Robert Ritchot founded B.O.B. Headquarters, a small smoke shop in the prairie city of Brandon, Manitoba, Canada. Located about an hour north of the North Dakota border, Brandon is the second-largest city in the province, after Winnipeg. But even with a population of 40,000, it wasn’t big enough to support Ritchot’s goal to increase and diversify his product offerings.
It’s for that reason that Ritchot soon focused on reselling to other retailers across the country, into the USA and beyond. Because of extensive product knowledge and remarkably loyal customers, B.O.B. Headquarters has grown into one of Canada’s largest distributors of counterculture products.
For Ritchot, helping retailers find success is (as they say in Canada) the cherry on the sundae.
“We couldn’t possibly make all of those products available if we just had our one retail location, so to be able to expand our variety and increase the diversity of offerings it just made sense to try to sell into different markets. You have to remember that 20 years ago, when we started, there weren’t thousands of stores across the country — you had to help them open their doors,” Ritchot says.
“What it allowed us to do was to offer all of the products that we loved,” he adds.
Name a brand or product, and you’ll likely find it among the tens of thousands of SKUs in B.O.B. Headquarters’ 500-page catalog.
“Because we’re in Canada, and the fact that we’re one-tenth the population of the U.S., to realize more growth, we had to diversify,” Ritchot says. “We provide products for the entire hippie 420 culture — everything from hemp lotions to tie dye tapestries to glass water pipes to vaporizers to scales to candles to incense to body jewelry, even home décor and clothing — we’ve got it all.”
Along with a 25,000 square foot warehouse in Canada, Ritchot made a bold move to support the U.S. market through a merger of B.O.B. Headquarters and Windship Trading Co., with the simultaneous acquisition of Vapor Outlet, creating an expansive North American wholesale network, which will operate under the umbrella company Humble + Fume.
“The plan is to add all of the products available in Canada to our US facilities to balance out our inventory throughout North America,” Ritchot says.
More than 1,100 retailers in Canada rely on B.O.B. Headquarters to stock their shelves. The U.S. market is expanding so quickly that Ritchot doesn’t even harbor a guess as to the number of new customers contacting the newly formed Humble + Fume on a daily basis.
“As our product offerings increase, our focus will continue to be on building strong relationships with customers,” Ritchot says.
As a distributor, Ritchot’s business model is to represent great brands and products, and give manufacturers the comfort of knowing that B.O.B. Headquarters won’t be competing with their own version of X Y Z simply because it’s a hot product category.
“We focus on marketing great quality brands and products with people behind them that have a lot of integrity,” Ritchot says. “Whenever we’re considering a new product, the decision always goes to committee.”
“We have worked with a number of emerging companies, and helped them go from being unknown to being very, very well known, and thankfully they’ve rewarded us with territorial protection,” Ritchot adds. “That’s where the biggest opportunity lies — startups like “penny stocks”, get in early with those who have created something absolutely fantastic. We really like to work with those manufacturers and support them right from the ground up if we believe in the products.”
B.O.B. Headquarters expects to gain an even bigger share of the Canadian market later this year when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government legalizes recreational marijuana. Even now, Ritchot has benefitted from the general ease of conducting a counter-culture business in Canada.
“We have no issues importing products and running our company as any other business would run,” he says. “It’s ridiculous to say, but it’s kind of liberating. Finally a little easier to just be open with what you do for a living.”
One change that Ritchot anticipates is that when legalization goes into effect, dispensaries will be allowed to sell both cannabis and the ancillary products — possibly taking some business away from existing smoke shops.
The successful retailers, Ritchot predicts, will be the ones that offer a full spectrum of products.
“The shops that just popped open because of legalization, and wanted to capitalize to make a quick buck, are probably going to fade away,” Ritchot says. “…while the really good, well-run shops are going to do very, very well.”
“We are going to continue to do what we’ve always done and provide the widest variety so that everyone can find the right fit for their shop,” Ritchot adds. “We’ll continue to be very competitive with pricing and have everything that shops need.”