a top priority.
Shiny Bud is in the process of launching a collaboration with Tsaichedelic to create a line of tie-dyed tees and other merchandise. The proceeds will go towards supporting Cannabis Amnesty projects, like providing legal counsel to get those with criminal records over minor cannabis charges expunged.
“Being a woman and a person of color in the cannabis space, I really believe in the fact that it needs to be the same playing fields for everybody,” Ledesma said. “Teaming up with Cannabis Amnesty just felt right.”
With the regulated cannabis market still so new, it’s important that business owners are able to adapt to changes and weather the ever-changing landscape of cannabis and the regulations.
“It’s ever-changing, so we’re constantly learning and growing from it,” Ledesma said. “Regulations are always changing, so being fluid helps a lot.”
Look for Shiny Bud cannabis dispensaries in Canada and keep an eye out for their expansion into America in 2021.
Gwyneth Paltrow and a Slew of Celebs Invest in ‘Social Tonic’ Brand, Cann
Gwyneth Paltrow is one of several high-profile celebrities investing in cannabis-infused beverage company, Cann.
Rebel Wilson, Ruby Rose, Darren Criss, Tove Lo, Casey Neistat, former NBA star Baron Davis and Bre-Z have also invested in the company.
The actress and Goop CEO and founder calls cannabis a “hero ingredient of the future” for wellness and says she was drawn to Cann’s drinks, which are infused with small doses of THC and CBD, as an appealing alternative to alcohol.
“There’s a whole sober-curious movement that’s going on and the cannabis-curious movement that’s going on, this is kind of at the intersection of those things in a way,” said Paltrow.
Cann is not the health and wellness moguls’ first cannabis investment. Paltrow admitted that while she’s not a big cannabis user personally, she acknowledges its “amazing medicinal qualities.”
“There’s no reason why alcohol should be so much easier to purchase than Cann, and I’m confident the founders will lead the charge in finding ways to integrate it into the same purchasing channels and drinking environments,” she said via a news release.
Cann founder Luke Anderson called the comments made by Gwyneth Paltrow “a sign that Cann (and microdose beverages more broadly) are a viable answer to that very common consumer pain point.”
He added that when people think of Paltrow, “they don’t think of ‘weed’ – they think of cutting-edge solutions for today’s health and wellness needs.”
Cann has positioned itself as a “healthy” and hangover-free alternative to alcohol. Most of Cann’s “social tonics” contain roughly 30 calories and are “microdosed” with 2 milligrams of THC and 4 milligrams of CBD. A recently introduced Pineapple Jalapeño flavor contains 50 calories and 5 milligrams of THC.
Earlier this year, Cann secured $5 million in funding as part of the company’s 2020 production and distribution expansion plans for 2020.
According to TechCrunch, the beverage startup has sold 150,000 cans, which retail for $4 each, since last May. Cann products are available at just 60 dispensaries in California, and online via the Eaze cannabis marketplace, making the $600,000 in revenue the company generated in less than a year even more impressive.
Miss Marijuana: Canadian Beauty Queen Alyssa Boston Is on a Mission to End Stigmas
Alyssa Boston is a woman on a mission. The 24-year-old Canadian beauty queen is using her platform to start a conversation on ending stigmas around mental illness, competing in pageants — and cannabis.
While she doesn’t actually smoke weed, Canada’s crowned Miss Universe caused a media uproar when she wore a sparkling cannabis-inspired look during the 2019 Miss Universe competition in Atlanta, Georgia.
Cannabis Aficionado spoke to her about breaking stigmas, social media and of course, that costume.
CA: How was your Miss Universe experience?