Darrell Suriff with Naturally Hemps
The ways that people “start” their smoke/ head/ vape shops are as varied as the people themselves. Some start with retail, then go to manufacturing or distribution; some go the other direction or a combination of any and all.
Darrell Suriff’s story of how he started Naturally Hemp hits most of those bases.
Coming from a corporate retail background with Wal-Mart and Best Buy right out of college taught him a lot about Big Business, but he was still open minded enough to look at entrepreneurial opportunities. When his son, Justin, told him about this “new thing” called vape shops, he paid attention. He even sat outside the only vape shop in his town and counted the people, noted their ages, sexes and demographics, and whether they left the shop with products in hand.
This “on the street” research showed him there was a market, and within two weeks he and his son committed to opening their first shop. This was in 2011. Now, a decade later, they have 32 stores, a distro, manufacturing company, and even partial ownership of their Chinese factory. Once they opened their forth store he quit his corporate job and never looked back.
“I can’t say I was an entrepreneur,” he confessed, “but I know how to recognize an opportunity. I put up $15,000 cash, plus $13,000 on a credit card for inventory, and Justin ran the shop. As we grew I guided him along, and when I felt that we knew what we were doing, I went in full time.”
They started with the name, “Create a Cig,” and stayed in the Austin, Texas area, but by the time they opened number five they started to consolidate and diversify.
“Back then the buyer had to put all their parts together themselves; the battery, coil, and tank, then add their own juice. We realized that putting it all together would make the process easier for them—and for us—so we started making our own liquid, then opened our distro and started selling to other shops in addition to our own stores.”
A diving accident eight years ago changed Suriff’s life when he broke his back in Mexico. A month in the hospital and a year of pain got him addicted to opiates, which is how he discovered less severe alternatives in kratom and CBD.
That unfortunate situation aligned him in the direction of many vape shops who were diversifying into those same two lines. A few years afterwards he and his son expanded once again into a more complete smoke shop inventory and he especially loves high end glassware.
“The timing could not have been better,” he said. “Being just a vape shop was getting tough due to more competition and lesser margins. By adding the new lines it gave us more balance. We went a bit crazy and at one time had 57 vape shops, but shut many of them down to make it more manageable.”
They now have 32 with number 33 pending, and they expanded into Louisiana and Tennessee in addition to Texas.
“Because I understood addictions, we prided ourselves on hiring many of the ‘unemployables’ out there; those who also dealt with their similar demons. They became valuable and loyal employees.”
Under their corporate name of “Naturally,” they manufacture their own kratom and CBD, and distribute worldwide.
“My experience in Big Retail showed me that they were very slow to adapt. That lesson taught me that being small and strategic was the best direction to take. We stock everything, but 80% of our revenue comes from 20% of our stock.”
Just like the Big Boys.